Sunday, August 28, 2011

Conan the Barbarian - 2011

Alright, the review you've all been (Not) waiting for.

I'm going to preface and say that I did not go into the film with a goal of being objective. I went in with pre-existing bias. I had read the Novelization, written by Michael Stackpole some weeks ago. I very much enjoyed it, it had the right feel of a Conan story. Sure there were still some bits that I didn't care for, but on the whole it was a good attempt. The author prefaced the novel by saying that, what he tried to write was the novel which the movie was adapted from, rather than the other way round. I think now that I've seen the film, he definitively accomplished that goal.

The Movie itself felt like a slapdash attempt to adapt something. Certain scenes from the film were re-created perfect, but some of the best scenes in the book were no where to be seen. The film felt truncated, sloppily edited, as if large chunks had been excised from it in order to string endless action-set pieces together. It edited for people with no attention span, and then directed by a director who seems to be incapable of directing a good movie. Uwe Boll revels in his (in)ability, and ignores criticism.. but I actually enjoyed In the Name of the King. At least as much as I enjoyed this new Conan film, which is not to say I didn't enjoy them at all.

Conan certainly could have been better if a lot of things were done differently. The one thing they got right though was Jason Momoa as Conan. Unlike when I watch the 1982 film, and I just see a brawny barbarian on screen.. while watching this I felt I saw Conan on screen. Sure there are a few posing homages to the original film, but those are gone from the screen nearly as soon as they pop up. Sure his eyes should have been blue and his hair could have been darker, but he looks so much like Conan it's totally believable.

The Script on the other hand was, in a word, dire. It's the perfect example of two many chefs ruining the soup. The problem is, the first two chefs used all the cooking time and ingredients to make a crappy pot of soup, and then were replaced at the last minute by a chef who's unenviable task it was to try and make the soup edible. He made these changes, and then was promptly told that the original soup was superior and it was mainly what was served to the unsuspecting audience. It was tepid and flavourless, and essentially was pretty weak sauce. Whats worse however, is that it completely squandered the talent of the actors.

The film itself suffered from other problems, it had way to many producers, who if the reports around the internet are anything to go by were constantly undermining one another in an attempt to push their version of the film. Essentially whatever the focus groups wanted, the producers wanted. What we got was a film that should in all likely hood have been a PG13 film billed as a "Hard 'R'". It wasn't. If Conan was an 'R' then plenty of other films are unfit for human consumption.

The whole project was a tremendously poorly executed venture. Almost everything beyond the initial casting of Jason Momoa and Stephen Lang was done poorly. They mandated the re-use of pre-existing set pieces to save money, yet still gave the project 100Million dollar budget. Considering that's roughly what the first season of Game of Thrones cost, I expect a lot more bang for the buck.

All of that said, I feel that the movie shows that with some improvements a serious attempt at adapting an actual REH story is possible. Jason Momoa is capable of playing the Barbarian Warrior. The only thing that seems to be missing are audiences willing to go and see the film.

My personal feelings regarding that, runs towards the idea that they didn't do enough to differentiate the movie from the 1982 one. They didn't resolutely contend with the enduring legacy left by the other films. There biggest misstep was naming the film "Conan the Barbarian". They should have left it alone, simply Conan. They should have abandoned the storyline of Conan's village being attacked, Abandoned his father being killed, Abandoned the entire revenge angle. Simply put they should have scrapped everything about the movie that would lead people to assume it was a re-make. It wouldn't have eradicated that belief, but it might have helped. They should have scrapped some of the ludicrous effects pieces and used the money to promote the film. Most importantly they should never have converted it to 3D. That alone would have freed up considerable funds to aggressively promote it. All of these are things they should have done, but didn't.

At this point though it's all relatively academic, the film is a fairly well known dud. It's likely it will damage a lot of peoples careers for a long time. The actors probably worst of all. At this point I think the studio needs to quickly edited an extended Cut of the film, They should add an animated map ala-Indiana Jones to help fix the continuity and flow of the film, they should add anything else they have to put back in it that will help it make more sense, any more naked breasts they can put in it in order to get a "Not Rated" label. Then release this new one on DVD. Don't wait 6 months to put it out, instead they should try to have it out by Halloween, anything they can do to try and re-coup their budget.

