Last summer Conan the Barbarian was released with generally horrible reviews. Some of the most brutal reviewers were those who loved the original Robert E. Howard stories. I downloaded and watched it this afternoon and I'm a big fan of the original stories. Frankly, I didn't think it was all that bad. I enjoyed it. I might even watch it again some time.
I think it captured the essense of Conan much better than the Arnold versions. Even so, it was not a recreation of any of the stories, which I think is mostly what people were disappointed about. Instead it was Conan pastiche. That's not to say it was bad. Conan was such an enduring character that he inspired novels and comic books beyond what Robert E. Howard wrote. Much of it is quite good in my opinion. It's a good thing that people wanted to write continuing adventures for Conan long after his original creator died.
While I would love to see a story like The Queen of the Black Coast turned into a movie, I can't help but wonder if there are significant challenges to it, not the least of which is that there are now fans of Conan who have never read any of the stories, or even the comic books. They only know him from the movies. In order to avoid alienating those fans, you have to include tips of the hat to them too.
That's the rub. You can't undo a not-so-great rendition of a great character, which has lodged itself in the illiterate mind more firmly than the original source material. Hence they had to include "the riddle of steel." None the less, I enjoyed how the bad guys in the new movie's child-Conan scenes were easily recognizable to me as Picts. I also think the original Conan would be difficult to portray accurately today simply because of the original source material's implied (and not so implied) racism and sexism. In that sense, it shares a lot with Tarzan.
I was surprised they went with a giant octopus this time around. It seems like you can't get through a good chunk of Conan stories without him wrestling a giant snake somehow. The octopus was good, though. There were also no Stygians in this one. The bad guy was of unknown ethnicity, and his daughter was merely a strange witch who moved in vaguely snake-like way to me. Acheron, while an ancient evil empire in the Conan series, is not the main source of evil, except in one story I know of. Stygia is a much more regular source of irritation. None the less, the sets were spectacular. I can't think of a more beautiful fantasy movie, with it's spectacular CGI rendered cities and temples. I feel like they used and didn't abuse CGI in this movie. Lord of the Rings was good, but this was that multiplied. I can't help but wonder if it has to do with Lord of the Rings essentially rural flavor, while Conan is a mix of urban and rural locales.
I liked how they captured Conan's propensity for freeing slaves, womanizing and piracy, as well as implied the tremendous ethnic diversity and vast geographical stretch of Conan's world. They captured that much better in the most recent movie, than in the Arnold ones. I also really enjoyed it when he flung his prisoner into the enemy camp with a catapult.
If I had one dislike it was the current trend in Hollywood of "equalizing" the roles of women and men by giving women heavy weapons and fight scenes. I'm not against arming women in movies, or putting women in combatitive roles. The thing is, you have to consider what kind of woman you're putting in that role. Just as there are many kinds of men in this world, there are many kinds of women. There are women (Grace Jones? Lucy Lawless?) for whom that kind of thing is believable. But a priestess in a diaphanous gown doesn't strike me as the sort who'd be excited about getting all sweaty flinging around a heavy sword, or for that matter, the kind of person who would be a natural fighting with a heavy piece of steel. That doesn't make sense. She's too prissy. She needed something lighter. Giving her a dagger worked for me. Picking up a big sword worked less, but having her actually demonstrate how good she was with it seemed superfluous and silly. It was especially non-sensical because after discovering her talent for swordplay, she didn't keep a sword with her the rest of the movie, regardless of the dangers she faced. If that was the case, why have her demonstrate how good she was with it? The obviously female archer made a little more sense, but it looked to me that the director originally gave her a bigger role in the film and then edited her out. I liked the witch daughter. She was fabulous. I'd want her part in the movie. She got the best costume, the best makeup and the wildest hair. Those claws were awesome.
I want to see a Conan director's cut. I suspect it'd be a better movie.