Or Is Disney Pulling Revisionist Tricks?


Just the other day I was commenting on how I was beginning to be cautiously optimistic about the new Star Wars, but I may have spoken too soon. On MoviePilot.com, there’s an article called Star Wars Episode 7: Kylo Ren and the New Empire in which the author discusses the 20 or so new novels, comic books, etc., that are scheduled to be released to fill in the 30 year gap between Jedi and The Force Awakens. Why does this sound as if all the novels and comics that already exist in this period are simply being swept away? This sounds an awful lot like what Lucas was doing for the Clone Wars cartoon, making the Mandalorians pacifists.
I’m suddenly no longer optimistic.
It could be argued that all the expanded universe work (which has now been rebranded as “legends”) was never canon, that all of this new work will be. I’d be fine with that if Lucas had licensed everything then was hands off with the outcome all these years. But that’s not the case. When Timothy Zahn was writing Heir to the Empire way back in the early 90s, he wanted to use Obiwan’s clone in the role he named Joruus C’Baoth, but he said in an interview that “Lucas had other plans for him.” Later, when R.A. Salvatore was writing the inaugural novel in The New Jedi Order series, Vector Prime, he was explicitly told to kill off a major character by Lucas. The sometimes silly, sometimes convoluted plots of the game The Force Unleashed also lend credence to the Lucas is overseeing everything argument I’m making here. 20+ years of creativity does not get spawned and set free without some specific guiding force (oddly, no pun intended). The expanded universe was even blessed by references to some of it in the films, such as the presence at the pod races of Aurra Sing in the Phantom Menace. Therefore I would say that the expanded universe was as canon as the films, because even Lucas is contradicting himself. (“Always two, there are, a master and an apprentice” yet Count Dooku, Darth Maul, and Darth Sidious/Palpatine running around more or less at the same time; yeah, I know, Yoda could’ve been wrong.)

I don’t know… I just have a very bad feeling about this.

A New Star Wars


It’s been several months since the release of the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and I’ve been relatively quiet about it. In fact, I’ve only talked it over with friends and family as I still wasn’t sure what to think of it, and I didn’t want to ramble on without having an opinion on it. It should be clear, by now, that I have a very emotional attachment to Star Wars; if not, take a bit of time to read my other posts:

Back? Great! By my rough estimate, I’ve read around 80 Star Wars books. My favorite author, for comparison’s sake, has written approximately 60 (including two Star Wars books), most of which I’ve read. So you might say, I am more fully invested in the Star Wars universe than any short of the one in which we live. I know its character very well, I know much of it’s legends and mythology, I have a feel for the ebb and flow of its stories despite the myriad authors that have taken turns at shaping it. Star Wars has always been very near and dear to my heart, and even as an adult, I wish I could stowaway on board the Falcon, or grab the controls of a X-Wing and make the jump to light speed to escape the realities of this world. I honestly think that if the opportunity to do so suddenly presented itself before I could finish writing this post, I’d be gone in an instant and never look back.

So ever since it was announced that Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and would be producing new films, I’ve been dreading the outcome. Yes, I also saw it as an opportunity for the reduced Lucas influenced (LucasLite™) films to potentially get back to what we originally loved, but it’s also a great opportunity for them to ruin everything we (“I” really) ever loved about them. Given that I’ve liked much of J. J. Abrams’ work, I was (and still am) cautiously optimistic about the new main storyline films. I think there’s much to be hopeful about them, yet I can’t help but be nervous about them as well; after all, not everything that Abrams’ has touched has turned to gold nor have I loved all of his work.

That said, the trailer for The Force Awakens was released several months ago, and it looks amazing. The sound of the X-Wings give me chills, and while the radar dish on the Falcon has changed shape, the ship as whole does appear to be amazingly detailed and accurate enough to pass muster.

You of course know all this, and, by my own admission, I’m late to the party on writing about it. So why write about it now? After I finished my shift at work this evening, I wandered into the den to find my sister watching the Star Wars: A New Hope (Special Edition) on VHS. (Long story short, lets just say that due to a cable dispute and on-going renovations, her options for cinematic entertainment this evening were rather limited; my original non-SE VHS copies are inaccessible as are my DVDs.) Still, watching the Falcon maneuver and the X-Wings fly in formation to the Death Star… It gives me chills as much as it did 30 years ago, and the sound of those engines drew me back to the The Force Awakened trailer which faithfully recreated them.

