Sunday, November 27, 2011
What's going on? Well, the King and Queen of Connaught get into an argument about who has more wealth. It turns out the King is very slightly ahead by owning a prize bull. So the Queen calls out the army to invade Ulster and steal the Brown Bull of Cooley. The army is repelled by the hero CuChulainn, who is the only warrior of Ulster available to fight due to a curse.
CuChulainn is nigh invincible when he is in his battle rage, which transforms him into a monster. He lays waste to the Connaught army. But eventually the Queen sends the warrior Ferdiad, a boyhood friend of CuChulainn, to face the hero.
CuChulainn survives, and chases the Queen and the army out of Ulster, but they take the Bull of Cooley with them. The two prize bulls meet in a pasture and fight. The Bull of Cooley impales the other bull, then breaks through the fence and runs home to Cooley, where its heart explodes.
Yes, like so many wars, this one was a waste of time and life. And this story dates from the pre-Christian era of Ireland; some truths are eternal. If the outline of the story doesn't seem like much, pay close attention to the video, which relates the story with more poetry -- and shadow puppets!
Sunday, October 02, 2011
I thought I'd long grown use to the fact that when people go to the Renn Fest they drink a little too much, they talk a little too much, and they talk a little too loud. I even thought I'd grown innured to the fact that some folks become instant experts at the Renn Fest.
But the guy behind me at today's joust was too much. He was providing running commentary to twins dressed as gypsy girls (see http://www.halloweencostumes.com/gypsy-princess-costume.html). It was obvious that his knowledge was derived from drunken viewings of Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior and not any academic study.
"Jousts were bloody duels to the death. They just kept hammering away at each other until somebody got impaled through the chest."
On the other hand, a few years ago, I was very pleasantly surprised to be sitting behind a man pointing out the parts of the knight's armor to his young son -- in painful detail and perfectly accented French: sabatons, pauldrons, poleyns, gorget, cuirass, tassets, etc. I could follow him, but I couldn't have done that from memory. 15th Century armor is not my specialty -- though it was clearly his. This guy obviously had studied more than the last D&D Complete Fighters Handbook.
Today I saw a man in beautifully turned out Viking Era Russ Trader kit. It was so understated, I nearly overlooked him. He had a close cap, brilliant red and black Russ coat, a blue wool tunic, oatmeal-colored wool trews, and brown leather boots. The best part was his bead necklace, with square, multi-colored glass beads. This was a man who knew his Dark Age costuming, and I'm sure he knew he was about 500 years out-of-fashion at an English Rennaissance event. Unlike the score or more of Capt. Jack Sparrow look-alikes who were probably blissfully unaware the Black Pearl isn't due to sail for about 200 years.
I love the floorshow at the Renn Fest. But I really enjoy it when I stumble across an actual expert.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
While I've never thought this movie was perfect, I've always considered it a classic. If nothing else, it deserves serious props for being an original idea. In an age when all we seem to get a remakes and sequels, that should mean something.
Of course, there's been off-and-on talk about a reboot for this franchise too. But it is one case in which I think a solid trilogy planned from the start and shot back-to-back would do more justice to the concept than the original. Especially if they kept the awesome soundtrack.
But I don't have enough faith in Hollywood to do it right.
Not only that, but young Leo was probably the best thing in Conan 3D. I found him far more interesting to watch than Jason Momoa.
Now that, my friends, is a badass scene. That's mythic. And some punk kid pulled it off. Too bad the rest of the movie didn't live up to it.
This test of manhood is similar to tests various warrior cultures put their boys through. It most reminds me of the test for membership in the Irish Fianna, which the legends tell us required a young man to have his hair braided and then run a course through the forest. If he was caught, he failed. If a branch cracked under his foot, he failed. If a braid came unraveled, he failed. he had to be able to leap over a branch as high as his forehead, pass under one as low as his knee, and he had to be able to pull a thorn from his heel without slowing down.
In fact, there's quite a lot from this scene which called Irish myth to mind. The great Irish hero, CuChulainn, was only a boy when he took up arms and started defending Ulster against its enemies. And, of course, the Celts of CuChulainn's time took heads in order to prove the number of enemies they'd slain in battle.
I suspect this echo of Irish myth is coincidental, but Robert E. Howard (Conan's creator, and no relation) would've approved. He was a serious Celtophile, and always imagined his Cimmerians as the ancestors of the historical Celts.
Anyway, for better or worse, Leo Howard is caught up in the "Mighty Mouse Machine" -- he's appearing on the Disney Channel's show Kickin' It, about a strip mall karate dojo. I suspect we'll hear more from Leo.