Then what they should do is, abandon Hollywood, and court overseas investors who are less enthralled to the focus groups and ratings agencies. Personally I'd like to see them make a Television series, try and sell it to Cinemax or Starz or Showtime to compete with Game of Thrones.

In the end I didn't hate the film, I was just disappointed in it. I'll buy it when it comes out on DVD, Especially if they provide me with a longer more fleshed out cut. There are hints in the script and in the novelization and in the film itself that there are, at least in theory, more scenes waiting to be shown to us.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

30. Tor Conan #8, Conan the Valorous by John Maddox Roberts, part 5

The battle against the Vanir and their lizardmen allies has begun in earnest. So far did Conan's call for arms go that even a band of Aesir made the journey to answer it. Perhaps after this battle is over, They ask if he will go raiding with them again. While the bulk of the army fights outside, Conan and the Khitain wizard make their way back into the mountain to the central room. There Conan completes his mission and brings Hathor-Ka all the way from Stygia.

With the help of the Khitain, Conan slays the Vendhyans. As the Cimmerians are mopping up the forces outside, they free a few more captives. Hathor-Ka's trust in Toth amon seems to be poorly placed, as her own summon ritual begins to fail. Soon the caverns below Ben Morgh begin collapsing and Conan and the Khitain wizard make their way outside. Crom's home is now purified from the taint of southern sourcery. Conan's mission is done.

Declining the offers of his family to stay the winter with them, Conan opts instead of journey onwards with the Aesir instead. Their good cheer, song and strong drink are more to his liking now. Cimmeria is home, will always be home.. but his feet have started to itch once more.


Okay, this was the first John Maddox Roberts Conan that I've read so far. I had intended to start with Conan the bold, which chronologically would be the very first story. But at the time I didn't have either that or Conan of Venarium. No great loss on Venarium, but I kind of regret not waiting now for a copy of Bold.

Outside of REH himself, John Maddox Roberts writes what has to be by far the best Conan story I've read in quite a while. I'm really looking forward to reading another. The nicest thing about this volume though is that it wasn't padded. It felt more like a trilogy of interconnected short stories. The bit in Koth and Nemedia, then the Border Kingdoms and finally Cimmeria. It also sets up "The Frost Giant's Daughter" quite nicely.

It also re-introduced Thoth Amon, who we haven't seen for quite a long time. Still up his sorcerous tricks, but this time we get some vague inkling of just how powerful he truly is. Thankfully though there seems to be a rival, perhaps more Benign, but certainly far less malignant branch of sorcery in the east which can oppose his plans. I suppose we will see in the coming adventures!

Up next, I'm going to put up my review of the new Conan The Barbarian film, and then rather than jumping back in and reading 'The Frost Giant's Daughter' I'm going to go back to the very beginning and read Conan the Bold by John Maddox Roberts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

30. Tor Conan #8, Conan the Valorous by John Maddox Roberts, part 4

Some what surprisingly, during their first day out, Conan meets a familiar face. The Khitain fortune teller. This is some what unexpected since the last time we saw him was way back in Koth. He has journeyed the whole way alone, come to give aid to Conan against the ancient evil which he now knows wants to be unleashed. He knows that what lies beneath Ben Morgh is an Old One, ancient before the Earth was born.

The men approach the mountain, but are wary of getting to close until nightfall. Caution is the order of the day, The Vendhyans and their tame Vanir have gotten there first. Many score of the fierce northern warriors now guard the mountain of Ben Morgh. The Khitain is incredulous that Conan and his friend Chulcain still mean to go through with their plans. Conan to take the vial into the heart of the mountain, and Chulcain to find the missing villagers. If he knew the barbarians were this exciting, he would have come here a long time ago.

The three set off at night fall, making their way through the precipitous rocks to the base of the mountain. They wander for a while inside the caverns, but eventually come to where the captive villagers are being held. They hear tales from the villagers of the demons who kidnapped them, descriptions that Conan recognizes, Lizardmen. They free the villagers and send them back out of the caves with Conan and the others standing behind to fend off the lizards.