There is still much to be nervous about with regards to this new film, and it’s still 9 months away from release, but I have to admit that I’m growing cautiously optimistic and excited about it.

Jedi Ruined Star Wars? WTF?!?!


I’m writing this post in response to a few of my fellow Cinema Studies majors wrote about on Facebook, How “Return of the Jedi” Ruined “Star Wars” Forever; forgive me for ranting and responding as if I was continuing an already in-progress conversation, because I am. As always, this is my two cents.

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Something Wicked Yadda Yadda Yadda…


(Disclaimer: It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m hungry for success and a good Philly cheesesteak.)

April 28, 2012. That was the official date of my graduation from Oakland University. It was the date that I officially received my Bachelors of Arts in Cinema Studies (Criticism). It was and is a far cry from where I thought I’d be twenty three years ago. On this date precisely twenty two years ago, I was attending — flunking out of, really — Michigan State University, addicted to CNN’s coverage of the [first] Gulf War, eating Gumby’s Pizza, while trying to figure out how I could recover from the mess I was making of my life. I’d abandoned the Air Force R.O.T.C. as I felt the detachment never had its act together. I abandoned my major, because electrical engineering simply wasn’t what I wanted to do but there was no computer science program at MSU dedicated to churning out programmers, at least as far as I was able to discover at that time. In reality, while I was — and am — fascinated by programming, it ultimately wasn’t and isn’t what I really wanted to do with my life. As I told a friend recently, I only really got to be good with programming because when I was a kid with my Atari 800XL computer, I didn’t have a word processor nor did I know what one was for several years, and so I took to trying to create something that would just let me write.

Writing… In all honesty, it’s the only thing I’m truly good at. I personally don’t think that I have the vision of some of the greats; I don’t think I could write thirty or forty novels with the same characters like some authors have. I tend to think that my stories are simplistic and often immature, that there needs to be a moral that I’m failing to add.When I read my stories, I find them entertaining, but I often feel they’re missing something… Something to move them from good to great.

So when I finally gave up on the tech industry after it abandoned me yet again, I decided to shift gears and move from my logical, technical side to my more creative side, and hope to build a career in writing. When the film industry started picking up and all the stars aligned and the Cinema Studies program became available at Oakland University, to which my mother is an alumnus, I enrolled thinking about screenwriting as a potential career.

During my three years at Oakland University, I’ve had some truly great teachers, and I’m going to name names here for all of you out there. If you’re lucky, you’ll be fortunate enough to have one or all of them as your teacher one day. Dr. Kyle Edwards, head of the Cinema Studies program, accepted me in with open arms despite my technical background, and taught one hell of a class on Sound Era Films. Dr. Ross Melnick was only there for a single year, but I was fortunate enough to have him for three classes, and I’m astonished at how much film and theater history there is to learn courtesy of that man. I’ll never look at or think about a Roxy theater without thinking about the man behind the name now. Dr. Doris Plantus-Runey is an eccentric genius and I looked forward to every damned minute of her screenwriting and adaptations classes. Hunter Vaughan is not quite as eccentric but no less a genius, though I must confess that film theory beyond montage is not my forte. I must also thank him for exposing his students to Last Year at Marienbad and a few other esoteric films that really make you think, and don’t just entertain. Expect the unexpected! Dr. Heidi Kenaga is another slightly eccentric professor, but I don’t think there’s anyone that knows more about films. Name a film and she can discuss it in detail, and I was very fortunate to be taught by her in each of my three years at OU. There are others as well, including some outside the Cinema Studies program such as my Japanese teacher, Masae Yasuda — who moved on to the University of Michigan — that are more than worth noting. They’re worth thanking and appreciating. To all those I’ve left unmentioned, thank you!

I seem to have left the rails of my original train of thought… Or have I? Without these people, these classes I’ve taken, and the opportunity to sit and stew on all that I’ve learned, I don’t think that it would be remotely possible for me to embark upon a writing career, let alone do it successfully. Not that I’ve gotten there yet, mind you, but I needed to be shaped and honed. I certainly look at every television show and film with a more critical eye, identifying the things I like and dislike the most about them. I can now spot themes I never would’ve consciously noticed before, and I can question and appreciate the choices made in the writing phase more than I ever could before. I may have earned at BA of Cinema Studies, but what I really did is build a set of tools to help me achieve my goals. They can’t be given, they have to be developed. When combined with the skills I already possessed, I have no excuse for not succeeding. My stories may still lack something of a moral character, in my eyes, but that doesn’t mean they’re unacceptable. The point of many stories, like mine, is to entertain, and so that’s what I’ll do.

