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Conan the Barbarian is a role seemingly created for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The character, as described by its creator, author Robert E. Howard, is “a tall man, mightily shouldered and deep of chest, with a massive corded neck and heavily muscled limbs.” The character wore nothing but loincloths and draped animal skins giving us lots of looks at that description, and fans flocked. Conan exploded at the box office, thrilling ticket holders and winning over critics while ushering in a short but lucrative revival of the genre that unfortunately, didn’t capitalize well on the first. The follow-up to this film, called Conan the Destroyer was panned and performed weakly, while the spin-off of one of its characters, Red Sonja wholly bombed in theaters. The franchise was rebooted in 2011 with Jason Momoa but it too failed mightily.
Well, to partially quote a different Schwarzenegger character, Conan will be back. And this time, with the real big man back in the role. Titled The Legend of Conan, though often referred to as Conan the Conquerer (even by Schwarzenegger himself), the story is said to ignore both the 1984 sequel and the 2011 reboot, instead spinning a story around a king that remains unchallenged his whole life until decades after his ascension when suddenly a coup is attempted. Done right, this will give great depth the iconic last image in the first movie of Conan as a man seated on this throne with masked indifference, a warrior with nothing and no one to fight.
As Schwarzenegger and producers search for a director, the good news is who they’ve tapped as the writer. The completed script is by Andrea Berloff (Oscar nominated for Straight outta Compton) and while zero details are known aside from what’s mentioned above, has great promise for delivering something fresh. The best part is that there won’t be any need for trying to figure out a way to awkwardly shoe-horn Schwarzenegger in, like in the Terminator series, and not having to configure plot lines and such to make events line up (also with the Terminator series). This will be the Conan, the man from the start, as we visit him again so many years later.
The greatness of Conan the Barbarian lies in more than its casting though, with a terrific sense of authenticity in its magnificent set designs and, at the time, incredible practical effects. While CGI has jaded our admiration for such things, what was happening in 1982 on the set of Conan was astonishing. The massive temples and landscapes, the torture wheel and more were eye-popping back in those days, and the site of the enormous reticulated python uncoiling to attack our hero was nothing short of jaw-dropping. And of course Sandahl Bergman running alongside Conan wasn’t so bad either. While ostensibly a children’s fable, it was a bit brutal and featured nudity (times were less restrictive then), it had great appeal for adults as well. With Basil Poledouris‘ thundering score, a terrific story by John Milius and Oliver Stone (yes, that Oliver Stone), and some sumptuous direction by Milius, Conan had all the makings for success.
So why should you be excited? Nostalgia is running at an all-time high right now with nearly every major studio film either sequel-ing all their properties or rebooting successful (or not) films in their back catalog. This goes for actors as well, many of whom are returning to the well that gave them fame from the start and continuing stories from where they left off. Schwarzenegger has been doing this with the Terminator franchise for a long time now, and he’s set to join up with Danny Devito (and Eddie Murphy) for the next chapter of Twins (called Triplets), but if there is any story that truly deserves a return to in his library of films, it’s Conan. The series, which had been planned for more, went no where after the disastrous first sequel and Schwarzenegger’s decision to make Predator, admittedly, a good choice. Schwarzenegger is still a fun and engaging actor. His presence in movies is still commanding and while he’s spending time with some needless action films, he’s shown he can do drama very well with the underrated Maggie (review). This is hopefully what the makers of The Legend of Conan will remember, while learning from the failures of the other Conan movies (including the reboot in 2014 and even Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules). It’s not about the copious violence and ability to spray gore all over the screen, or to fill the time with endless, confusing action and special effects. It’s about the characters and their place in the world they live in. The Legend of Conan must be a story about time, about the mortality we all face, the battles we overcome and the legacy we leave behind. Schwarzenegger should look to friend and fellow action star Sylvester Stallone who understands this well, or at least does in his portrayal of Rocky Balboa. Here is a character very much like Conan, who fought his way to the crown and faced the consequences along the way, who looks at age with dignity and knows that the last fights aren’t about going in the ring against another but with yourself. This is where Conan needs to be, facing his own natural (or otherwise) death, and while the bloody battlefield might be the proper place for Conan to face those truths, the story must explore the impact of what his life has meant. It does not mean he must die in the film, but, like Balboa, the introspection of his life is essential. We will not be moved nor celebrate another mindless fighting movie, over-laden with CGI unless the character we come to see is human, and while Conan might be more than a human, he is indeed mortal and it’s our ability to identify with him that will make him memorable. And legendary.
What do you think? Are you a of Conan? Let us know in the comments below.