Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Legend of Our Legend Precedes Us

The AMC theater in Deerbrook has, like the mall itself, little shine left for adult eyes. Their sound system is painfully overpowered and last night blasted our viewing of Conan into shards of boredom and pain.

Perhaps my reaction to the movie was influenced by the theater. It was a standard beginning--special child acting special--and had for me no emotional heft (save for the birth scene). Is this a flesh and blood character or a mythic hero? The voiceover hints at myth but the scenes are so plainly shot that no aura of myth adheres.

Why not make of this opening sequence a series of tales told about the birth of this "Conan" who is harrying the slavers and minor despots around Cimmeria (or Land X, whatever). Are these stories real? We as the audience
don't need to know. Instead of bloody "realism," we could have jumped in to the "quest that made his name known across the world" or some such thing.

In this way, the thrust of the story wouldn't be on avenging his father--that's a single story that's fine, but doesn't put you on the path to future glory (and sequels)--it would be on giving energy to a mythic character that would carry us forward into his story and leave us wanting to see more.

This is the problem/challenge for so many recent superhero movies. Becoming a hero doesn't necessarily make for an interesting story and 50 stories of "special kids becoming special" is just dull. Did we have to see how Indiana Jones got through his thesis while battling for treasure before we understood his character? Heck no! Did the first Batman films slavishly insist on showing us the story of Batman's transformation from the beginning? Again, no. The Hulk (the second movie) didn't waste too much time on this either.

When you make me wait to see Conan as an adult and you give him only one purpose in life (looking for his father's killer) and then solve that arc, you kill the story. I don't need to know how he became a barbarian and neither does anyone else who paid to see the movie. The poster sums it up: Conan is a barbarian. There will be sword fighting in this movie. What else do you need? Oh, yeah. Why we should care.

There were a few flashes in the movie of wonder and myth, but they didn't come until well after the halfway point. These are the elements that could expand the story from a character's quest to something larger. At the end, I didn't wonder where he was going next (maybe why he was leaving--what's left for him to do at this point?). The story ended.

The truncated story is a shame because epic fantasy can make for a fun movie and the actor who played Conan was fun to watch. It's too bad that his director/scriptwriter/etc. didn't give him a whole movie.

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