I have the tools, I just have to use them.

To that end, I’ll bore you for another few moments with a brief discussion of some of the things I’ve watched recently, and what drew me to them. First and foremost are the shows that I love because they simply make writers look cool, Castle and Californication. I watch both of these shows because of the writer connection, the fact that I’m living vicariously through each of the central writer characters which are wildly successful compared to myself, the humor, the writing, and the actors playing the writers in question: Nathan Fillion and David Duchovny. Perhaps I read too much into it when I draw a parallel between the two actors as both were on wildly popular if not successful sci-fi shows at some point before they took on these authorial personae, but given the “mundaneness” of their current characters’ career choices, I like to think there’s some hope for myself. Similarly, I watched Midnight in Paris earlier this evening, starring Owen Wilson as a screenwriter aspiring to be an author. Besides the obvious parallel to my own life, or desired life, this film was intriguing from many different points of view, even if you don’t like Owen. Frankly, it seems that Woody Allen might make me a fan if he keeps this up! Then there’s House of Lies starring Don Cheadle. There’s no good excuse for watching it other than I enjoy it, but there’s something that was done often in the first season that is so far largely missing from the second, and I hope it returns before they lose my viewership: breaking the fourth wall. Marty, Cheadle’s character, would regularly talk to the viewer, hold up cue cards, and do bizarre things that none of the other characters would notice during every episode, and I loved every single moment of it because he was an acknowledgment of the absurdity of his character’s situation. It’s been used sparingly so far this season, but I hope that’s because they’re saving it for something really good. The final thing I want to mention is House of Cards, a Netflix produced series available exclusively (for now at least) on their service. Like the other House I mentioned here, the main character — Francis Underwood played by Kevin Spacey (another one of my favorite actors, by the way) — frequently breaks the fourth wall, bringing a bit of levity and insight to the otherwise deep and heavy political angling and pressure of the show. I’m not saying I’m a fan after watching the first two episodes this evening, but I love what I see, and I have to admit that I am beyond fascinated with Underwood’s relationship with his wife. He may have the political power and ability to scheme like no one else, but he appears to be as deadly loyal to his wife as she is to him, though it is clear that she holds some measure of power over him. I think the thing that caught my attention in the first episode was when she said to him in no uncertain terms “My husband doesn’t apologize to anyone, not even me” which forced him to reevaluate his reactions to a political snub. There’s an oddness to their relationship that I can’t quite define yet, but it’s going to have me coming back episode after episode.

So I’ve rambled on for almost exactly fifteen hundred words. (Well, exactly that at “words.”) Why? Because I’m not where I thought I would be more than two decades ago. Because I have developed the tools to put me where I want to be two decades from now. Because I know what I like, what I want to capture, and what I’m going to give you. It’s time to stop delaying and panicking and start writing and crafting. I may not get there this year, but I will get there. I’m now putting forth the effort to get there, and if I fail, well, that’s fine too. But I’m not going out without trying. Clancy Brown, in his role as Kurgan in The Highlander, said “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” I get that now. It’s better to give it my all and fail than to have never tried at all. Perhaps I’ll have a brief but brilliant career. Perhaps I’ll have a long and amazing career. Perhaps not. But if there’s no effort, I’ll never know. If I can’t put a moral in my stories, then I’m going to put sin in. Just know that something wicked this way comes!

Star Wars, Disney, George Lucas and the Future Yet to Come


By now you’ve undoubtedly heard that Disney is acquiring Lucas Films from George Lucas, including the legendary film franchise, Star Wars, for an estimated $4 billion. My first reaction and for many hours afterwards was one of absolute horror. But I’m not so sure I feel that way any more… Let me address my concerns with you to explore how I currently feel.

