This will be an excellent opportunity for me to test just how open I can keep my mind when approaching a new movie.
I hold the work of author Robert E. Howard very dear. And I am a near-rabid advocate for 1982’s “Conan The Barbarian,” directed by John Milius. I think the film is a weird mess as strict adaptations go, but it doesn’t matter. It gets the spirit of Howard’s work exactly right, and taken strictly as a movie, I think it is tremendous myth-making.
One of the things that always bothered me a little bit about the Milius version of Conan is the way it lathered the image people have in their heads of the character, forever cementing the character as a gigantic muscleman. While Howard wrote him as a powerful fighter, I’ve always thought that the character he described was a bit more like the way Mark Decascos looks in the last forty minutes or so of “Brotherhood Of The Wolf,” lean and ripped and more like a panther than a giant silverback gorilla.
Still, I like everything else about the Milius film, so I’ve always been willing to accept Schwarzenegger as a particular take on the character. Now, with Lionsgate getting ready to release their new take on the material, it’s time for a new Conan, and more importantly, a new interpretation of the Howard stories, and because of my deep love for the source material, I am willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt.
I’m going to remind myself of that again each time I think of this trailer, which does little to convince me that this is going to offer up a more faithful version of Howard’s greatest character.
What I will say is that the film looks like it will either live or die based largely on the casting, and more than that, on the screen charisma of Jason Momoa. I have not been watching “A Game Of Thrones” yet, since I like to catch up with my HBO programs in one fell swoop on Blu-ray, so I have no way to really judge Momoa as an actor. Physically, though, he falls somewhere between the lean and mean version of Conan and the oh-my-god-look-at-him bulk of Schwarzenegger, and that seems like the right compromise. If Momoa can actually act and if the script gives him something to do, he could be a compelling Conan, and I like that he’s not the typical action lead, ethnically speaking.
And if you’re going to cast someone who needs to match the physical attributes of the average girl depicted in fantasy van art of the ’70s, you couldn’t do much better than Rachel Nichols, who is not only a very sharp and funny performer, but also the proud owner of some Jessica Rabbit-style curves. I sincerely hope her entire wardrobe budget was the price of a deli platter.
Rose McGowan, who was rumored for a while to be playing Red Sonja in a Robert Rodriguez-produced and/or directed version of the story, looks like she’s having a great time playing a big creepy witch character, and right now, Stephen Lang is enjoying the benefits of having played the bad guy in “Avatar,” chewing scenery for all sorts of new filmmakers.
Marcus Nispel is my single greatest concern on this film. I find Nispel to be a largely useless filmmaker, and the things I’ve heard about his work on this film and his approach to filmmaking in general have me on edge. There are so many directors who love this type of material that to give it to a guy like Nispel just because he’ll make his schedule and deliver on budget seems to me like you’re intentionally starting at a huge disadvantage.
All in all, I’m curious, but still unconvinced. The worlds that Howard wrote have enormous onscreen potential, and if they get it wrong here, it’ll be a while before anyone else gets a shot at Conan. For that reason, more than any other, I hope this film works better than this trailer.
“Conan The Barbarian” will pillage theaters on August 19, 2011.