They make their escape fighting the lizards the whole way, and on their emergence from the caverns find several a vanir dead. The villagers had killed him and gone to warn the other tribes. Soon many score of Cimmerians, from most of the tribes begin to gather. Vanir on Ben Morgh is a travesty against their god, and must be dealt with. All inter-tribal enmity is buried for the moment until this new threat is dealt with. Conan begins to lay out the details of what he knows and how to deal with the problems and soon the Cimmerians are ready to move.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

30. Tor Conan #8, Conan the Valorous by John Maddox Roberts, part 3

having now spent some time adventuring in the border kingdom, Conan has at last made his way to Cimmeria. Before long he comes to the attention of two men, one who can see him from afar, and the other who knows immediately who he is. They are two of his kinsmen, though the youngest is about 10 years Conan's junior. He's also jealous of Conan's taking part in the sack of Venarium, which is spoken over campfires still. The older man is not jealous however, but callow and hateful towards Conan's time spent adventuring in the south. But kin is kin, and they offer to take Conan back to their hut while he is in his homeland.

The youth spends some time asking questions of Conan's adventures, Conan telling him and his father of the glories of the south. Of sea battles and cavalry charges thundering across the plain. The adults remain unimpressed, and begin to talk about things happening more locally. Several people at a steading were found butchered, They had been gnawed upon. Among them was the younger man's betrothed.

The following day, Conan helps his kinsmen move their stead down into the valley. Winter is nearly upon them and they need to get the cattle down from the mountains. After a days labour they have a party, after the Cimmerian fashion. News comes that three families have not yet arrived, fearing that the same monsters who attacked the steading may have also attacked these kinsmen. Conan and several others make plans to go searching.

While this is going on, the Vendhyans and their new Vanir guides are slowly making there way through Cimmerian territory. Their destination is Ben Morgh, and with the delays that Conan has had to contend with they may just beat him there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

30. Tor Conan #8, Conan the Valorous by John Maddox Roberts, part 2

Nemedia now dwindling into the distance behind him, Conan enters the Border Kingdom. It's a Kingdom in name only, the only law present is what steel buys. He comes across the smoldering remains of a village, barely enough left even for crows to fight over. Soon, he is hailed by a woman, a warrior chieftain named Aelfrith. Those were her people who were slaughtered, though many escaped to her fastness. She offers Conan hospitality for the night, and he accepts and follows her and her band back to the fortress.

Conan tries to avoid becoming embroiled in her conflict. He thanks her for the food and shelter, and heads north the following day. Less than a day's ride he comes across a group of slavers, he overhears them talking about kidnapping a person he assumes to be Aelfrith. Knowing this he heads back to her fortress, upon ariving he finds out that the slavers had already struck, but not to take Aelfrith. They were paid by another chieftain to steal her daughter. She hopes to convince Conan to help her rescue the girl.

Conan agrees, he feels he owes her that much at least for the meal, and he has a special enmity towards child stealers. The two set out towards this rival chieftain's camp, splitting up and sneaking inside. Aelfrith quickly gets captured and brought in front of the man who has her daughter. While this is going on, Conan tries to formulate a plan to get them all out alive. Things go well for a while but quickly turn south. Before the day is out Conan has to fight his way through a score or more of warriors, and a rampaging bull.

Thankfully though he has some experience in dealing with bulls, and upon dispatches the beast effects his rescue of Aelfrith and her child. The three then head back to Cragfall fortress, and Conan sets about planning out his departure and return to Cimmeria.

Monday, August 15, 2011

30. Tor Conan #8, Conan the Valorous by John Maddox Roberts, part 1

After the failed attempt to acquire the treasure of the Blood Stained God, Conan has headed east. He is now in Khorshemish, one of the major cities in Koth. He's been there about a month, slowly gambling away the remains of his Turanian gear and even his horse Ymir bought before his run in with the cult of Zath. It is at a low rent inn where his newest adventure begins. While sitting drinking wine, Conan is approached by a sultry woman. He can tell from her dress and the eye makeup she wears that she's a Stygian. She has a quest for him. Return to his homeland, travel to a certain mountain and there complete a spell. The only problem is, this particular mountain is Ben Morgh, the home of Crom. Cursing at her, he tells her he will go.

