Failure, thy name is Paradox

Let me start this off by admitting that yes, I am basically a fanboy when it comes to Conan, and pretty much any other part of the Robert E. Howard mythos, such as Solomon Kane, Kull, Red Sonja (and yes, I’m aware that Red Sonja is not, strictly speaking, a Howard character). I’m also a bit of a Howard purist, so I’m going to judge anything based on his works by how faithful it is to the original material.

Currently, Paradox holds the rights to the Howard properties. For years, I’ve been eagerly following every whispered rumor and formal press release, thrilled beyond words that someone thought it worthwhile to put the necessary resources into a film revival of the Hyborian world. I had high hopes that they would be presenting Conan and company in the spirit of Howard’s writing, because it was looking like this was the tone of the revival that was taking place across multiple forms of media: Dark Horse was (and still is) producing a Conan comic series that goes to great lengths to ensure that his character is properly portrayed, and that any story arcs that aren’t directly based on the original tales fit within (or at least do not contradict) the canonical chronology, Howard’s writing has begun appearing in conventional literary outlets increasingly over the past decade, and even the video game released a few years back, while not following any of the original stories, captured the character of Conan quite effectively, in my opinion.

Therefore, I was thrilled beyond words when I learned that Paradox was planning on releasing an animated film based on Red Nails, one of Howard’s last (and often considered one of the best) Conan stories. My excitement only grew as more details slowly emerged about the production, especially when it was announced that Ron Pearlman would be voicing Conan (he’d already voiced the titular character in the video game) and that Mark freaking Hamill was also going to be adding his legendary voice talents to the ensemble.

Then…nothing. The video was never released, and official word became increasingly scarce. It had made it to post-production, and then it seems that financial difficulties kept pushing back the release date, until it became apparent that then entire project had been effectively and indefinitely back-burnered by Paradox. Not cool.

It was about this time that I started seeing the teaser posters for the Red Sonja film, produced and directed by Robert Rodriquez and starring Rose McGowan. My excitement returned, albeit a bit more cautiously. Rodriquez was by no means my favorite director, but he seemed to have a pretty solid grasp of the pulp genre, and while McGowan wouldn’t have been my first choice for the role (that would have been Rhona Mitra, if anybody was wondering), she was no stranger to violent action films and certainly looked the part in the early promotional materials.

Slowly, this project seemed to get sucked into the same production black hole that had consumed Red Nails: Rodriquez departed as director, though he stayed attached as producer, and then began to slow but steady trickle of pushed back release dates and rumors of financial problems, until it was made official that this film had also been shelved for the foreseeable future.

Around this time, Paradox evidently managed to release a Solomon Kane film, but there was next to no publicity for it, it had an extremely limited release (I couldn’t even find a theater within reasonable driving distance that was screening it), and turned out to be a commercial and critical disaster.

By this point, I was feeling pretty despondent. Paradox then announced that they were hauling out the big guns and going directly for a new Conan film. Now here was something that could revitalize the Hyborian mythos! This time, my excitement remained at fever pitch until I managed to read a brief plot synopsis. I could tangibly feel my heart sinking as I perused the few paragraphs that had been released. This was not Howard; this was not Conan. This was some generic fantasy script that Conan’s name had been hastily stapled to the top of. It was now obvious that Paradox was less interested in revitalizing the character as Howard originally wrote him, and more interested in using his name to attract an audience to what was shaping up to be a truly mediocre film. I didn’t give up all hope, as I thought that Jason Momoa would actually make a decent Conan, and Stephen Lang could certainly play a memorable and despicable villain. I contented myself with that thought that while this may not be an authentic Conan film, it could at least turn out to be enjoyable “sword-and-sorcery” film on its own merits.

How wrong I was. The critics lambasted it, and it was declared all but commercially dead at the end of its opening weekend. For my part, no film has ever come so close to making me walk out of the theater before its completion. I wasn't terribly surprised, when the credits finally rolled, to see that the screenplay had multiple writers, as the banal plot and uninspired dialog positively reeked of something that had been written by committee. I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that these writers were kept in separate rooms and not allowed to communicate with one another, because the continuity was atrocious. The transitional cuts between the scenes were also sharper and more jarring than any of the sword strokes the combat sequences treated the audience to.

I won’t go into further detail, as there are a plethora of reviews that go to great length dissecting this monstrosity’s many, many weaknesses. One of the reviewers was bemoaning the commercial failure, noting that this meant we weren't likely to get any other Conan movies anytime soon. As much as it pains me to say this: good riddance. If this is the best that we can expect from such a film, then just let poor Howard rest in peace, secure in the knowledge that his creations are no longer being callously violated.

In closing, I would like to make an earnest appeal to Paradox: please, sell the rights to the Howard properties. It is obvious that you lack even the most fundamental understanding of his characters and the world they inhabit, and have no grasp of what has kept them on the popular consciousness of consumers for nearly a century. It is also evident that you are either unwilling or unable to properly produce and market these properties in a way that could lead to any commercial success. Your ineptitude is undermining decades of work by true fans, and doing a tremendous disservice to the creator of the world you so clumsily attempt to portray. Please, sell the rights. Hand the reigns off to someone who has both the desire and ability to truly and authentically revive them in the world of cinema.

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A favorite

I cannot believe in a paradise
Glorious, undefiled,
For gates all scrolled and streets of gold
Are tales for a dreaming child.

I am too lost for shame
That it moves me unto mirth,
But I can vision a Hell of flame
For I have lived on earth.

-Robert E. Howard

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The Killer Angels

"The truth is, Colonel, that there's no divine spark, bless you. There's many a man alive of no more value than a dead dog. Believe me, when you've seen them hang each other...Equality? Christ in Heaven. What I'm fighting for is the right to prove I'm a better man than many. Where have you seen this divine spark in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? The Great White Joker in the Sky dooms us all to stupidity or poverty from birth. No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance, not a leaf nor a tree. There's many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don't think race or country matters a damn. What matters is justice. 'Tis why I'm here. I'll be treated as I deserve, not as my father deserved. I'm Kilrain, and I God damn all gentlemen. I don't know who me father was and I don't give a damn. There's only one aristocracy, and that's right here - " he tapped his white skull with a thick finger - "and YOU, Colonel laddie, are a member of it and don't even know it. You are damned good at everything I've seen you do, a lovely soldier, an honest man, and you got a good heart on you too, which is rare in clever men. Strange thing. I'm not a clever man meself, but I know it when I run across it. The strange and marvelous thing about you, Colonel darlin', is that you believe in mankind, even preachers, whereas when you've got my great experience of the world you will have learned that good men are rare, much rarer than you think."
Michael Shaara (The Killer Angels)

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A Call to the Kindred

Extend a hand to flip the switch

Plunge into darkness, black as pitch

The shadows rise, devouring sound

Sending all human thoughts to ground

Yet hate within is burning bright

Illuminating ebon night

Fire through the veins does flow

Eyes gleaming with demonic glow

All light has fled, the darkness reigns

Banishing the earthly pains

Rise up on leathern, beating wings

As if pulled aloft by abyssal strings

The malice of the heart takes flight

To dominate the soul’s dark night

Dark urges smolder without cease

Demanding immediate release

Cast the rage across the sky

For with the dawn, it too must die
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