Michael J. Bassett weighs in on Conan

Stonecold-mike of the Robert E. Howard Forums alerted me to this interesting development:

I was sent a note from someone saying that Solomon Kane is available as a download through Netflix.  Sadly this does not appear to be true – at least from Netflix in Canada where I am right now.  Solomon Kane remains unavailable in North America for what I now understand are stupid legal reasons that I can’t share…Maybe they’ll get sorted, maybe not. (BTW, if it is available on Neflix USA – can someone tell me.)….but this article from Salon.com feels like a small vindication.

http://tinyurl.com/3rbwbep

Though I’d love to take a crack at Conan and I don’t want to insult the people who made the new one but it wasn’t great and I could do better for a smaller budget.  How Conan got that massive release and Kane has still absolutely nothing – not even DVD – breaks my heart.  I don’t even mind of people hate my film, I’d still at least like them to have the chance to form an opinion.

Well, then…

Editorial

Folks familiar with my review of Solomon Kane and subsequent musings, the DVD, and its relation to the source material, will know I’ve been pretty tough on the film for its divergences from the source material and its historical flubs, be it comparatively minor blunders like the Union Flag appearing years before the Union Flag was designed, to more serious issues like the weird Catholo-Puritanism religious confusion. However, there’s a critical difference between Solomon Kane and Conan the Barbarian: the guy who directed Solomon Kane actually knows how to direct a film. Thus, while I shudder at what Bassett might do with Conan given his handling of Kane – my hyperbolic fear is we’ll discover his mother was a Stygian sorceress, “explaining” his hatred of civilization and sorcery while adding a Freudian subtext to his dealings with women – and considering I had serious problems with Solomon Kane, I can’t disagree that he would’ve made a more coherent, interesting and worthy film.

This puts me in some contention with those Howard fans & scholars who liked Conan and didn’t like Kane, but all things considered, I truly think that Kane was just a better film.  It was closer to REH’s world and creation than Conan, it was more tightly edited, better choreographed, more interestingly designed, better scored, infinitely better acted – and, yes, better directed, no question.  The action scenes in Kane made me cringe in the right way – mostly because you could actually see what was happening – and the supernatural creatures were infinitely more frightening and well-conceived than the ones in Conan.  And, just like Momoa, Purefoy could’ve made a brilliant Kane in an actual adaptation.

Bassett wouldn’t be my first choice by any means, not just because of Kane, but because I’d much rather he make a fantastic Elric film. After Conan, I don’t want to see Nispel anywhere near a property I love again. So it might be damning with faint praise, but frankly, I think the Conan film franchise could do much worse. Kane didn’t even do much worse than Conan at the box office, $19 million in the foreign market compared to Conan’s $27 million – and that’s with barely a fraction of the media saturation and brand equity of Conan.

Conan 2011: One Month On

Well, a little over a month since the film’s US premiere and Conan, and the film’s first few weeks in the open world are in the books. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have gone particularly well, critically or financially: Box Office Mojo’s current numbers crunch to only $21,180,241 million domestic takings and $27,500,000 foreign, amounting to $48,680,241 worldwide. While Box Office Mojo isn’t infallible – it still cites the production budget as $90 million despite Avi Lerner and Fredrik Malmberg confirming the budget as $70 million on multiple occasions – it’s a fairly reliable site for the most part. This is a pretty big disappointment for all involved, and although the first Conan trailer got a lot of buzz on the ‘net in the first week of its release, Conan the Barbarian 2011 has officially underperformed.

I’m not an industry analyst, so I can’t say with any degree of authority why this happened, though blame has been levelled at everything from the marketing to the film’s quality to the Conan brand equity. All we can really do is look at reviews, and see what they see. To that end, I’ve gathered some of what I consider to be the most perceptive and insightful reviews of Conan 2011 in this post, be they positive or negative, hoping that this might tell us something. I may disagree with, say, Phipps’ idea that the 1982 film was the best adaptation of Howard we could get, and Harry Knowles’ wish for Oliver Stone to get his hands on Conan fills me with terror, but they’re pretty good nonetheless.

Continue reading “Conan 2011: One Month On”

Sean Hood speaks on Conan’s lukewarm box office returns

Sean Hood has a very frank discussion on his Quora page in regards to the underwhelming weekend takings for Conan:

You make light of it, of course. You joke and shrug. But the blow to your ego and reputation can’t be brushed off. Reviewers, even when they were positive, mocked Conan The Barbarian for its lack of story, lack of characterization, and lack of wit. This doesn’t speak well of the screenwriting – and any filmmaker who tells you s/he “doesn’t read reviews” just doesn’t want to admit how much they sting.