The blades are 1085 high carbon steel and tempered to 52 HRC. The two manly-man swords are priced at $295, while the she-thief's sword is $195. I don't think those prices are unreasonable for decent swords, and the pictures do look like pretty decent replicas. My only gripe is that the grips look a little thick, especially on the Father's Sword.
Friday, August 26, 2011
According to reports, the procession into the gym was lead by Tumilson's Labrador Retriever, Hawkeye, who immediately lay down in front of the casket where he stayed forlornly through the service.
Hawkeye has been adopted by one of Tumilson's friends.
He's very forthcoming about his expectations, and it's hard to take it out on this guy for the movie. What's interesting is that even he seems disappointed in the final product.
Then today, it turned out that someone apparently wants all the glory that goes with CtB3D. Stan Lee Media (which was at one time associated with Stan Lee but, apparently, is no longer) filed suit against the makers of CtB3D for 100% of the proceeds. Stan Lee Media seems to think they still maintain intellectual property rights to the character Conan.
As it turns out, the IP rights for Robert E. Howard's work are a legal puzzle, as described in this paper which was helpfully posted online. (http://www.robert-e-howard.org/AnotherThought4rerevised.html) Australia considers Robert E. Howard's work to be in the Public Domain!
Well, if nothing else, all this publicity is raising interest in Howard's work.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Pfff. You people don't know badass.
I am surprised that some "serious" reviewers keep saying that it is "closer to the original Robert E. Howard" stories than the 1982 Arnold outing. I guess "closer" is a relative term.
So I invited Robert E. Howard to come down here and tell us in his own words how he would describe his greatest character.
[mumbles] "butter on a hot skillet..." [mumbles]
Okay! See you all next time.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
In fact, a couple of times, I felt downright insulted as a Conan fan, although I suspect those moments were calculated to be nods to those of us in the audience who know the character well.
But let's start with what is intrinsically wrong with the movie. There's no real plot. Oh, there's some cardboard window dressing about Conan seeking the man who killed his father. But that's an excuse for Conan to wander from one CGI set to another battling mostly faceless minions. What it reminded most of was a video game in which the player battles from level to level, always finishing with a boss character until he meets the Big Bad. The background changes, new traps and obstacles are introduced, and sometimes elite bad guys are mixed in with the minions, but it's easy, straightforward game play throughout the game. Kill everything in sight and eventually you win.
Now, there's been a lot of critical discussion about the influence of movies on video game narrative and vice versa. Some modern games have very intricate narratives that are clearly an attempt to merge the visual storytelling of film with the first person experience of the video game. Often those games require the player to do more than shoot bad guys; they must also solve difficult problems, or even make moral choices that branch the game's narrative in a different direction. That's pretty innovative, and it derives it's power by putting the audience in control of the main character's fate.
So CtB3D is really a huge step backwards in that it represents taking the simplest form of gameplay and takes any control the audience had away right from the start.
Certainly, CtB3D is going to follow certain conventions. The audience knows he's going to reive and slay through most of the movie. And we expect he'll bed the wench. And we're pretty certain he'll kill the principal villain. But the art comes in telling a compelling story between those certainties. Reducing it to the "Kill the Level Boss" creates a pattern that destroys narrative tension.
In other words; I was very bored by the third time a new CGI environment was introduced with a title card, something like "Shaipur Monastery." Oh look, another level...
To compensate, the producers do provide a visual feast. The CGI is very creative, if obvious. Yes, no matter how far Hollywood thinks we've come with CGI, it's still pretty easy to tell practical effects from digital ones. There's at least two scene in which all the women are topless -- I assume this is an effort to make me forget about the CGI. The fight choreographer and photography is peppy. It's also pretty silly: why on earth would anyone fight with two broadswords in reverse grip? Is there a sword system on earth in which this appears as a practical technique? (XMA and wu shu do not count.) But I will overlook goofy fights in favor of visual appeal.
The movie is also brutal and soaked in blood. I can imagine the director making the "artistic" choice to do this, "It's a movie about Conan the Barbarian. BARBARIAN! We need more blood! What? We ran out? I'll add it in post-production..."
There are moments when this works, such as when young Conan returns to his village. There are times when this brutality is overwrought, such as when Conan interrogates a prison warden by inserting his finger into the warden's... Less is more. Honestly. I know it's counter-intuitive, but it's true. Yes, you need to drive home to your audience that this was a less civilized time and place, but you can rarely top the audience's own imagination. Suggestion works very well. Showing me is jarring, and takes me out of the drama of the scene by reminding me that it's a great special effect.
