Arnold Speaks on Conan, Sequels, and younger action stars

Arnold’s getting a fair bit of play. Shortly after the MTV interview, IamRogue.com has its own piece, with more details – such as the interesting statement that Universal are interested in doing multiple movies:

While it appeared for a little while there that Terminator 5, directed by Justin Lin, would be the first famous character Arnold would reprise after dabbling in politics, that project doesn’t have the requisite momentum.  Instead, Schwarzenegger will dust off Conan’s sword and go on another adventure across Hyboria as Robert E. Howard‘s pulp hero.  Tentatively titled The Legend of Conan, the new film would act as a successor to John MiliusConan the Barbarian and its less popular sequel Conan the Destroyer.

Schwarzenegger singled out Milius’ 1982 film as a model for the new effort in explaining just how the new Conan came about at Universal, saying,

“Let me just say that a lot of it has to do with timing. That’s what show business and politics have in common. It’s a lot of it is timing, and I think that I would’ve chosen to do Conan already if it would’ve been ready, but the Universal studio just bought the rights to Conan, they have an executive over there that happens to be a big believer in bringing back that character, and Universal was the first one to do the movie with Dino DeLaurentiis, and now they want to be back and do a bunch of Conan movies, but do it high-quality, not as a B-movie, to do it high-quality like the first one was John Milius directed and Dino DeLaurentiis produced and Universal has presented. So they want to go back to that. So that will be ready by sometime this year.”

Despite the invocation of his work, there’s been no indication that Milius will be involved in this new movie.  The driving creative force behind The Legend of Conan is Chris Morgan, the Fast Five screenwriter who created the new story and may or may not be writing the script, depending on his obligation to write the seventh The Fast and the Furious installment.  Morgan is executive producing alongside Fredrick Malmberg.

After some discussion of Triplets and other projects, there’s a brief mention of a certain other action star whose name is frequently brought up in the “who could play Conan/his son” debates:

In 2003, Schwarzenegger made an uncredited appearance in The Rundown, in which he figuratively handed off the action-hero baton to erstwhile The Rock, Dwayne Johnson.  As to the possibility of starring alongside the younger actor, who will be seen shortly in both G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Pain & Gain, Schwarzenegger replied with a laugh,

“I think it would be great for him, for The Rock to play the earlier generation and me the later generation. I’m looking forward to that.”

… OK.

Editorial

Last year, I wrote a piece on The Legend of Conan for my REHupa fanzine “Elephants, Figs, and Lobsters with Wigs,” which ended up being relevant to several topics here, particularly the idea of forming a new Conan franchise around Arnold. To exercise my extremely presumptuous armchair businessman, I presumed that this was a stop-gap for Paradox. It doesn’t fit into their actions for the past decade, where they’ve actively shied from the Universal Conan outside a few deals like the Blu-Ray release and sword replicas. Their goal was to expand Howard’s existing characters and develop new franchises from them: characters they understand, characters they own, characters they control. They don’t control the 1982 Conan nearly as much as they’d like, and they’d likely always have to deal with Universal when it comes to that corner of the franchise.

This, then, was the result of Paradox being backed into a corner, making a deal with the elephant in the room they’d avoided so long. There’s simply no point now in seeking for anything remotely Howardian in the film, for not only would it be unlikely, but counterproductive, since the more Howardian elements in the Ahnold franchise, the more the Ahnold franchise is undermined by the comparison. As such, criticizing the film for its lack of Howardian elements is, at this stage, largely a moot point: why would it be Howardian, when it’s set in the Kurosawa-Ford-Nietzchean parallel universe of John Milius’ concoction? You might as well complain about a film based on the Adam West Batman series for eschewing the grim, gritty tone of the Detective Comics.

I initially thought that The Legend of Conan was a swan song for the Milius Conan, closing the story that began 30 years ago, a curtain call for a 1980s stalwart, the grand finale of an action movie legend. And frankly, it didn’t seem like it could be any other way: depressing as it is, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in his sixties, and he cannot be the big badass action hero forever. I believe iconic literary characters like the original Conan are too great to be tied to any single actor, but the fact remains that the version of Conan created by Stone & Milius is inextricable from Arnold Schwarzenegger, because the part was effectively tailor-made for him. There is no point in a Milius-Conan movie without Arnold. There simply didn’t seem to be any cinematic future in The Legend of Conan, for without Arnold, what could be done with the franchise? If Universal is indeed considering making multiple Conan films, what could they be about?