First and foremost, Disney has dedicated itself to being a family friendly and some what child-teenager oriented entertainment company. That’s who they are and have been for decades, and, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. They make hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars from it every year. My fear, here, is that Disney will continue the process of making the Star Wars franchise more child-teenager oriented, as it began with Lucas himself in the Phantom Menace and currently the Clone Wars “cartoon.” The original film, now known as Star Wars: A New Hope, wasn’t really intended for children, though it wasn’t exclusive of them either. It was just a straightforward film meant to entertain and tell a story. Both of its sequels were the same way. We watched as Luke evolved into a hero, and were in awe of Hollywood’s best anti-hero of the time, Han Solo! Han shot first. Period. There was no doubt about that, ever! Yet, when Mr. Lucas released it to DVD a few years ago, we were appalled to see that he edited the film so that Greedo shot first with Han tilting (badly!) his head to avoid the shot. That’s a revisionist change to the film, making Han look like an innocent victim that retaliated against Greedo. The idea was to make him purely heroic there, but it’s not who Han Solo was; it’s not how Han has been portrayed in the countless comics and books over the years, and that’s why it was so abhorrent to the fans. When we think of Disney’s involvement in Star Wars, the first thing that comes to mind is that kind of change to the universe we’ve grown up with. When the Clone Wars film headed to theaters, I was looking forward to seeing it, and thought it would be amazing, but it turned out to be meant for teenagers at most, and it felt really dumbed down to me. It felt like a Disney movie. Yes, characters died, but that was unavoidable, and is something that is easily tolerated in films and cartoons targeted towards teenagers. But it was lacking the depth and feel of the rest of the franchise; even the prequel trilogy had more depth to them.

But! Perhaps this move will change things… The problem with the Star Wars franchise has been that Mr. Lucas has been in control of it for nearly 40 years. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing, but his tastes, styles, and vision for the franchise has changed over the years. The person he wanted Han Solo to be in 1977 is different from the person he wants Han Solo to be in 2012. His vision changed, but ours did not. I grew up admiring the hell out of those characters, learning who they were and what made them so beautiful to me. When I started reading the Thrawn trilogy in 1991-2, it wasn’t to see the Han that let Greedo shoot first, it was to see what happened to the scoundrel that would shoot in cold blood the person hunting him. I wanted to see the naive but growing Luke Skywalker and his twin sister, the beautiful but forceful Princess Leia Organa. It was to see the far too intelligent if occasionally silly R2-D2, not the apparently brain dead one that was running into walls in Revenge of the Sith. And I sure as hell didn’t want to have my vision of Anakin Skywalker go from the Jedi knight that became Darth Vader to a 10 year old child behind the controls of a fighter doing purely stupid moves.

Lucas’ vision changed, and that’s fine. But the problem is — or rather was — there was no one that could stand up to him and stop him from ruining our vision of who these characters were. I first realized this trend with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. While Mr. Lucas didn’t have first hand involvement in the game, he did oversee it’s final stages, the story, and what was allowed in the game. There was no one that could simply tell him that the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense or that the plot problems it creates aren’t logical. Then I thought back to something I read in an interview with Timothy Zahn regarding the original Thrawn trilogy, basically that Joruus C’baoth was originally intended to be a clone of Obiwan Kenobi, but Lucas had other plans for that clone. Mr. Lucas had absolute control over the Star Wars universe and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought or wanted because he always had final say. If he had chosen to do so, he could have edited out a major character from all of the films, simply because he wanted to do so. He did, in fact, edit out the original actor playing Anakin Skywalker from the closing Force-ghost vision of the character at the end of Return of the Jedi, replacing him with Hayden Christensen, a move that sparked a fair amount of controversy as is. Who was there to stop him? Who could have stopped him?

The simple answer is that no one could. You do the work, or he’ll replace you, as he was entitled to do. We fans tend to think of the Star Wars universe as a universal treasure, something that should not be messed with under any circumstances. We don’t look at it as a property owned by one man, one artist, who is entitled to change anything he wants. I noted this in one of my previous posts, Mr. Lucas, Stop Tearing Down That Empire!

What the new arrangement means is that there is now the hope that someone who is more sympathetic to our vision will be managing the franchise. Maybe we’ll see the return of the scoundrels and villainy that we so treasured in the original films, see the focus more on the general audience than being “family friendly” now that it’s no longer the boss’ vision that is the bottom line. Yes, Lucas will still be a creative consultant on the future films, but that in no way means he gets final say. Maybe this is the break we Star Wars fans have been hoping for. Maybe.

 

For the record, watching this video is what got me to really start changing my mind…

Ghaddammit, Ted!!


