Of all the ’80s treasures currently in line to be remade, Conan The Barbarian would seem one of the less obvious choices. An extremely camp Dungeons And Dragons -style romp, it’s the sort of pumped-up action fare that seems entirely a product of its time. Put simply, it’s an ‘80s film through and through.
However, Millennium Studios clearly saw the potential in bringing glistening pecs and shimmering broadswords to the modern market, and announced that a Conan The Barbarian remake would be the latest nostalgia-fest to arrive in cinemas. Naming the new film Conan , the studio decided that the character was due a total refresh as opposed to directly remaking of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s interpretation.
Instead, inspiration would be drawn from the original pulp stories written by creator Robert E Howard in the ’30s, with a view to completely reinventing the character for a new audience.
“Fans expect [ these types of movies ] to be more true to the source material,” explains producer Fredrick Malmberg. "There's no reason there couldn't be a Conan movie every two years. He's almost like Batman - he's a dark hero. He's a hard hero. He has to be badass, but we also have to like him.”
"It was obvious we had to make a remake or reboot the franchise,” he continues, “because it was 30-35 years since the old movie really got to millions of people. Conan as a character has really classic themes, but we just felt we had to go for a new generation. But that’s not an easy thing to do because it needs to be a big movie and it has to be R-rated. It’s a big task to make a movie like this, and that’s why we approached Millennium, and Millennium helped us to realize the vision."
At The Helm
In searching for a director to head up the project, Millennium were aiming high with their list of likely candidates. The Wachowski brothers were the first to be approached, whilst Robert Rodriguez was also courted by the studio. Neither option came to fruition, and when even Brett Ratner turned his nose up, things were beginning to look bleak for the embryonic remake.
Finally Millennium found success with Marcus Nispel, the man responsible for another ‘80s update in the shape of Friday 13th . “I think I know how to pick ‘em,” said Nispel in an interview with CraveOnline . “If you do something that’s loved by so many, everybody has their idea of what it should be. It’s always very, very hard, but that’s sort of the job. It’s not for pussies!”
A script was initially put together by Sahara screenwriters Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, before Outlander ’s Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain were drafted in to do some rewrites. According to Nispel, their job was to collate the reams of Conan material already out there in order to created the definitive version of the axe-swinger extraordinaire.
“When you make a movie about Conan,” he explains, “you don’t make a movie about the books, or a movie that was done in the ‘80s, or the comic book franchise. You look at what became of Conan throughout the ages, how we as a people change and how the market’s changed, then you squint at it and draw an equation.”
Back To Basics
Having agreed to take the hot-seat, Nispel was keen to produce a film that would hark back to a more visceral age of filmmaking, one in which audiences had not had their reactions dulled by today’s onslaught of CGI and 3D.
“The original film must have hit people like a freight train upon its release,” he told Conan ’s unofficial fansite Conan Movie Blog . “Today is a different time entirely. As a society, we are more cynical in times of depression. We’ve been overfed with high gloss and contrived CG imagery and seek something we can grasp. As our consciousness has shifted, so will the image of Conan.”
“In all of my movies, I’m drawn to tribal behavior," continues the director, “since I grow easily bored with the antiseptic world in which we live. I like to give people a second-hand idea of what it’s like to have dirt under your fingernails. Most of all, I like getting dirt under my nails making it! I want to create a cathartic experience.”
With that in mind, the bruising Conan would seem the perfect vehicle for Nispel’s back to basics manliness. “The character of Conan is what most attracted me to this project,” he agrees. “He’s the last of the reality-based superheroes and the most unapologetic one at that. I find that refreshing in these politically correct times.”
“He’s a man of great mirth and great melancholy. Though I had to look up what ‘mirth’ meant, I certainly dig the melancholy aspect. To me, that really sets Conan apart from other heroes.”
Heir To The Throne
Having assured fans that casting wouldn’t just boil down to a beefcake competition, Nispel plumped for Game Of Thrones , er, “beefcake” Jason Momoa. The star reportedly beat off competition from Kellan Lutz, John Brotherton and Supernatural ’s Jared Padalecki to secure the role, and told us exclusively that he wasn’t worried about the inevitable comparisons with Arnie.
“I don’t really think it’s filling his shoes,” said Momoa. “We’re not remaking it – it’s a reboot of the franchise in the vein of Bond or Batman. With no disrespect to Arnold, I haven’t seen his version yet – I wanted to see mine first!”
The physical nature of the shoot would prove more of a test. “I should be dead,” laughs the star. “The day I got crushed by a horse was the worst. I stopped that day, went straight to the trailer and started drinking scotch!” That said, some of the macho antics involved on set were clearly to Momoa’s taste.
“I actually got to swing a proper sword,” he told Collider , “and it was so sharp. I chopped a big knot! It’s one of those big, huge ropes that we tied a gigantic knot in, and we just hit it and it completely [ went through it ], just absolutely, like butter. Samurai swords are amazing. It’s just unbelievable.”
Next to be cast was Conan’s love interest, with Rachel Nichols confirmed to play Tamara, a beautiful nun with a bit of a feisty streak. The Star Trek actress beat Cloverfield ’s Jessica Lucas to the role, with The L-Word star Sarah Shahi also having been linked. Whilst you might imagine the set to have been an intimidating and macho environment, Nichols apparently thrived on being one of the few females involved.