Unfortunately, the work I do as a script doctor is hard to defend if the movie flops. I know that those who have read my Conan shooting script agree that much of the work I did on story and character never made it to screen. I myself know that given the difficulties of rewriting a script in the middle of production, I made vast improvements on the draft that came before me. But its still much like doing great work on a losing campaign. All anyone in the general public knows, all anyone in the industry remembers, is the flop. A loss is a loss.

This ended up on Deadline Hollywood, and led to some interpreting his mention of “making vast improvementsas throwing Donnelly & Oppenheimer under the bus, so to speak. Still others felt he was trying to blame everyone but himself, much like I’d been of Avi Lerner and Joe Drake. However, Sean himself commented at the site, and wanted to assure readers that this was not his intention:

Actually my words “I made vast improvements on the draft that came before me” weren’t very classy because it does sound like I’m throwing the previous writers under the bus, and I need to publicly apologize to Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Andrew Lobel. All I can say is that I didn’t mean it that way and I should have chosen my words more carefully.

What I meant to say that I was proud of the work I did solving problems that that had emerged in the development process, over many years and dozens of drafts. To suggest that I did better work than the writers before me would be both un-classy and flat out incorrect.

Many people have read Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer’s early drafts of Conan when it showed up on the internet, and a great, great number of them think theirs was the best draft of any, including the shooting script. Andrew Lobel’s draft was filled with great humor, which some critics thought the movie lacked.

I didn’t write this to point fingers. As the last writer on the project, the criticism of the story, dialogue, and characterization should fall primarily on me… not my peers, not producers, not studio executives, not the director.

The offending line has been taken from the Quora page, but I’m going to address it all the same.

Continue reading “Sean Hood speaks on Conan’s lukewarm box office returns”

Avi Lerner and Joe Drake blame everyone but themselves

I just had to comment on this breathtaking link, where producers Avi Lerner and Joe Drake state why they believed Conan failed at the box office:

The concensus among Avi Lerner and Joe Drake, who had successfully released The Expendables together, is that Conan The Barbarian didn’t have the “brand equity” they hoped it would. The pair had convinced themselves that the brand was ripe for a reboot and that the fans were ready for it, so they rescued the film from the major development purgatory it had been caught in for so long.

Oh, of course, this film proves Conan just doesn’t have the “brand equity” they want.  Conan may be successful in just about every other field of media it’s branched out to, but when the film fails, it isn’t because of – say – atrocious marketing, or a mediocre product, or executives who don’t know what in blazes they’re doing.  It’s “brand equity.”

Compare Conan to Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  There is no way Planet of the Apes‘ “brand equity” was stronger than Conan’s at this point in time: the last time it made so much as a blip on the popular radar was 2001, with a poorly-received Tim Burton reimagining.  It didn’t have a long-running popular comic series, nor multiple video games, nor a resurgence in publication of the source material in the lead up to the film.  Yet Rise of the Planet of the Apes did gangbusters, even though the Planet of the Apes franchise hasn’t been on the cultural landscape for a decade. Why?  It had a good story, strong characters and quality product created by some of the best people in the industry, and advertising highlighted those strong points.

In this ecomonic climate, people can’t afford to just go to multiple films at the cinema the way they could back in the ’80s. They couldn’t just go to see a film on the off-chance it might be a laugh: they have to know they’re going to get their money’s worth. People don’t care about loyalty to brands, they just want something that’ll promise them a good night at the cinema. Judging by the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Help, it’s evident that people are more willing to go to a film for the story and characters than they are for scene upon scene of mindless action. So who’s fault is it, if not Conan?  It can’t be because it’s R-rated, because 300 and Predators have done very well in the past five years.  It can’t be the August release, because Rise of the Planet of the Apes is doing well too.

No, Lerner & Drake, it’s clear to see that whatever caused Conan to sink at the box office, it can’t be the “brand equity” being substandard.  You just squandered the potential.  Dark Horse took the Conan brand and made it one of the most celebrated indy comic titles in the last decade.  Funcom took the Conan brand and made it one of the few MMORPGs that’s still standing tall against the juggernaut of World of Warcraft where others have succombed.  Mongoose Publishing took the Conan brand and made an RPG series that spawned dozens of supplements.  Del Rey and Gollancz took the Conan brand and made multiple volumes of 80-year-old stories that are still strong sellers. All in the second half of the last decade. Seems to me that Conan was, in fact, ripe for treatment on the big screen – but Lionsgate & Millennium dropped the ball.

