Friday, October 26, 2012

My Scale of All Things Conan

So, with the announcement that Arnold will once again wield the Atlantean Sword (or an updated variation thereof), I have been thinking of the Conan character and property, and where I rank all of the various incarnations. Below is a list of the ones that I can honestly form an opinion about, each given a rank on a scale of 1 to 10.

The original, unedited stories by Robert E. Howard – 10
These are the standards. The litmus tests by which all other incarnations must be weighed and measured. REH was a master storyteller, with a gift for vivid prose and amazing characterization. If he had any flaw, it was that he tended to be long-winded with background information. But even then, he dumped the information in a style that made it enjoyable to read. So, really, it’s hardly a flaw.  Ideally, this is where you should start if you want to know who Conan was intended to be.  However, for a lot of us, it didn't begin there...

Conan the Barbarian (1982) – 8.5
There are basically three schools of thought on this movie; the Howard Purists who deride it for straying from the source material, even though a large portion of them will concede it’s at least a good film; the Arnold Fanboys who love it because it launched the juggernaut that was, and is, the Oak’s acting career; and…the rest of us. Personally, I love this movie more than almost any other. It introduced me to Conan and to REH in general, and has been a huge influence on my likes and tastes. I can see the points of, and to a certain extent agree with, the other two camps. But I really just love the film, and am overjoyed to hear of a new one with Arnold.

Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian/Savage Sword of Conan/etc. – 8
Shortly after reading the first Lancer book, I discovered SSOC on the comics shelf, and fell in love instantly. Though some issues were hit or miss, over all, the title was exceptional. I always felt the B&W format captured the mood of the stories and world better than the smaller, color format of CtB. I also collected various issues of Conan Saga and Conan the Savage, but neither were quite as good as Savage Sword.

Marvel’s and Dark Horse’s various Conan mini-series – 7
These have always been hit or miss. Some are good, others, not so much. Over all, they are enjoyable as comics, but never quite live up to SSOC, in my opinion (maybe because they didn’t have John Buscema or Ernie Chan working on them). Again, I think the vivid colors often detracted from the grittiness of the stories. However, the few that I collected were readable, and none stand out as particularly bad.

Conan the Barbarian (2011) – 6
I am divided on this film. I thought Mamoa did an amazing job. I thought the visuals were stunning (with the exception of the Cimmerian swords being cartoonishly huge), and the direction was more than adequate. But the story and script lacked…well, lacked anything close to originality or entertainment. Had the director and cast had a better script (preferably based on actual Howard stories), this could have been an awesome film. As it is, it’s just popcorn fun, that you watch once or twice, just to say you did.

Kull the Conqueror (1997) – 5
I include this because it is loosely based off 'Hour of the Dragon', my favorite Conan story, and was intended to be Conan III, before Arnold backed out. As it is, Kevin Sorbo is a decent Kull. The plot is fine, the acting ok adequate, the sets and costumes are not wholly offensive. The special effects are standard, if a bit lackluster. But over all, it’s kind of “meh.” Like the 2011 Conan movie, it’s a fun popcorn film, worthy of watching on occasion, but not much more.

Conan (TV, 1997) – 3
This show made many mistakes. First of all, it dressed Conan in underwear and boots…and nothing else. Second of all, it tried too hard to capture the magic of Hercules and Xena. And lastly, it had way too many silly characters. Honestly, I could never watch more than the first painful episode. On the plus side, Ralf Moeller was physically a good choice, and he is a decent enough actor, all things considered. But the writing was horrible, and everything looked too clean to be a Howardian show.

Red Sonja (1985) – 2
Though not strictly a “Conan” movie, it was written to take place in the Hyborian Age (though that was a product of Marvel re-imagining the character to fit there). And Arnold’s character, Kalidor, was originally intended to be Conan. Over all, this movie is horrid. The acting generally stinks, the dialogue is atrocious, the plot is childish, and the set design is laughable. About the only saving grace is that Arnold played Kalidor the way he should have been able to play Conan. But even that is not enough to save this film.

Conan the Destroyer (1984) – 1
The bottom. The afterbirth of it’s predecessor, this film had the potential to be good, but it seemed like no one cared enough to put any effort into it. It was a cash cow meant to sell toys to kids, and nothing more. I really can find no redeeming qualities for this film, other than Arnold looked a bit more lean and Conan-esque. In CtB he was, perhaps, a bit bulky. But it’s not enough to save this film. Generally, I disavow this movie, and am overjoyed that the writer who was hired to write the newest intends to do so also.

Not seen: Conan the Adventurer (TV, 1992) - N/A
I have never seen this animated series, and really am not interested in rectifying that. I have heard rumors that it adapted a few actual Howard stories. But, since it’s a kids’ cartoon, I’m not sure I want to see that.

There are probably a few other incarnations that I have left out, such as the DeCamp and Tor Books pastiches. DeCamp’s stories are ok, but not Howard-worthy. And I have only read a single Tor novel, by Roland Green. It was unmemorable, so I don’t feel I can honestly comment on those.

So, there you go. Now, let’s get on with ‘The Legend of Conan’ (though I hope they change the title…I rather like Milius’ planned ‘Crown of Iron’).


David J. West said...

I do have the Conan the Adventurer cartoon for my kids and I have read most of the TOR's.

Most of the TOR's are weak, if not awful, but there are some reasonably good ones - the John Hocking and John Maddox Roberts titles are the ones you would like, I think.

The cartoon did try some half-ass adaptions of Howards stories but not that it really mattered. The whole premise was based off Conan fighting against Wrath-Amon and the Serpent men and obtaining magical star metal (meteors) which when forged into weapons, banish serpent men back to the other dimensional realm of Set.
The only props I could give the show is that it used all the Howardian/Hyborian language and names you could shake a stick at, but that could also be sheer laziness since there wasn't much imagination in how any place would look or act either.

Still for the sake of young kids, I don't mind either Conan the Adventuer (cartoon or Ralf's) since that (and Destroyer for that matter) are just introductory material.

In a while when they are older, I'll break out the good stuff and say "Here, try this now."

Charles Gramlich said...

I actually enjoyed Conan the Destroyer. DIdn't really think of it is a Howard Conan movie but it had all kinds of fun elements. I thought. I appear to be alone in this. I liked Mamoa's version OK. Hated the TV show, read only a limited range of the comics but didn't much care for them. Disliked Red Sonja, liked Kull somewhat better, although it was really a hercules film.