“It’s fun,” she told Collider . “I like to be in the boys camp! Rose [ McGowan ] wasn’t around that much, so I was the only girl a lot, which was fine by me. I love dudes!” Meanwhile, Nichols was heartened to learn that her character would be more than just window dressing.
“I was reading the script and was immediately drawn to the fact that she seems to be this sweet, innocent nun when you meet her, and that all changes very quickly when a fight or flight mechanism is ignited in her. It’s a coming of age story for her, and that’s the part of my involvement in the film that I really liked.”
However, she won’t be the only female player in this most manliest of movies. As mentioned previously, Rose McGowan would also be joining the cast…
Lady In Red
Several years prior to the announcement of Conan , Rose McGowan had signed on to star in a remake of Red Sonja as the titular warrior queen. Despite the existence of a couple of early posters, the film never made it to the production stage, and McGowan’s involvement in barbarian lore was pushed onto the shelf.
Happily, she would get finally her chance on Conan , for which she signed on to play the villainous Marique. And having spent much of her career playing a white witch on TV’s Charmed , it was fun for McGowan to experiment with her dark side.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played a character where I was so unconstrained,” she told Cinema Blend , “where you’re allowed to just paint some crazy landscape and be over the top! Normally you have to really pull it back. Steven [ Lang ] and I would start laughing at our utter ridiculousness! But I think we had a lot of fun with it.”
The elaborate costumes required for the role were less fun. “ The wardrobe was actually the hardest thing,” she explains. “You would think it would be the prosthetics, or the hair, but it was actually the wardrobe. They were feats of engineering. It would take two to three people to dress me and then on set they had a little toolbox of pliers and screwdrivers to keep me in it!”
As mentioned previously, Avatar ’s Stephen Lang will play the nightmarish Khalar Zym, father to McGowan’s character. Having killed everyone in Conan’s village barring the barbarian himself, he’s likely to be on the receiving end of some pretty serious vengeance.
As far as Lang was concerned, it was another chance to indulge in some big, blockbuster fun. “It was a tremendous experience,” the star told Collider . “There were a lot of stunts, a lot of action, a lot of makeup and a lot of fun!”
Not that Lang was any sort of devotee to the series before he signed on. “I had seen the previous Conan movies,” he revealed, “but they were always a bit too arch for me. I wasn’t an aficionado of them, put it that way! But this one is very true to the Howard world, and hopefully it’ll be as well-received as the originals with Arnold were.”
One thing Lang can guarantee is that action devotees will not leave the cinema feeling short-changed. “It starts with an action scene,” he explains, “then goes for about two hours, with a break here and there!” Those of a squeamish nature might want to give this one a wide berth…
When a teaser trailer emerged online earlier this year, it was met by a hail of criticism from fans underwhelmed by the apparent lack of guts and gore. In the light of John Milius’ ultra-violent original, it looked surprisingly anodyne, with the expected combination of OTT splatter and scantily-clad maidens nowhere to be seen.
Here’s what all the fuss was about…
Sean Hood, one of the many writers involved with the project, was quick to defend the film, promising it would live up to the spirit of the hard-R rated original.
“The world of Hyboria, as Robert E Howard described it, is fleshy and brutal,” wrote Hood on his blog. “Bloody beheadings and bare-chested slave girls abound. However, while the movie is unflinching in its depiction of barbarism, slavery and warfare, the violence and nudity emerge from the fabric of the story. It isn't gratuitous.”
“Robert E Howard’s stories, although violent and perverse for their time, were not intrusively graphic either,” he continued. “So this is ultimately a movie about the character Conan, a character that will hopefully launch a healthy franchise of movies with stories and characters that celebrate Howard’s work. Yes, you’ll see blood and boobs, but this isn’t a Cinemax movie; it's epic action/fantasy. And yes, it's rated R.”
When a writer is forced to go public in order to reassure fans they will get to see some boobs, you know you’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill action film…
Distributor Lionsgate are clearly confident that they’ve got a new franchise on their hands, with Jason Momoa confirming that he has already begun work on a script for the sequel. Momoa has already signed on for a second movie, and has written a script that places the focus on a raft of mythical creatures.
“We wanted to go there [ in the first one ],” Momoa told CraveOnline , “but having Clash Of The Titans , and coming out against that [ meant ] we wanted to put the budget into some other things. We couldn't get to that level with the visual effects and stuff.”
Meanwhile, Momoa is thrilled to have been given the chance to show off his writing skills. At present, the final decision has yet to be made by the studio, but the fact that his treatment is even being considered is a source of much pride to the actor.
“I feel it's beautiful,” he said. “How many actors get to go in there and go, ‘I'm part of the writing process’ and care that much about the character, because they are fans themselves? It's great. You know some people go like, ‘It's great, I'm going to be in my trailer.’ I want to fucking make a great Conan movie!”
Well, the one thing we can say is that those looking for blood will likely be sated. Nispel’s updated sword-swinger is a distinctly rouge-tinted affair, with plenty of severed heads and gushing arteries to keep the gorehounds happy.
Sadly, the rest of the film is a bit of a let-down. The 3D adds little excitement to an unforgiveably pedestrian adventure, with Momoa failing to bring much more than brawn to the party. That said, the action sequences do manage to get the blood pumping, and there’s a certain guilty pleasure feel about proceedings. You can take a look at our official review here .
The film appears to have fallen flat at the box-office too, taking just $3.7 million on its opening day in the US. Made on a budget of close to $70 million, the film will have to go some if it’s to come anywhere close to making its money back. That sequel may be on the back burner for a little while yet…