After agreeing and the woman leaves, Conan is approached by an aged Khitian fortune teller. The man explains to him that though he thinks himself a free agent, the hand of the gods are moving the chess pieces this time. The Khitian gives Conan an amulet which he claims will keep him safe, Conan laughs about it, and runs the man off. The next day he goes to the market and spends some of his payment on a new sword and a new horse. It's a long trip to Cimmeria, and he must be well prepared for any eventuality. Having been gone from his homeland for several years now its difficult to say what may have changed.

While this is happening he is also being watched, Several Vendhyans also have plans to make it to Ben Morgh, but their road is different than Conan's. They plan to head to Argos, and from there take a boat up the coast to Vanirheim. Vanirmen raid Cimmeria all the time, and they will just pay some Vanirmen to take them to Ben Morgh. It's a race, and they aim to get to Ben Morgh before Conan can.

The following day Conan sets out at first light. Conan realizes almost at once that he is being followed. The trap takes several days to spring however, and then he is in the fight of his life. He slays an Argosian and a Turanian with little effort, though he takes a wound to his shoulder. Their Gunderman captain however is a different story, and that battle lasts some time. Eventually he bests his foe, and sets off. Several more days pass before Conan, his wound now infected, makes his way through the gates of Belvarus.

He goes to see a leech, who cleans and poultices the wound. The man is afraid that some sorcery is preventing the laceration from healing and may be aiding the infection. There is only so much he can do, It's now that Conan thinks back to the Khitian fortune teller, and the amulet the man gave him. It may indeed have been the only thing that kept the noxious sorcery at bay long enough for him to make it to Nemedia and get help.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

29. Ace Conan #2.2 "The Blood-stained God" by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague DeCamp

When this story opens, we find Conan in Arenjun. He's chased some one there who took something from him. A stolen treasure map. This particular map leads to the temple of the blood-stained god. He finds several men torturing the one who stole his map, and interferes in their sport. In the confusion though he is knocked out, and the men who now have the map manage to escape on the trail of the blood-stained god.

Conan comes across another man, who is also seeking the treasure. The two join forces and set out south into the most forbidding reaches of the Kezankian mountains. It's a treacherous area sandwiched between Zamora and Koth, and also claimed by Turan. They reach it in a few days, and make their way into the mountains. Soon they have found the men who took the map, and make short work of them. Now all thats left is for them to find the treasure.

Deeper and deeper into the mountains they trek. Until eventually they come across a disguised door. Entering the chamber behind the door, they soon come face to face with the blood-stained god. Near the pedestal on which the god sits is a large and very deep pit. Probably where the priests threw the victims they sacrificed to the large gold, ruby encrusted idol. All is not as it seems however.

Upon approaching the idol, It moves. Standing up to its full height, The Blood-Stained God takes a few faltering steps towards Conan. He picks up a large piece of wood and slams the construct in the back, forcing it to lose balance and fall into the pit. With the endless wealth lost forever, Conan heads out into the morning sunshine and sets out for further adventures.

Review ~

This was a decent enough Conan tale. But of course, It's not really a Conan tale. It started out as a Kirby O'Donnel Tale and was set in Afghanistan, called 'Curse of the Crimson God'. L. Sprague DeCamp, in his haste to have more Conan yarns from which to reap rewards, altered the tale and made it into a Conan tale.

Though it really says a lot about both DeCamp and Howard that this tale worked. It shows that, Howard's writing is high quality and very adaptable (take note Hollywood!)no matter the venue or setting. It also shows how little respect DeCamp had for Howard's work, that he felt that all of Howard's characters were so one-dimensional you could simply substitute one for another. It worked this time. I think he did four that way, but this one was one of the best. One of the later ones, which we will not get too for some time, he left quite a few anachronisms present that really showed that it wasn't a true Conan yarn.

It also makes for a nice counterpoint to one of the earliest tales in the Conan Pastiche world too. The Thing in the Crypt, also featured a statue which comes to life. When taken with the Cult of Zath from Conan and the Spider-god, it really does feel as if a Chapter is looping back around to close in on itself in the life of Conan, which will completely lock tight when Conan returns to his homeland of Cimmeria in his next adventure.

