Monday, August 22, 2011
Conan's Failure: Pre-viewing thoughts
Since the day it was announced, there has been bad press circulating throughout the net. And as details were announced, such as the director and casting choices, and the initial draft of the script were revealed, the hate just got worse and worse.
Basically these "pre-haters" are divided into two camps. The first, and most vocal, yet smaller in number, are the Robert E. Howard purists. These are men and women who have dedicated a good portion of their lives to studying the works and worlds of REH. In relation to Conan, they have a passion for the character that is only rivaled by their passion for his creator. For these people nothing beyond his original stories will be good enough. They look down their noses at the pastiches, in all mediums, as lesser works, derivative of the Originals. To a certain extent, I agree with them. No other Conan can compare to REH's most excellent prose. And yet, I seem to be nearly unique in that I can separate the "original" from the pastiche, and enjoy each on their own terms. However, these purists cannot seem to do that. Rather they view anything that is not based 100% on a REH work as somehow "insulting" or "disrespectful" to the man. This is a very narrow view, and does a disservice to the character, and a large portion of his fans. More on that later.
The other group are the Milius Fans. These are people who only know the character from the 1982 Arnold movie. To them "Arnold was Conan." Well, no, actually, he wasn't. Arnold was John Milius' Conan. Or more accurately, he was Ed Pressman's and Dino De Laurentiis' Conan. To these people, of which they are legion, no one else will be able to "fill Arnold's shoes " (if I had a dime for every time I've read THAT phrase in the past week...). Unfortunately, most professional critics fall into this group as well. They are responsible, along with the press in general, for perpetuating the myth that this movie is a "remake" rather than a "reboot." (Really? And was Nolan's Batman Begins just a remake of Tim Burton's 1989 film?) Be it known, I am a HUGE fan of the 1982 film. I still count it among my all-time favorites, and have watched it literally dozens of times since I was a teenager. That being said, I am well aware that it is a far cry from REH's creation. However, it lead me to read REH's stories, as it did for many, many people. And, if this new movie had been given a chance, perhaps it, too, could have done the same for others.
Bad marketing choices
When it was originally announced, the film's title was simply Conan. Then some idiot in marketing decided to try and capitalize on the popularity of the 1982 film, so they added the Barbarian to the title. Big mistake. This is no doubt the main reason so many people just assume it's a remake. Add to that some of the visuals that were also designed to allude to the previous film (the sword of Conan's father is like a cartoon version of the previous movie's sword).
Conan is now more than just a Pulp Hero
Conan as a character was created in the 1930's. He was introduced to the public through the pulp magazines of the depression era, which were (and in some circles, are) considered "trash" writing. No one beyond the fans took them seriously. But Conan survived the demise of his creator, and that of his venue, thanks to many people who had a passion for him. The character has been reprinted by several publishing houses over the intervening decades. Often heavily edited, but still, it's Conan. Then there is the issue of the Comic books. Marvel comics had a Conan title in print for decades, in one form or another. And to some people, THIS is the Conan they know.
The fact is, Conan has grown well beyond his pulp roots. He is larger and more well-known than his creator. And the creators of this film knew this. So, they attempted to make a film that would appeal to the broadest swath of Conan fans. The Pulpsters, the comic book geeks, and the Arnold fans. And at the same time, they had to make a film that would appeal to the general public as well.
Were they successful? Depends on who you ask. But in the big picture, probably not. Because the very thing that they tried to do was what doomed the project to failure. The old adage of "You can't please all the people all the time" is no more fitting anywhere than it is in Hollywood. By trying to create a movie with mass appeal, they actually created mass derision. Much of it before it was even in pre-production. And all of these people who pre-hate the movie, and those who listen to the pre-haters, will go into the film with pre-conceived notions, and pre-formed opinions, whether consciously or not.
In short, there are a variety of factors that have caused this movie to do poorly. And those don't even take into account the actual film itself. The outcome of opening weekend for a film has nothing to do with the quality of the film itself. It has to do with marketing, word of mouth, and pre-conceived notions. However, everyone wants to judge a movie's quality based on that opening weekend. So, since Conan the Barbarian did relatively poorly during its opening weekend, it's already being considered a "flop." And, in my opinion, this is in large part the fault of a lot of people who need to just shut up and let a movie stand on its own. But, that will never happen. Especially now that we have the Internet, and anyone with a computer can put their opinions out there for the masses, no matter how misguided and misinformed they are.