That said, not all non-film Conan excursions have been as successful: the 2007 videogame was something of a disappointment. Why? Because it was a mindless, fun hack-and-slash with no higher aspirations than letting people go nuts as Conan – and more importantly, that’s how it sold itself. Dark Horse, Funcom and Del Rey took a different tact: they sold Conan as an icon from one of the founding fathers of the modern fantasy genre, highlighted the majesty and complexity of the Hyborian Age as a setting, and most importantly, made it look like a compelling world with strong characters and a story to tell. I’m no marketing expert, but when I see a correlation between products that take REH seriously and promote Conan as a worthwhile, exciting adventure story doing well, and products that barely mention REH and promote Conan as little more than hack-and-slash doing poorly… I start to think maybe you should do more of that first thing and less of that second thing. Promoting REH, selling Conan as an enthralling story with fascinating characters has obviously paid dividends. Promoting Conan as nothing more than mindless killing and sexist exploitation has not.

Those companies succeeded because they took the source material seriously and delivered quality products without insulting people’s intelligence.  Lionsgate & Millennium failed because they didn’t: they were obsessed with aiming for the Spike TV crowd with advertisements that give no inkling of story and just throw a constant barrage of images. I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of marketing and the product itself.  But Avi Lerner and Joe Drake are never going to admit that – it’s brand equity, it’s Jason Momoa, it’s the disloyal fans who dare to vote with their wallet.

In other words, it’s everyone’s fault but their own.

Nonetheless, perhaps we should let Lerner & Drake think that the reason it failed was because the brand didn’t have “equity.”  Maybe that’ll mean they drop Conan, and the license can get into the hands of someone who knows what to do with the property. Just keep telling yourselves that, guys – then if someone comes along and delivers the Conan movie everyone’s been waiting for, you can just blame it on the “timing,” or “market analysis,” or whatever. As ever, blame it on everything except yourselves.

New Round Up, and State of the Blog

Sorry I haven’t been keeping up to date on the blog, Cromrades: various factors have conspired, which shall be addressed after the jump.

First up, let’s look at the news I haven’t already reported on:

  • Art Andrews has a massive collection of photographs of props and costumes from the film at his Flickr;
  • David Pomerico talks to Suvudu.com about Conan the Barbarian: The Stories That Inspired The Movie;
  • Michael A. Stackpole’s novelization of Conan the Barbarian is reviewed at CSI: Librarian;
  • SummerGlauWiki (of all places) has scans from SyFyNow’s four page article on the film;
  • Rose McGowan has interviews with Montreal Gazette and Comic Book Resources;
  • Film School Rejects speaks with Marcus Nispel (and it explains a lot about how the film turned out, IMO);
  • Jason Momoa has interviews with USAToday, Miami News Times, The Huffington Post, ;
  • Collider has a neat interview with Ron Perlman and Leo Howard;
  • Gotcha Movies has a report on the Alamo Drafthouse Premiere (you can see a couple of familiar Howardian faces in the front row);
  • The Sofia Echo reports a 24th August gala premiere for Conan the Barbarian (and with the way box office has been going stateside, I bet the producers are praying for the highest grossing film in Bulgarian history)
  • Hollywood Outbreak chats with Rachel Nichols in a podcast;
  • Honolulu Pulse brought the disappointing news that Jason Momoa couldn’t make it home for Hawaii’s premiere;
  • The Daily Billboard has some nice images of the Conan billboards;
  • at least seven new images from the film are up at filmering.at; 
  • Conan: The Mask of Acheron has sold out;
  • Bakersfield Now has photographs of the US Premiere;

The final report on Conan the Barbarian’s takings this weekend are up at Box Office Mojo, and… well, I’ll let the report speak for itself:

Conan the Barbarian went the way of past August fantasy/ancient action movies and flopped hard. Joining the ranks of Kull the Conqueror and The Last Legion and grabbing less interest than even The 13th Warrior, Conan reaped an estimated $10 million on around 4,500 screens at 3,015 locations. It was a far cry from the 1982 Conan, which had over three times the attendance on its opening weekend, though it had a similar gross ($9.6 million).