Up Next, Conan the Valerous by John Maddox Roberts

Saturday, August 6, 2011

28. Bantam Conan # 5, Conan and the Spider-god by L. Sprague DeCamp, part 3

Conan continues to mess about in Yezud for a while longer, spending more and more time with his inherited Apprentice's family. Especially more time with the boys sister. At one point Conan even contemplates whether it is time to settle down(!). That brief idea of domestic bliss flies away, and Conan instead concentrates on figuring out how to steel the Eyes of Zath and uncover what he can about the kidnapped princess.

After several more days, Conan finally succeeds in locating the missing princesses room. He also now has a plan on how to steal the gemstones, and make his escape from Yezud. Though many, including the King of Zamora are after him, he feels the safest bet will be to head south to Shadizar, and from there west back into lands where he is less well known. Setting out at night and having estimated the distance to her window, throws his grapnel and rope. He soon comes to her window, keeping introductions short, escorts her back to the Turanian ambassador. The pair leave with the promise to try and sort out Conan's problems at court. That deed done, Conan retires to his blacksmiths shop for some much needed rest.

The following day, the priests are busy making inquiries about the escaped girl. They question Conan but cannot connect him to the deed. With time limited Conan puts his plan to steal the eyes of Zath into action. Inside of 2 days he has everything he needs to raid the temple. When night falls he slips inside quietly, using the magical lock-pick device to get into the main chamber. He soon finds that the temple is guarded by more than just spear wielding Brythunians. A determined clicking sound on the cold tiles alerts him to the presence of something much larger, with a great many more legs.

He wheels around, and finds himself face to face with a gigantic hairy spider. He attempts to fight it, but it' keeps dodging his blows. It grows annoyed with him, and departs to go back to its hiding place. Conan follows it, picking up a torch along his way. He finds the horror in its nest surrounded by many of its children, both hatched and eggs. He breaks open the oil pipe which feeds the censures in the main temple, and oil pours into the spider filled chamber. When a sufficient amount is on the ground, Conan throws his torch. Thus ends the Children of Zath.

As the fire consumes the temple, Conan thinks wistfully of the surely ruined gemstones. No matter, he's alive and thats what counts. He goes back to the blacksmiths shop and gets his gear, and saddles his horse and sets out to get as far away from Yezud as he can. Back to Shadizar, and on to further adventures.

~ Review.

What can I really say about this.. It's pretty bad for one. I mean, It's not Steve Perry Bad.. but it's not really even up to DeCamp's normal standards. I've always heard it rumoured that his wife co-wrote this one. That would be the genesis of the domestic longings of the barbarian. Nothing more than a bit of holdover prudery. I really didn't bother to summarize most of that as it's painfully tacked on and does nothing to serve the story at all. Conan acts nearly completely out of character during this entire book. Like most of DeCamp's pastiches it really is just a very mediocre book.

It's interesting that we are now coming back around full circle, since we first were introduced to the cult of Zath way back in Conan the Defiant. Conan's hesitance to go back to Shadizar also shows a bit of depth considering just how many nefarious things he's gotten up to in Zamora over the last 27 stories.

Up next, "The Blood-Stained God"

Friday, August 5, 2011

28. Bantam Conan # 5, Conan and the Spider-god by L. Sprague DeCamp, part 2

After several more days of riding, Conan finds himself before the gates of Yezud. He requests to speak to the man who does the hiring, but tonight the gates are closed. He is told to return tomorrow. He goes back to the town of Keshron and stays in the inn. Returning the next morning and soon finds himself employed as a blacksmith. He knows somewhat of the skill thanks to years spent helping his father. He also inherits the bellows boy from the previous smith, a young man named Lar, son of Yazdates, Who is eager to learn the smithing trade.

Since the town is not furnished with an inn, Conan makes arrangements to take his meals with the boys family. He learns the older sister is a temple girl, and asks the boy to take him to the temple one day. He needs to learn the rituals of Zath, as part of his job requires him to attend no less than thrice a month. Meeting the temple girls is a good by product as well. For now though, they must get back to work. Horses need shoeing and nails need making.

