Man, I’m getting slow in my old age. Anyway, Nu Image has updated their section on Conan with a new image (ho ho). Depressingly, it appears to be the same old teaser from a year back – the one that originally promised Conan for 2009 – only with Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan and Ron Perlman in a bizarrely jarring font, as well as a slightly more appropriate “3D” under the title. And, of course, no Robert E. Howard credit to be seen, instead choosing to exalt Marcus Nispel: apparently the director of the critically panned Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes is a bigger sell for the tagline than one of the foundations of the modern fantasy genre.
Interestingly, they’ve also updated the film’s synopsis, and I’ve decided to label my thoughts on news under the “editorial” banner, so if you don’t want to read my rantings and ravings you can just ignore them. Click after the jump to read more.
After his father is murdered and village destroyed, Conan ventures into an unforgiving world where he survives as a thief, pirate, and warrior. On his path of wanton adventure and women, Conan chances upon the warlord responsible his tribe’s destruction. As he tracks Khalar Zym, Conan battles monsters, Zym’s henchmen, and Marique, a powerful witch. Based on the character created by Robert E. Howard, CONAN stars Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman and Rose McGowan, and is directed by Marcus Nispel.
It’s subtle, but there are some notable differences. The character of Marique appears to be greatly promoted, now “a powerful witch.” Rose McGowan even has fourth billing ahead of Ron Perlman, by Crom! Khalar Zym’s name seems to have stuck, with Khalar Singh a thing of the past. The most noticeable for me was the alteration to the story: instead of Conan being driven on a hackneyed Quest for Vengeance, it appears that Conan had basically abandoned any such notion and gone on a “path of wanton adventure and women.” Indeed, he only meets Zym by chance, indicating that Conan’s put the tragedy in the past. Apparently the time between being little Leo and becoming big Jason was spent doing everything except avenging his parents and people.
You’d think I’d be overjoyed to hear that the quest for vengeance has, apparently, been expunged – or at least, changed from a lifelong ordeal into something Conan just decides to pick up on when the opportunity arises. However, this was the symptom of a much larger problem, one that’s been present from the start: the very idea of Conan’s home village being destroyed and parents being murdered in the first place. There is absolutely no indication that Conan experienced anything as traumatic as the eradication of his whole world at a young age, and plenty that suggests the opposite. After all, why would Conan make periodic returns to his homeland, as Howard stated in his letter to P.S. Miller, if there was no-one and nothing to return to? Why does Conan never seem to mention Khalar Zym (or Thulsa Doom, or Hissah Zuhl, or Wrath-Amon, or the myriad other people who’ve destroyed his village and people in the many continuities) or the fate of his village and parents in any of the stories when the event was so devastating on young Conan’s life? Are those visits to Cimmeria visits to the charred ruins of his home and his parents’ graves?
Arguably, this change is actually no better, and is in a way a greater betrayal of Conan’s character than the quest for vengeance was in the first place. Sure, it was cliched and redundant, but Conan was a man who would seek revenge, a man of action who did not let slights go unpunished. Conan sought vengeance in short order, be it against those who betray him as in “Rogues in the House,” generals as in “Iron Shadows in the Moon” and “A Witch Shall Be Born,” usurpers as in “The Scarlet Citadel,” monsters as in “Queen of the Black Coast,” or kings as in The Hour of the Dragon. Conan did not engage on lifelong quests for vengeance because his vengeance was swift and relentless. He didn’t waste time pushing wheels or training in gladiator pits: he stopped at nothing to repay wrongs dealt unto him or his.
This new story would have us believe that Conan, instead of gunning for the person who destroyed his life, just escaped into the soft lands of the south, trying to make a life for himself, leaving Cimmeria behind him. That isn’t better – it’s just as wrong from a continuity perspective, and arguably worse from a character perspective. We’re still assuming that, unless Momoa’s Conan is supposed to be 16 years old or younger, that Conan in at least the thief stories like “The Tower of the Elephant” and “Rogues in the House” has chosen not to hunt down Zym and his men, and make them pay. That’s in addition to the problem that Conan is still essentially forced from his home, instead of going out into the wide world because he wanted to experience the delights and wonders of the Hyborian Age. Let’s not even talk about the fact that this story still contradicts everything we know about Conan’s early life from Howard: it still doesn’t address the problem that Conan didn’t leave Cimmeria until he was 15 years old, that he participated in the sack of Venarium, then later went north to fight with the Aesir against the Vanir and Hyperboreans, ended up captured by the latter, and escaped south into Zamora.
Already I can hear the responses: “you didn’t want the quest for vengeance, so they took it out, and you’re still not happy!” That’s because it doesn’t attack the root of the problem: it just substitutes one contradictory situation for another. It doesn’t matter if Conan goes on a quest for vengeance, drowns his sorrows in directionless slaying and wenching, or clings to the ruins of his home like Greyfriar’s bobby: it’s still based on an episode in his life that simply cannot happen. Conan could not go on a quest for vengeance after Zym destroyed his home because it contradicts the stories – and Conan could not wander the world aimlessly after Zym destroyed his home because it contradicts his character. The only way to solve the problem is to take the act of Zym destroying Conan’s home and murder of his father out of the story entirely – and I think it’s a bit late for that.