Tonight, courtesy of a very good friend with all the right connections, I managed to see a preview of the film Ted (Seth MacFarlane, 2012), which opens this Friday. The film, in case you’re unaware, is about a grown man John (Mark Wahlberg) and the teddy bear, Ted, which came to life when he was a lonely 8 year old kid. Obviously, the bear has been around the block after 27 years, and this film is really about them, and John’s relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis).

Before I go any further, let me emphasize this as best I can:

DON’T FUCKING TAKE YOUR KIDS TO SEE THIS MOVIE!!

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Luc Besson: You’re My Hero!


For the longest time, I’ve considered novelist Robert A. Salvatore to be my mentor. I can’t say that he’s my friend, though I’ve met him, met his wife, and I’ve written him and been written to by him. I’ve read nearly all his books, and I love his writing style.
However, as I slip more and more into the filmmaking world, I’m really becoming a follower of another man. I’ve loved the work of Luc Besson for a very long time. The first film of his that I know I watched and loved was Leon the Professional, which introduced the world to Natalie Portman and the United States learned of Jean Reno. I didn’t know Luc Besson at the time; I didn’t know who he was or what the hell a director was. I just knew I liked the movie a lot!

Later, he did the Fifth Element with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich, and again I was in awe. Although I nearly consider myself a devotee to the religion of Star Wars, when I’m asked what my favorite movie is, I state early and in no uncertain terms: The Fifth Element. Yes, it can be cheesy. Yes, there are some special effects flaws that bother me. Yes, the costumes are outrageous and Chris Tucker can be irritating as hell in it. But you know what? I love the hell out of that movie! There are lots of reasons why, but the story, the themes, the ironies, the mise-en-scene, the music, and far too many other things all just hit me in just the right fucking way. Would I give a kidney for the Fifth Element? No, but I willingly watch it every opportunity I have!

Over the last two weeks, I’ve come across two films that Besson wrote, though he didn’t direct them: Wasabi and Columbiana, and they have equally amazed me! Wasabi tickled me in all the right ways because it was decidedly French, which I found to be clever and cliche in a refreshing way, colliding with Japanese culture which I have a complete love for. Columbiana, on the other hand, tickles that part of my consciousness that loves strong female characters that just happen to be utter badasses…

In some ways, Wasabi and Columbiana are the Professional and Fifth Element draped in different clothes; there’s definitely a similarity between the films respectively. But I rather than say Besson is being lazy, I would actually declare him an auteur instead. The guy is quite rapidly becoming my hero as I get closer and closer to attempting to enter the film industry…

I’ll be frank… The way to get into the film industry is apparently by becoming an intern someplace and working your ass off for little pay for a long time, looking for just the right break while you put your dues in. I get that, and I’m not going to complain about it. It’s just the way things are. I don’t think I can handle that, mind you, and I’m hoping I can find a break via another path, and I’m looking to explore those meager options, but in all honesty, if I had an opportunity to just sit down with Luc Besson and work as an intern for him for a few months, I really think I’d strongly consider it. I’m liking his style, and I’m thinking that he’d really approve of a particular character I have in mind, perhaps a second as well.

Hell, even without the opportunity to work for the man, I think I’d like to sit down with him for a while and pick his brain on the Fifth Element and Columbiana, and see how I can apply his French perspectives to my own work! Mr. Besson, if by some miracle you read this, please drop me a line! I’d love to just talk with you for a while!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


Although I’ve more than once on this site screamed that “this will be the last spoiler warning I ever give” because I generally just don’t give a damn, since this film has not yet been released, I feel obliged to at least warn folk this time around. I’m not going to say that I’ll never give you a heads up again, but I think it’s unlikely that I’ll care as much to do so in the future. Any how…

So, there’s a book. It’s called “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” It’s been out for a few years and it’s garnered a lot of attention. Ever hear of it? Yeah, I’m sure you probably have. We all knew this movie was coming. Well, anyone that vaguely heard of it the book at any rate, so I’m not going to go into any details about the plot. But I will say this right off the bat:

WHAT THE HELL IS SONY DOING WITH THE OPENING?