There are possibilities, of course, but none of them are remotely satisfying to me. The obvious one is that they will all star Arnold in his later years. The problem here is that films with the high quality Arnold and company are suggesting take quite a while to make, and Arnold doesn’t have much time on the clock: injuries, operations and health problems are already affecting him, and while it’s certainly possible he could be as spry in his old age as Jack Palance was in his ’80s, it would nonetheless relegate him into a supporting role in his own series. Alternately, perhaps they want to go have it both ways: a new, younger Conan, but this time based on the 1980s film. A prequel starring Roland Kickinger, bridging the gap between Barbarian and Legend? Jason Momoa had a bad enough time of people erroneously suggesting he was trying to fill Schwarzenegger’s shoes or take over “his” role, how bad would it be for a new Conan who is explicitly replacing Schwarzenegger?

Another possibility is that Conan’s son – and it will be a son, Hollywood isn’t imaginative enough to cast Antje Traue or Gina Carano as Conan’s daughter – will carry on the adventures in the Hyborian Age in a spinoff franchise. That’s even worse, as it not only has no Arnold, but no Conan: assuming that Kon or Conn or whatever he’s called is charismatic and compelling enough to justify a film based on his exploits, there’s still a pretty significant gulf between a character based on one of the most influential and enduring characters in 20th Century fantasy fiction, and a character with none of that cultural resonance.

But why are Universal looking for a movie franchise now? You’d think after the 2011 film’s returns that the Conan franchise was going to be shelved for a long time. Yet not only are they apparently looking for one film, they’re looking to start a new series. Perhaps they’re trying to combine the successes of The Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones, to make a big-budgeted adult fantasy film series that can be farmed yearly. Given The Hobbit being bloated into three two-hour-plus films and the final books in The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight being split in two parts, this seems a possibility. But then, all those properties are based on pre-existing source material: I sincerely doubt Universal is going to give us The Hour of the Dragon, Part One in 2015 and concluded the next year.

The Legend of Conan seems to be, from my limited perspective, a means to an end for Paradox, but a franchise for Universal. It’ll hopefully get them some money and drum up interest in REH and his characters, and put them in a position to boost their own projects like Kull, Dark Agnes, Vultures, Bran Mak Morn and the Solomon Kane sequel they’re jonesing for. Knowing our luck, of course, it’ll probably end up a massive success, with Paradox revitalizing the product accordingly: phoned-in novelizations and tie-ins will clutter the shelves alongside the Del Rey Howards; the Dark Horse Conan the Barbarian and King Conan are cancelled due to poor sales, and relaunched as The Legend of Conan, abandoning Howard and based entirely on the films; The Legend of Conan: The Video Game will be bombarded upon game shelves after four months of development to lukewarm reviews despite twice the budget’s worth of advertising. Maybe we’ll even get a bone thrown to us with The Legend of Conan: The Stories That Inspired The Film, collecting the three King Conan stories and whatever else they inevitably mine for the script.

As ever, I look on this as an opportunity to further promote Howard and the original Conan, but in an inclusive sort of way. To return to the Batman comparison: I like the Adam West show. I also like the comics. Crom help me, I even like Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which makes the ‘60s show look like The Dark Knight Returns. The trick is to treat them as their own separate beings in their own separate universes. There’s still a lot of headway to make there, since people still seem to think that Milius’ Conan and Howard’s Conan can possibly be the same person. I came across someone on IMDB who claimed exactly that, and suggested Howard fans didn’t seem to understand that Milius’ Conan was supposed to be Conan before he “became” Howard’s Conan: when I brought up the matter of how that could be when several Conan stories happened at the same time Konahn was pushing the Wheel of Pain, he didn’t have an answer for me.

It just makes things easier to say Arnold is the Adam West of Conan.