Sunday, January 15, 2017
Conan -- the movie!!!!
One true sign that a movie has become outdated is when you look at its wikipedia page and can't begin the fathom how the debates that apparently swirled around a film applied to what you actually saw.
As part of my Robert E. Howard kick, I've looked up the youtube version of Conan the Barbarian (1982). One thing I noticed -- Aw-nold's accent has gotten a lot better over the years. But otherwise, except for a mildly cool scene in the Temple of Set, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about.
One big critique was its violence -- but it's cheesy 1980s violence. One critic lamented that it killed, on his count, about 50 people, which nearly made me laugh. Both the body counts and the special effects are exceeded twice-over in any one episode of Game of Thrones. And the film was also apparently critiqued for its flirtation with fascism? Now, I remember reading one article from JFA from the early 1980s claiming all German sword and sorcery was fascist, but I couldn't help rolling my eyes. Then, of course, there's the always ubiquitous "critique the audience we imagine is watching this." Although empirically most of the Conan fans are male, it's a bit more a leap to dub the film as merely wish-fulfillment from wimps. It reminds me of what gets said about every genre or genre-writer fan -- sometimes even by fans of other genres or genre writers.
About the film itself, a few things I noticed. First, great score. The score basically saved it, especially since the film seemed afraid to have its actors speak too much dialogue. Second, super slow pace. Considering that Howard's short stories are always high-tempo. I was amazed that the film's director spent so many lingering shots over people's faces. Conan wouldn't even qualify as an action film today, I don't think, since modern action films tend to be almost schizophrenic with their pacing. They took at all the sexism and racism out of the source material, which isn't surprising, but I couldn't believe that they took out most of the action.
The film Conan also bears almost no resemblance to Howard's Conan. It gives him truly cringe-worthy character motivations ("you killed my parents") but otherwise kept him as a dumb brute. Incidentally, there's no reason in the world to have that "killing my parents" scene last 30 minutes -- that's partly of what I mean about slow paced. Howard's Conan, however, would never have submitted to slavery, and he's a great deal more intelligent, occasionally even crafty. Nor do any of Howard's more acceptable themes, such as civilization vs. barbarism, shine through. And although film critics note the individualism presented in Conan, Howard's Conan is much more individualistic and John Wayne-ish than the film eventually made him.
Anyway, we'll chalk up this experiment to "I'm glad I watched it, but let's keep this movie in 1982 where it belongs."