The Conan remake’s marketing relied on the brand name and generic fantasy action instead of presenting a compelling story and strong characters. The movie’s director, Marcus Nispel, was also responsible for the similar dud Pathfinder. With roughly 2,100 locations, 3D was 61 percent of Conan‘s take. Distributor Lionsgate’s exit polling showed that 65 percent of Conan‘s was male and 69 percent was over 25 years old.

Until we know how the film did on the international market, though, we can’t put the “flop” stamp on it just yet. In terms of opening weekends, however, it does appear to be something of a disaster.

State of the Blog

Alright Cromrades, I feel it’s my duty to inform you about what’s happening with the blog now that the film’s out.

In short, it’ll still be running, but not at nearly the same level of regularity as it has been. There are a number of factors: the first being burnout. I and others have been working hard on the site, and I’d rather slow to an easy pace than crash into a wall at high-speed. Another is more insidious: my general opinion of the film itself. As I said in my review, I, uh, had problems with it. The fact that I had such problems with it led to a sort of crisis, as I felt I had spent so much time and energy on a film that I feel didn’t deserve the effort. I felt angry, insulted and ultimately depressed. Now that I’ve learned the film hasn’t exactly been doing gangbusters over the weekend, I feel a great draining of energy.

Nonetheless, I’m not beaten: I just need to pick my battles, as it were. Future posts on the CMB will either be short links posted on a regular basis, as seen above, or longer ones posted irregularly. I don’t want to use a schedule, as there can be no telling when news will come and at what saturation, but I hope the community which has emerged in the past few years will mean there’s always something for new visitors each day, be it in the comments or forums.

It might interest you all to know that we recently reached a significant milestone, passing 1,000,000 individual views yesterday. The film might not be doing great, but the blog’s chugging along for now. I couldn’t have done it without you all, and although the film wasn’t what I was hoping it to be, I couldn’t be more overwhelmed at the community that’s flocked around it. You are the vital spark which kept me galvanized, even through the disappointments, trials and tribulations. For that, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Well, let’s not get all maudlin: coming up, I’m putting together a pool of the best reviews – not in terms of how well/poorly they rate the film, but in terms of insight, perspective and eloquence, that they might help us look at the film from a different perspective. Until then, keep on clicking: maybe we’ll get another 2 million before we’re done!

Conan the Barbarian: A Critique

I’ve offered my general opinion of the film, but due to the nature of film reviews, I decided to stay away from delving into the details of the story and characters. I’m not overly concerned with spoilers myself, but I recognize others are, so I respected their choices, and made the review as spoiler-free as I could manage.

This, however, is a different animal altogether. If you want to go into the film completely unspoiled, I suggest you wait until after viewing to read this. This critique is going to go through the entire film, analysing every bit and piece I consider worthy of discussion, observation and, when it comes down to it, praise and criticism. Sometimes I’ll be delving into real nitpicking territory – things like pronunciations, spellings, city names, things like that – but hey, that’s what I do. You have been warned, serious esoterica Hyboriana ahead. As such, it’s very long, close to 20,000 words, but keep in mind that even given its length, this is me condensing. If anyone questions why I’m wasting my time dissecting a “dumb action movie” when all you want is “swords, sex and sorcery,” then I’m afraid you and I are just very different people.

In my review, I was carefully attempting to keep a balance of respectfulness and optimism, because of this. But here, I think it’s fairer for me to be frank and blunt. I figure the filmmakers don’t want me to be insincere and fawn over a film I hate, they want to know what I really think (and if they do want an insincere fawn, then they’re not getting it), because as long as I’m constructive, I hope that this might serve as an example to what the film did right and wrong, what would be great in future adaptations, and what wouldn’t be.

From my point of view, of course.

Continue readingConan the Barbarian: A Critique”

Another Conan review from a Howard fan

As seems to be the case in most fandoms, there can be disagreement. Even today, there is disagreement about the 1982 film: some like it for its own cinematic merits, others think it’s a colossally pretentious bore, and still others think it’s just bad.  So I had it in mind that other Howard fans might have entirely different opinions on the film. Well, a dissenting review of the upcoming Conan film by Robert E. Howard superfan and scholar Dennis McHaney has been posted on his site, and while he and I agree on some things, he has a far more positive reaction.