Later in the week, when Lars family attends temple, Conan accompanies them. Lar explains the various rituals of Zath worship to the smith, but the smith only has eyes for the giant gemstones embedded in the statue of Zath. He makes a few discreet inquiries about them, but isn't able to find out what mode of gem they are. He will just have to come back later and find out for himself. This evening he goes back to Keshron to wash the dust of the smith out of his throat with a few jacks of wine.

Weeks pass, the smithing trade is an easy one for a capable man of sound strength and Conan excels at it. He goes to temple on schedule, always learning more each time about the inner workings. Working towards his goal of the gems. On one occasion even learning how the oil fires are replenished through pipes from a central cistern. He also makes regular visits to Keshron to have his fill of ale. Perhaps too regular. On one occasion he is approached by a man who knows who he really is.

This man is Parvez, something of a diplomat from Turan. It seems that one of the emperors daughters has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom by the priests of Zath. Perhaps the rescue of the girl would get Conan back in Yildiz's good graces after the unpleasantness back in Agraphur. Conan agrees to do what he can, but demands 100gold coins in payment.. half now.. half later. He also bargains for a bauble which Parvez possesses. It's something of a magical lockpick, and will no doubt come in handy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

28. Bantam Conan # 5, Conan and the Spider-god by L. Sprague DeCamp, Part 1

After many years and no small number of daring feats, Conan has finally made it to the royal guard of King Yildiz. This entitles him to a number of things, being close to certain royal personages. Tonight for instance, he is to spend the evening with a certain Lady Narkia. As usual in Conan's life, things don't go quite as planned. Her protector, High Captain Orkhan, bursts in on them. Conan slays the man out of necessity, and then flees the ladies chambers. He must escape Agraphur, make his way to safety.

Telling the man in the stables that he is riding out to deliver an urgent message to Khauran, Conan soon turns north and heads towards the Marshes of Mehan instead. For three days he trudges through the marshes, thankfully seeing neither hide nor hair of the dread Swamp Cat. Soon however he hears the screaming of a horse, going to investigates finds that others have not been so lucky as to escape the notice of the giant feline. Conan dispatches the beast, and then accepts the hospitality of the travelers whom he delivered. He plans to head out early the next day, and so gets himself bedded down before long.

He awakes the next day to find that the "Travelers" have stolen his horse. Cursing he sets out across the marshes on foot. Four days pass, Conan finally arrives in Sultanapoor. He seeks out an acquaintance he had there. The seer whom he has gone to visit, spends some time helping Conan concoct a new identity. They settle on Nial, which was Conan's fathers name. The seer also takes some time to explain to Conan a new science, arithmetic. The Following day, Conan purchases a horse and sets out westward.

He soon comes to Shadizar, and learns of work in the northern Zamoran city of Yezud. This rings a bell, Yezud is the home of the Spider worshiping cult of Zath. (Which if you remember, Conan tangled with way back in Conan the Defiant) On his way he rides through the town of Zamindi, finding an old lady being menaces by a mob, he stops to assist her. Soon the mob turns on him as well, and he takes the old lady and they flee the town. Still going north, they stop at her hiding place in the hills, and she tells him somewhat of the history of the area. The next day, Conan continues on and reaches the city in the crags, Yezud.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Conan, The Stories that inspried the Movie.

So here we have it, the tie in book that actually reprints Howard's original stories. In this volume you get 6 of the best Conan yarns written. Including two of my personal favorites, "Rogues in the House" and "Tower of the Elephant". If you've read the novelization of the Marcus Nispel film, then you know that these two, along with another included tale "Queen of the Black Coast" are alluded to multiple times. Alas it seems, none of that made it into the movie itself. From early reviews it seems, the Novelization is worlds better than the film.
Fear not however as these 6 swashbuckling yarns will more than make up for the lack of coherent plot or abundance of Chicxulub impact site sized plot holes. They feature Conan at his most heroic, and his most un-heroic, showing the true depth of his character. Most importantly showing the range of Howard's capabilities as a writer.

If your a first time reader of Conan, and don't want to invest the nearly 50$ for the three volume Trade Paperback set then this book is for you. It has your name written all over. I envy you. Why, back in my day, all we had was tatty ol' Ace copies picked up from the trade-a-book. Kids these days. Just don't know how good you've got it.

So do yourself a favor and buy a copy of it on Amazon.