Skip’s Quips: Having Another Go at ‘Conan the Barbarian’

Blog Sketch 082813Why, I asked myself last night, am I watching the original 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian again?

Isn’t once enough for this film? It doesn’t have great cinematography. Much of the acting – except for stalwarts such as James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow – is atrocious. And the special effects are pretty poor by today’s or even yesteryear’s standards.

Oh, yeah: And the blood squibs are gloppy. Really gloppy.

Well, parts of it are watchable, for some reason. I’ve read one of the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories, “The People of the Black Circle,” and the film stays true to the tale’s sensibilities. You know: blood, gore, lust and all that. Plus, there’s the much-lauded score by Basil Poledouris, which is somewhat bombastic but definitely works.

Then there’s the script, courtesy of director John Milius and Oliver Stone. Pretty simple stuff, but at least it’s not verbose and pretentious. I was grateful for that.

There were also a number of seemingly derivative moments that may have been “inspired” by classic films such as Kwaidan (the scene in which the wizard writes runes on Conan’s body to protect him from demons) and The Seven Samurai (the stake-adorned defense against Thulsa Doom’s cohorts). Surprisingly erudite stuff for a film such as this. I did see part of an interview a long time ago in which Milius lauded Kwaidan as being “dreamlike,” so perhaps he was mining that movie for Conan. Nevertheless, it made for strong viewing.

So all in all: kind of a sloppy film, with dull moments and some very good ones. I may end up watching it again in the future and asking myself, once more, why I’m doing so. Hopefully, I’ll be able to answer myself the same way.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Whatever Happened to Sword and Sorcery?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Not too long ago (only about 30-odd years), it looked like the epic would be replaced in Hollywood by fantasy pictures. It wasn’t just Conan the Barbarian that we were seeing, but also stuff like The Beastmaster, Krull and The Sword and the Sorceror. The genre was going to conquer the world.

OK, what happened?

I guess a good fantasy film is really, REALLY hard to find. Especially nowadays … as the generally awful 2011 remake of Conan suggests. Have we grown up and/or out of this genre? Are we gravitating toward sci-fi more than fantasy?

Or are we putting them together, with hybrid works such as Avatar?

I’d like to think the standard sword-and-sorcery flick isn’t dead. It’s kind of a fun breed, despite a portfolio lacking in, well, high quality … something we can’t say about science fiction. To tell you the truth, I miss those silly old ’80s adventures. We don’t get so many of them today.

And it’s not as if there isn’t enough literature to support them.

I’m not saying we need something scriptless, with just a muscle-bound hero slicing his way through the reels. But I do think we could use something that brings back that 30-year-old spirit, the energetic aura that infused so many of those violent, magic-filled pictures. We could still use a dose of that, no? Or are we too old and wise to enjoy it?

Speaking for myself, old I may be. But too wise? Nah.