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Franchise Killers: Conan The Destroyer

conan-the-destroyer-original

In 1982, John Milius wrote and directed a very pulpy movie about Robert E. Howard’s fantasy character, Conan the Barbarian.  Knowing that physicality was more important to his movie than actual acting ability, Milius cast athletes in the lead roles rather than actors.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the time an ex-body builder who was struggling with English.  The success of the first Conan didn’t exactly make Schwarzenegger a star, but it did crack open the door for more acting roles.  Schwarzenegger was under contract to make three pictures for producer Dino De Laurentiis, so it makes sense that a sequel would follow.  What’s the one role you know audiences will accept the Austrian body builder in?  Conan.

But the sequel turned out to be a very different movie from the original.  Conan the Barbarian was co-written by Milius and a then-unknown Oliver Stone.  Milius was known as an eccentric genius in Hollywood.  His tough guys sensibilities made him the perfect director for a blood-soaked sword and sorcery movie.  When Milius decided not to return for a sequel, the De Laurentiis family hired Richard Fleischer.  Fleischer had already directed two movies for the company and he had also directed the movie Vikings which Milius had cited as an inspiration for Conan.

The original script was written by comic book writers Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway.  It was titled Conan, King of Thieves.  Screenwriter Stanley Mann was brought on to rewrite the script.  Mann was credited as the only screenwriter with Thomas and Conway getting a “story by” credit.  Years later, Thomas and Conway repurposed their script as a comic book titles, Conan the Barbarian: The Horn of Azoth.  In order to distance their script from the movie, most of the characters’ names were changed for the comic book.

Fleischer felt that one of the shortcomings of the original Conan was that Schwarzenegger was too covered up.  For his movie, the director said, “I made sure that Arnold was undressed 99 percent of the time.”  That philosophy seemed to apply to the rest of the cast as well.  A 13-year-old Olivia d’Abo made her movie debut playing a princess whose virginity must be protected by Conan and his band.  D’abo remarked on her costume, “I knew I was going to be scantily clad — but not this scantily clad!”

De Laurentiis had another change in mind besides reducing the costume budget,  He also wanted to tone down the violence.  The original movie had been rated R.  But that meant a lot of kids couldn’t buy tickets.  So De Laurentiis thought that a PG-rated Conan movie might sell more tickets.  The original cut of Conan the Destroyer actually did receive an R-rating, but the studio cut out enough violence to secure the desired PG rating.

Conan the Destroyer - Wilt Chamberlain

Like the first movie, the cast was front-loaded with athletes.  Basketball legend Wilt “the Stilt” Chamberlain costarred as the warrior tasked with maintaining d’Abo’s status as a virgin.  Yes, it’s okay to snicker in light of Chamberlain’s boasts about his love life.  Hiring Chamberlain to protect a girl’s virginity is like asking Rick James to watch over your blow.  It’s not a good idea.  However, in this case Chamberlain was reportedly protective of his charge.  He told d’Abo that if anyone gave her a hard time, he would “take care of it.”

There was one cast member that Chamberlain didn’t get along with.  Reportedly, he fought with singer and model Grace Jones over the volume of her boom box.  Jones repeatedly ignored Chamberlain’s requests to turn her music down.  Jones played a fierce warrior who might be slightly unhinged.  According to Schwarzenegger, that wasn’t acting.  “That’s really her. She’s wild and crazy.”

Conan the Destroyer - Grace Jones

Tracey Walter was cast as Conan’s sidekick.  Walter was brought in as a last-minute replacement for David L. Lander who was struggling with the onset of multiple sclerosis.  At one point, Schwarzenegger’s future Twins costar Danny DeVito was close to playing the part.  Sara Douglas, who played Usa in the Superman movies, played the evil queen who is only protecting the princess so that she can be used in a sacrifice.  Aside from Schwarzenegger, Mako was the only other actor to reprise a role from the original Conan.  Sven-Ole Thorsen was in both Conan movies but played different characters in each one.

Conan the Destroyer - Pat Roach

The minor roles were filled out with some genre regulars.  Pat Roach who appeared in all three Indiana Jones movies (he’s the Nazi mechanic in Raiders and the Thugee slavemaster in Temple) played both the ice wizard Toth-Amon and the Ape-monster Conan battles in a room full of mirrors.  Reportedly, d’Abo really was scared of Roach.

Conan - Dagoth

The movie ends with the bad guys summoning the evil deity Dagoth.  The big guy in the rubber suit playing Dagoth was none other than Andre the Giant.