Ok, let me back up a bit, and explain a few things. I saw the movie tonight, Monday December 19, legally and for free with a number of friends. It was a preview showing they were doing in Birmingham, Michigan, and the head of my program at Oakland University alerted the department students that this preview was happening. So, a few of us independently got ourselves passes and guests and made our way to the theater to watch this film. After nearly getting killed on the escalator due to bad planning with regards to admittance to the theater, we all surrendered our cellphones and all other recording devices prior to entry into the exhibition room. (By bad planning, I mean they allowed the line of people passing through security to grow long enough to block the top of the escalator where people were basically being thrown into the line by virtue of no place else to go and the irresistible force of the heavy machinery deciding you can’t stand still…) Surviving the chaos, we turned off our phones, had a metal detector run over us, and handed over the phones. Fine whatever.

Then we got a verbal warning as a collected audience about the slim chance that we might have managed to sneak a recording device into the theater. If there had been time and room for a strip search, I’m sure it would’ve been conducted as well. At the height of our boredom and wandering minds (mostly wondering what time it was since we all had to surrender our phones), the theater darkened and the movie began.

And I began to wonder how bad this film was going to be.

I didn’t jump on the Millennium Series bandwagon until kinda late. In fact, I didn’t read Dragon Tattoo until early this year, and I haven’t read the other two books yet, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of this film. I generally avoided the previews and trailers, because I wasn’t sure I was going to watch this film. My expectations were really, really low that they could pull it off. And the opening computer generated animation with the techno music reinforced my fear that this was going to be a shitty film enjoyed with friends. As speechless as I was with the opening, I was just as speechless with the abrupt end of it and the shift to the much slower pace that I expected of the film. If I had to describe this transition, I’d have to say it’s like using one of the openings to a James Bond movie — perhaps “Casino Royale” with Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” blaring — and then suddenly finding yourself in “The Da Vinci Code.” That’s the God’s honest truth: the opening is so out of place with the rest of the film that I honestly think it was bolted on by some Sony exec that thought it would liven the film up.

In reality, the film doesn’t need it. I think Sony would be better off dropping that opening, and use something more at home with the film’s actual pace, utilizing bits of footage that they undoubtedly shot but didn’t use in the film… Perhaps some news coverage of the Blomkvist trial… Really anything connected to the film rather than some abstract music video. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting to watch, but ultimately it’s a horrible way to open the film.

Once you get past that opening, the movie is overall very good. There are a number of *REALLY* uncomfortable moments in the film, however. Maybe the film is taking a European ethic with regards to sex scenes, maybe it was just in an effort to be faithful to the book, but there are a couple of key sex scenes in the film that you wouldn’t normally see in a Hollywood film. In both cases, my “trained” American film sensibilities screamed that the sex acts would be cut at a certain moment, and we’d be on to the next scene or at least jump a few minutes or hours in time to the aftermath. That’s how Hollywood has trained us for decades; we don’t see people having sex, typically, for longer than a few seconds except on very rare occasion. THIS is one of those rare occasions, and it’s very uncomfortable, even for someone that was expecting them like I was. They were [mostly] faithful to the book, but they made even me uncomfortable.

That said, all in all, this is one of the more accurate film adaptations of a novel that I’ve seen. There were differences, naturally, some of which my dear friend E. and I predicted before the film as a way of “dumbing” down the story, others we suspect were done to eliminate possible confusion. As I seem to have guessed a few things incorrectly in the book that were apparently told correctly in the film after all (despite my proclamations otherwise to E. on the way home), I won’t go too far into them, but fans of the book: you will notice the differences, but you probably won’t be too upset with them. The quality of the film and the story outshine the sometimes significant discrepancies, and in the end, no harm is done to the story.

Rating… I think I used a 10 point scale previously, so I think I’ll stick with that here… I’d give it a 9.5 our of 10; I have to knock half a point off for that opening, but otherwise Stieg Larsson’s work is too good to be muddied by the differences between novel and film.

Conan the Barbarian


If you’re anything like me, you might have seen the old Schwarzenegger Conan movies and enjoyed them immensely. But in all honesty, did you know that Conan existed before those films? I had no idea until this past week that there was more to Conan than what Schwarzenegger portrayed and that had been developed into comics since then! No idea at all that Conan stretched back to the 1930s!

So, as you might guess, I was afraid of this new Conan film. I was afraid that it would be a parody or an attempt to continue in the tradition of the Schwarzenegger films, but I made up my mind to see it when I discovered Jason Momoa was playing the title role. I’m something of a late comer; I didn’t know Momoa existed before his portrayal of Ronon Dex on Stargate: Atlantis. I loved that character! I loved Momoa’s performance so much that I only started watching Game of Thrones (which I now love) to see him as Khal Drogo. (Thanks to Jewel Staite for mentioning that on Twitter at just the right time!)

