Friday, April 8, 2011

The "Never Got Made" File #56: KING CONAN: CROWN OF IRON

The old saying in Hollywood is you’re only as good as your last picture and Andy and Larry Wachowski were suddenly the best film makers everrrrrr according to Hollywood execs after the release of THE MATRIX (1999).  When asked what they wanted to do post-success, the brothers shocked Warner Bros. by saying they would like to produce a third Conan film.  Not only were they fans of Howard’s orginal writings, but they worshipped the first film and demanded John Milius be brought back as writer and director.  Damn, that move almost makes me want to fogive them for THE MATRIX.  Almost.

So it looks like business is definitely about to pick up.  Oh wait - did you forget where our story takes place?  This is Hollywood and you can damn well bet they will screw this up.  Milius delivered a 180-page beast of a screenplay in February 2001 entitled KING CONAN: CROWN OF IRON.  According to reviews that can be found online (type “King Conan” + “review” in Google), the basic plot has Conan ascending to the throne and then dealing with politics and power.  In addition, he ruminates about his lost love for battle and the estranged relationship with his warrior son Kon.  The script got rave reviews from Conan and Arnold fans for its dramatic take on the aging Conan and WB seemed to be fully behind the project.  Rumored to be up for the role of Kon were flavors of the month The Rock (fall of 2001) and Vin Diesel (spring 2002).

The Wachowski brothers, however, got wrapped up in the production of their MATRIX sequels and things slowed considerably.  Rumors started circulating that WB was trying to get rid of Milius on the project and, surprisingly, an online petition by TheArnoldFans.com gathered 10,000 signatures, enough to change execs minds for now.  In April 2003, Milius spoke with that site about his casting ideas.  He wanted old friend Sean Connery in the villainous role of Alba Metallus Fortunas and wrestlers Triple H and Chyna in the role of adversaries Felexio and Carnifexia, respectively.  Uh, wow at those characters names and wrestler casting choices.  Can I take my Milius praise back?

Warner Bros. decided to lay the fate of the KING CONAN project on the box office take of their upcoming summer Schwarzenegger release TERMINATOR 3 (2003).  Despite making $433 million worldwide, the film wasn’t considered a success and talk of KING CONAN cooled again.  The project took a major hit on August 6, 2003 when Schwarzengger announced on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that he was running for Governor of California given the inevitable recall of Gray Davis.  Yes, the guy who made a career of flexing his muscles and delivering one liners was now running for the most important office in the state.  Even sadder?  He won in October 2003!  Around January 2004 the Wachowski brothers officially left the project as well.  No doubt they were no longer the hot commodities at WB after the MATRIX sequels “underperformed” artistically and financially (only in Hollywood can the $1 billion worldwide gross of the combined sequels be see as bad news).

Now rumor is Schwarzenegger called up Milius and gave him his blessing to continue the project without him.  Bad move as Milius had some sort of weird hard-on for WWE mainstay Triple H and decided to cast him as Conan (the duo also developed a biker flick called JOURNEY OF DEATH around the same time).  Sadly, this rumor was true as Triple H confirmed with news sources in 2004 that he was involved in the new Conan film as the lead.  In the fall of 2004 Milius said he had gained full funding in Turkey and that WB wouldn’t have to foot the bill.  They still weren’t biting.  Thank Crom this version never got before the cameras and, while I’m sure Milius’ script is good, seeing former WCW jobber Jean Paul Levesque in the Conan role would have been downright embarrassing.  Wrestlers aren’t particularly known for their thespian abilities, but Triple H was even stiffer than most, a nearly comatose personality that delivered his wrestling lines with all the range of a cheap motel's TV remote.  Damn, can things get any worse?  Yes, apparently they will.    

In April 2005, Milius was unceremoniously removed from the project (“Eh, what does he know about CONAN movies,” I can hear the execs saying), even though a new Conan film was being kept alive at Warner Bros. studios.  The following month WB announced that Robert Rodriguez was going to produce and direct the new Conan film.  However, Rodriquez’s propensity to do 5 billion projects at once and conflicts over him not being in the Directors Guild of America (DGA) led to him not doing it.  In June 2006, Warner Bros. announced that Rodriguez semi-associate Boaz Yakin would be taking over as writer and director.  What were Yakin’s contemporary projects around this time? Directing the comedy UPTOWN GIRLS (2003) and writing the sequel DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS (2004).  No joke.  Truly the kind of work that would make me jump up and scream, “This guy should do a Conan movie!”  Nothing much happened here and Warner Bros. lost the option to make a Conan film in June 2007. Yes, you read that right – WB spent 8 years developing this film without a finished product.  To put that in perspective, that is double the time it took for Pressman and De Laurentiis to get TWO Conan films made and released.  This is doubly hilarious as the studio’s own 300, released in March 2007, had suddenly made the muscle-bound warrior genre hot again.

Damn, can things get any worse again?  Yes, apparently they will…a lot worse.  Paradox Entertainment, the current owners of the Conan license, sold the film rights to Millenium/Nu Image films in August 2007.  Thus began a roundrobin of directors who were rumored being attached to the new Conan project (predicitibly called a “reimaginaning”) scripted by Josh Oppenheimer and Tom Donnelly.  Suspects included Rodriguez again (also attached to a RED SONJA remake), James McTeigue, and – lord help us – Rob Zombie.  No doubt Zombie left the project when he found out he couldn’t work cursing rednecks into the Conan landscape.  Millenium also spent the better part of 2008-9 negotiating with hackmeister Brett Ratner to make the film.  That ultimately (thankfully?) fell through and they settled on remake specialist Marcus Nispel to create the new CONAN THE BARBARIAN.  Yes, Hollywood ultimately decided to take the project from the hands of its film creator (Milius) to give to the guy who helmed the FRIDAY THE 13th remake.  As if fans of the original weren’t insulted enough, the braintrusts behind this project decided to cast Jason Momoa – previously a dreadlocked alien from STARGATE: ATLANTIS – as Conan.  Fan support was minimal as most couldn’t stop to collect themselves from laughing.  To put it more succinctly, fuck you Hollywood.  Yes, this is your new Conan:

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. While I have some serious reservations about the upcoming Conan film, to treat the characters as the creation of John Milius is like saying Chris Nolan took Tim Burton's "creation" in Batman Begins.

    I've gone on at length on my blog about the differences between the 1982 film and the source material, as well as the considerable merits of the film despite its deviations, but the new film - any new film - owes absolutely nothing to John Milius. John Milius didn't create Conan. The character he created in his 1982 film very loosely based on Howard's 1932 character, certainly - but the upcoming film isn't the 1982 character. He is not enslaved. He doesn't push a giant wheel for decades. Outside the (most regrettable) similarity of having his home and parents murdered by an evil sorcerer and an overarching quest for vengeance, the upcoming film has no more to do with the 1982 film than any film based on a pre-existing character.

    Milius' Conan the Barbarian was a fine film, but Conan is too big a character to be defined by a single interpretation. He's like Dracula, James Bond, Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes: there's room for multiple interpretations. True, the upcoming film has MANY problems, but its relationship to the 1982 film should not be one of them.

    On "Crown of Iron": do a poll of Robert E. Howard fans who've read the script, and I doubt you'd get the same response as those from the Arnold fans. For that matter, I actually disliked it even from my Arnie-fan mindset: it could easily be as disappointing as the Matrix sequels were. Bloated, continuity issues, character inconsistencies, and little of the subtle graces of the original.

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