Unfortunately, the less violent and more scantily clad Conan sequel did not enjoy the success of the original.  It still performed well enough that De Laurentis wanted to complete the trilogy.  A third film, Conan the Conqueror was planned for 1987.  But by then, Schwarzenegger had already filled his contractual obligation to the director.  Following the success of The Terminator and Predator, Schwarzenegger wasn’t interested in returning to the genre.  Eventually, the script for the third Conan movie was reworked into Kull the Conqueror which starred Kevin Sorbo as a very Conan-like character who was also created by Robert E. Howard.

Since then, there have been attempts to revive Conan.  John Milius came close to reviving the series in 2002.  Milius’s script would have been called King Conan: Crown of Iron.  Unfortunately, this attempt was derailed when Schwarzenegger decided to pursue a career in politics.  In 2011, Conan was rebooted with Jason Momoa taking over for Schwarzenegger.  It flopped ending hopes of continuing the series.  But once Schwarzenegger retired from politics, it was announced that he would at long last return to the role that proved he could manage just enough English to pass as an actor.

Let’s break this down:

How many movies in the series? 2

How many of them were good? 1

Health of the franchise before it died? Strong

Likelihood of a reboot? There has already been one and Schwarzenegger is scheduled to return for Legend of Conan.

Any redeeming value? Oh yeah.  Tons!  And not just d’Abo either.  Conan fights a guy in a gorilla mask in a room full of mirrors.  This movie is so bad it’s terrific.

More Franchise Killers

 

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Posted on November 15, 2015, in Franchise Killers, Movies, sequels and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. It sounds as if the real franchise-killer here was Ah-nult not being willing to make a third picture, not any real failings in the second film. Both were moderately successful, although Barbarian was somewhat more so, but neither was a really major hit. I find both of them watchable, but if I had to choose I would probably take the lighter and faster-paced Destroyer over the oh-so-serious tone of the first film.

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    • That is largely true. The did still want to make a third Conan with Schwarzenegger. Had Destroyer been a bigger success, they probably would have made it before Arnold’s contract was fulfilled. Instead they let him make Red Sonya and Raw Deal. Oooops.

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  2. Nostalgia Critic – Conan the Barbarian & Destroyer

    The CineFiles – Swords, Sorcery & Skin!

    The Projection Booth: Episode 207: Conan the Barbarian

    http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2015/02/episode-207-conan-barbarian.html

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  3. I find this film to be pretty entertaining. Wilt Chamberlain was a good choice in a physical and name recognition sense too. I always liked the guy; he opened himself up to ridicule due to that sexual conquest proclamation in his autobiography, but I give him credit for never getting married for the sake of getting married (ridiculously dominant athlete to boot).
    Yeah, the studio should’ve pounced on the opportunity to shoot a third film while they could; besides, “Red Sonja” and “Raw Deal” (it really is important not to drink and bake though) aren’t anything to write home about on Schwarzenegger’s end.

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  4. Cinematic Excrement: Episode 28 – Conan The Destroyer, part 1

    VIMEO: http://vimeo.com/cinematicexcrement (If you can’t find an older episode of Cinematic Excrement on YouTube, it’s probably here.)

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  5. 13 Planned Film Trilogies That Need To Be Completed

    http://whatculture.com/film/13-planned-film-trilogies-that-need-to-be-completed.php/9

    King Conan

    Poor Arnold hasn’t had the best of luck at the box-office lately; most of his solo projects have failed to live up to expectations, and the latest Terminator is a tragedy best forgotten by all involved. One of the more exciting sequels on his to-do list is King Conan, the long-awaited final installment of his Conan The Barbarian Trilogy. A script has been developed and the studio is behind it, but Arnie’s recent box-office appears to be holding it back.

    The first movie ended with the image of an aged Conan sitting on a throne, hinting at a long-running series that would build up to that point. The second movie, however, was a bit of a camp mess, and lacked the gritty edge that made the original work. For years, a third part was rumored but never came together, and with Arnold busy elsewhere it looked set to stay that way.

    It’s only recently talk of finally completing the trilogy have emerged, where a tamed Conan would have to reach for his inner barbarian when his kingdom is attacked. It would be great to see it happen, but Arnold is no longer the draw he used to be, and the studio seems flaky about committing to the movie now.

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    • “Legend of Conan” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was announced by Universal Studios in 2012. Since then, the movie has gotten a script by Andrea Berloff, but still no director, no other cast and no release date. In this video we explore what is delaying the production, and how the story looks like will be inspired by David Gemmel’s “Legend”.

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