Earlier this week I read a preview article on some site that made me more comfortable about the film, and especially when I saw the preview clip that was attached to the article. That convinced me that this was no attempt to recreate what Schwarzenegger did, and that this was no re-imagining or reboot of the franchise. In fact, the article pointed out that this, if anything, is a re-adaptation of the original stories. “Original stories?” I thought, and did some digging. Yes. Conan goes back to 1932 to Robert E. Howard’s original stories. Perhaps even older still when you factor in that the first Conan story was a retelling of one of Howard’s Kull the Conqueror stories. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is more to Conan than most of us ever knew!

So I was prepared to accept this alternate Conan, even though friends of mine were complaining that he speaks too much. (When did that become a bad thing?!?!) After watching this film today, what do I think? In all honesty, I like this vision of Conan better than Schwarzenegger’s! I love the intelligent, calculating brutality of Momoa’s Conan better than the brute strength of Schwarzenegger’s. In my opinion it fits the character better, and even makes better sense of the endings of Schwarzenegger’s where the voice over proclaims that this is but one of the stories of how Conan got to be king, then implying that there were others. This “new” Conan was proclaimed as being kingly by another character in the film, and I think it was completely accurate and that it felt better.

Of course, that brings me to the only two things I think were flaws in this film. First and foremost, this Conan was far too likable. He had no bad habits per se, and was likable from the first moments of the film. At no point did I feel that he had any character flaws or issues that needed to be resolved in order to triumph in the end. As much as we might want perfect characters in our stories, it’s these flaws that bond the audience to them. Did I dislike Conan? No. I just think he was too perfect, too heroic through out the film. Give him some self-doubt, or perhaps make him too reckless resulting in the death of a friend, or make him a drunkard… Give him something significant to overcome to make me want to root for him rather than making him perfect because he’s the hero we always knew him to be! Throughout the film, I kept seeing Conan as a middle ground between Momoa’s Ronon and Drogo; he had the apparent moral code of Ronon yet was able to get down and dirty like Drogo when it came to combat and sex. While there were definitely some things that were clearly Conan, I kept seeing these other characters, and it wasn’t because of Momoa’s acting. It was the script, which I think was tailored to capture fans of those other performances. I didn’t dislike the script and story, mind you, I just think that Conan was written too much like Momoa’s other characters.

Unfortunately, that ties into my second point: there isn’t a single enemy in this film that really compares to or challenges Conan. Yes, the chief antagonist does pose some trivial challenge to him, but in truth I felt like it was just a matter of time before and a question of how Conan killed him. Throughout the story, it was obvious that Conan was superior to every opponent in the film. There was no obstacle Conan couldn’t surmount, and so, again, another character development and audience bonding opportunity was passed up. It’s like watching the favored team steamroll an up and coming challenger: you know who’s going to win and there’s not much in the way of thrills as a result.

The movie was good, and I liked it, but it wasn’t epic like it should have been. Much as I despise Schwarzenegger these days, his version of Conan felt epic. Momoa’s was far more realistic, brutal, bloody, and intelligent, but it lacked that epic feel despite the fact that the overarching story takes place over decades if not centuries. I would love to see that corrected in a sequel but I seriously doubt there will be one. Part of the reason is that despite the presence of Momoa, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, and narration by Morgan Freeman, there weren’t very many stars or even recognizable faces in this film. It seems to me that the studio committed to the film only as far as honoring a contract rather than being really invested in the success of this film. I may be wrong, there may be a dozen sequels planned for all I know, but felt that the studio really wasn’t interested in this film.

So, what do I have to say about this film…? I’m not sure. If you’re a Conan fan, give it a shot; I think you’ll be surprised at how much you like it even if you don’t like the fact that he talks more in this film. If you want to watch an entertaining film, you have one here, and I can think of far worse ways to spend $10-12 than on this film. If you are critical of films, expecting to have certain emotional triggers set off, then I’d recommend you pass on this. I found it enjoyable, but it wasn’t exciting. I liked this interpretation of Conan, but I didn’t establish an emotional bond with him like I normally would with a film’s hero. There’s nothing technically wrong with the film, it’s just not what it should have been.