Sunday, January 24, 2010

Conan the Revisited

Believe it or not, the Conan news this week hasn't all been in the "talk show host" category.  Variety broke word on Thursday that Baywatch: Hawaii and Stargate: Atlantis actor Jason Momoa has been cast to play Conan (the Barbarian, not the O'Brien) in a planned revival of the popular pulp and comic character for the big screen under director Marcus Nispel.

The last time author Robert E. Howard's legendary savage stalked the cinema was in two Arnold Schwarzenegger starrers from Universal in the '80s, 1981's Conan the Barbarian, directed by John Milius, and 1984's Conan the Destroyer, directed by Richard Fleischer.  The first one, from a script by Oliver Stone, was gloriously gory, wonderfully violent, and hugely successful.  The second go-round, under the "helpful" eye of uber-producer Dino De Laurentiis, attempted to tone things down for a family audience.  Guess how that ended up?  Hint: There hasn't been another Conan flick for more than twenty-five years.

Since then, with the exception of a truly awful syndicated TV series in the late '90s (don't believe me?  See for yourself), the character has spent the past few decades being tossed around by various productions companies with big plans and little follow-through.  The closest we came was a proposed King Conan project to be helmed by original Conan director John Milius that would have reunited him with Schwarzenegger as a much-older Conan in his twilight years.  That seemed like a sure bet until Arnold decided he'd rather be King of California instead (and we all know how well that's worked out).

Despite the interminable fits and starts, and despite the character's absence from the movies for awhile now, he remains an indispensably iconic part of the pop culture landscape.  While my familiarity with the character admittedly owes more to the lengthy Marvel comic book run than the Howard texts, I think Momoa is a pretty good choice.  He can easily add on the pounds (and pounds) of muscle the roll requires, and he can deliver his dialogue without it sounding like an Austrian tongue twister.  While I'm hopeful this new attempt pans out, it is worrisome to me that Nispel's only credit of note is last year's unfortunate Friday the 13th remake.  As always, we'll just have to wait and see.

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