So there's no plot, it's boring and repetitive, and it's over-produced. What's insulting?
If you've been following my blog, you might remember that way back when the first casting and plot rumors were swirling, I made an argument that they should just film the short stories. The material is there. It's exciting, it's action packed, the character is smart, there's real drama, and there's a ready made character arc as Conan wanders out of Cimmeria, builds a career as a thief, pirate, mercenary, and eventually king. It's a ready made series with some classic moments fans would be salivating for. ("The Frost Giant's Daughter", anyone?) Instead, we get a generic sword-and-sorcery plot with Hyborian Age window dressing. Labeling a CGI set "Zinagaran Slave Post" is not setting the scene.
This movie referenced several classic Conan adventures, including his birth on a battlefield, his battle at Venarium, and his theft from the Tower of the Elephant. I probably missed some other direct references. But only his birth is shown. We are told about the other incidents, not shown. Robert E. Howard never wrote a story about Venarium, we only know about it from some references he made in outlines and correspondence. If ever there was a decent Conan origin story, this is the story to tell. From what little we know, the Aquilonians built a colonial outpost called Venarium inside Cimmerian territory. In a rare instance of solidarity, the Cimmerians cooperated to pushout the settlers. Conan participated in the attack at the age of 15, and Howard says this encounter with civilization is what sparked Conan's unique curiosity to explore beyond Cimmeria.
The Tower of the Elephant is it's own story, and has arguable links to the Cthulhu mythos, so it too is ripe for filming, and pregnant with possibility.
Hollywood: Don't tease me like this. It's wrong. It's like you recognize decent material, and then ignore it just to spite the audience.
One final gripe: I really got sick of characters punctuating the importance of McGuffins by holding them aloft. The first thing held aloft in reverence is the newborn Conan. But soon all kinds of literal plot devices are being held high in the sky. It wasn't lost on this reviewer that the subsequent use of the image reduced Conan himself to McGuffin status. Yep, this is pretty generic sword-and-sorcery.
So did I like anything about the movie?
Yes, I did. I thought most of the bit featuring young Conan was compelling and had a truly mythic quality. There's an excellent short film in this mess. The warrior test scene was outstanding, and managed to evoke Celtic Mythology, historical warrior cultures, the original Arnold movie, and even hint at the REH stories all at the same time. Since it is good, I'll wait a few days before commenting on this scene directly. But it is good.
A final thought. I am not usually such a purist. While it has been bothering me that in the post-LOTR world we're still getting crappy re-imagined adaptations of fantasy fiction, I'm very willing to make allowances. I really liked the Solomon Kane movie, for instance. I thought the film had its heart in the right place, it was well-cast and well-acted, and it was reverent to the original stories' motivating principles. I was willing to overlook some serious deviations from the REH version of the character because it was a pretty decent movie.
But CtB3D is as unsatisfying as Zamoran fried lizard on a stick...
Sunday, May 22, 2011
If you're reading this, then you've successfully made it through the prophesized apocalypse.
I can only surmise that Buffy Summers has once again closed the gates of the Hellmouth. Or perhaps the Aesir kept Loki chained, Fenris tethered, and Jormungandr slumbering in the sea bed.
The next doomsday is slated for December 21st, 2012. On that date, Quetzalcoatl will return to mark the end of the Mayan Calendar. That's right, Mexican Doomsday -- not just for Tequila hangovers anymore.
AC/DC, with original vocalist Bon Scott, plays the greatest rock song ever that features bagpipes.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Note: Space Nazis playing with toy rocketships and making engine noises are figures of ridicule. Actual Nazis are not cool. Not cool at all.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Monday, May 09, 2011
Okay, as you know, I've had my eye on this one for awhile. And you must also know that I've had some serious issues with the buzz surrounding this.
But I'm willing to say that this trailer LOOKS pretty good.
Emphasis on the word "looks."
There are plenty of great looking movies these days. Take Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, for instance. I love to watch -- note my choice of verb -- those movies. They are not great stories, and are redeemed mostly by Johnny Depp's astounding character work.
The new Conan movie "looks" promising. I will probably go see it. But I'm still very guarded about the story.
On the other hand, I recently saw the Solomon Kane movie and I was willing to give a free pass to some of their changes to the character based on how the production design succeeded. It looked like Solomon Kane's world and James Purefoy was excellent. I'm vainly hoping for a sequel that will take him deeper into Africa.