One of my Robert E. Howard Forum Cromrades, Amsterdamaged, brought up this excellent point (as mentioned by my fellow REHupan Jeffrey Shanks, who also offered his preliminary thoughts on the film):

When you consider the fact that over 20 years the major studios unequivocably sided with the Arnold fans and failed to even consider greenlighting a film without Arnold attached, it’s amazing that this film was ever made. Even if, at the end of the day, the general consensus is that this film is a critical failure, don’t underestimate the significance of this event. If it’s even a modest box office success (and I think it’s going to be more than modest; the momentum seems to be building and I predict it will close out the weekend at #1), it will have broken the stranglehold that Arnold has had over the character for nearly 30 years. Audiences will get used to the idea that Conan is a character, not just a vehicle for Arnold, and so will studios, and that will pave the way for (hopefully) more faithful adaptations in the future.

I must agree, it’s a great point, and it’s a point central to Dennis’ review. There aren’t any spoilers, so you can click without worrying.

Continue reading “Another Conan review from a Howard fan”

Conan the Barbarian: The Conan Movie Blog Review

Well Cromrades, you knew it was coming, and it is: I have seen Conan the Barbarian, and I have thoughts on it. Many, many thoughts.

This was always going to be a very difficult review to write. I have so much invested in the character of Conan, the work of his creator Robert E. Howard, and any future adaptations that hinge on this film. The reception and gross of this film is vital to the productions of Kull of Atlantis, Dark Agnes, Bran Mak Morn, Vultures, Pigeons from Hell, and who knows how many other Howard creations are in the pipeline. If the film does well, then we might finally get what Howard fans want most in a Robert E. Howard adaptation: Robert E. Howard.

While I’m always aware that I’m a big fan at heart, and it isn’t as if my word can make or break a production. But I am aware that what I say matters, and that I make a difference – the extent of that difference not immediately clear or quantifiable, but definitely present. I’m keenly aware of my responsibility for my words to be said with the utmost care.

As such, I’m going to write both a review and a critique: the review is the general, broad opinion of the film based on my reaction, with no real delving into plot, character or story details. The critique will deal with much more in-depth analysis, which would naturally mean every other aspect of the film. Those wanting to wait until they’ve seen the film to make a judgement would be advised only to read the review, and wait until after viewing for the critique.

As of this moment, I’m still putting the finishing touches on my review, so as a taster, here’s the capsule:

Conan the Barbarian (2011) is better than I was expecting in some respects, and worse than I was anticipating in others. On pure cinematic merits, it is not as successful as the 1982 film or Solomon Kane, but it is not quite as heinous as Conan the Destroyer or Kull the Conqueror either. In terms of adapting Robert E. Howard’s creation, it’s only marginally more faithful than any of its predecessors, just in different respects. Jason Momoa, with the right director, script and story, could be a fine interpretation of Howard’s Conan: there are brief, wonderful moments in the film where I momentarily forgot what film I was watching, and he’s definitely closer to REH than Arnold’s ever was. The basic story is still pathetic, some of the effects are simply atrocious, and there’s no thematic core, philosophy or subtlety to speak of – on the other hand, the natural scenery of Bulgaria is a joy to behold, some of the effects are surprisingly solid, and there’s a pervasive sense of enthusiasm from the cast that can be woefully lacking in these sorts of films. In short, some parts better, some parts worse, but overall, much as how I expected it to end up.

UPDATE: Now for the review itself. Click on, if you dare…

Continue readingConan the Barbarian: The Conan Movie Blog Review”

News Roundup: New Young Conan still, interviews, and REH news

Gearing up for the big day!

The Conan 3D Facebook page has a new picture of Leo Howard’s young Conan running amid fire and chaos in his home village:

For more, you will know it by the click of the link.

Continue reading “News Roundup: New Young Conan still, interviews, and REH news”

Conan US Premiere coverage & early reviews

So, the premiere has passed. I’ll leave it to the likes of Examiner to analyse the upholstery of the attending ladies (“Elsa Pataky wore a pleated chiffon cream colored dress with black detailing at the neck, which matched her black pumps” while “Rachel Nichols’s cream sequined dress with the side cutouts was a winner as well”), but I’ll provide a few pics and snippets I found of interest. According to various reports, castmembers Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, Leo Howard, Bob Sapp and Milton Welsh were in attendance, as well as director Marcus Nispel. I’m afraid I don’t know who Elsa Pataky or Tom Arnold are, but they were there, as was Patrick Muldoon (who will always be Zander from Starship Troopers to me) and I’ll assume their presence at the premiere was indeed vital and entirely necessary.

For the earliest reviews punctuated with pictures, videos and interviews…

Continue reading “Conan US Premiere coverage & early reviews”