Premise: Conan The Barbarian becomes a reluctant king and fathers a son, who is then groomed to become the future King.
About: It should be noted that this is NOT the draft of the script they used for the new Conan project, but rather the famous 2001 John Milius draft that many geeks have fallen in love with. Alas, it was not to be, as this draft was assuming Ah-nold would be in it, and Ah-nold decided to instead bankrupt Caleefohneeya. Little known fact. Oliver Stone got a writing credit on the first Conan The Barbarian.
Writer: John Milius
Details: 166 pages – May 24, 2001 draft
For those put off by the 60 pages of character development in Brigands Of Rattleborge, I hereby warn you, do NOT read King Conan. King Conan scoffs in the face of screenplays that only use 60 pages to set up their characters. Why, you ask? Because King Conan uses one *hundred* pages to set up its characters!
I realize this is a losing proposition. Those who don’t care about Conan won’t give a shit what I rate it, and those who do care, care so much that they’ll tear me to pieces for even implying it’s not genius (I’m looking at you JJ) but holy schnikies, this script is so incredibly boring!
Yes, I said it. It’s boring. I feel almost liberated as I write that.
For 100 pages, NOTHING HAPPENS.
Well that can’t be, Carson, you say. *Something* must have happened. Okay, let me tell you what happened and you can be the judge if anything happened.
Conan The Barbarian impregnates a woman named the Daughter Of The Snows. This evil nasty woman tells Conan she doesn’t want to hang out with him until his child is born and kicks him out of her crib. Women.
In the meantime, Conan meets a man named Metallus who teaches him the importance of “fighting in a line.” You can’t break the line ever or you lose. This is obviously symbolic for many things throughout the story, but since I could never get into the story, it just became annoying that it came up so frequently.
After learning the line stuff, Conan heads back to Snowzilla to grab his son, Kon. Yes, Conan is now a father. The Conan line will live on.
Eventually, Conan becomes king of a country called Zingara, which, as many of you know, becomes famous for creating Farmville. You might say, “How is that ‘nothing’ Carson? He destroyed an entire country to become king! That’s epic. That’s exactly why we want a Conan sequel.” Well yeah, if that HAPPENED, I’d be right with you. But Conan doesn’t have to do anything to inherit the kingdom. It’s just handed to him.
Even better, once he gets it, he doesn’t even want it. Conan is about as reluctant of a king as there is – constantly sulking and complaining that being a king isn't all it's cracked up to be.
After awhile, Conan’s handlers suggest sending Kon off to the king version of preparatory school. Kon will study. Kon will fight. He will learn everything there is about becoming a king.
For the next 50 or so pages, we cut back and forth between Kon and Conan – Kon as he grows up and learns the ways of being a king, and Conan as he rules his kingdom. Very little happens during this period. Kon has a rivalry with one of his classmates, Fortunas (the Emperor’s son), and Conan grows so bored of being king that he pulls a Princess Jasmine, dressing up like a peasant, and hanging out with the peasant folk. Here he eventually meets a peasant woman that he falls for.
Where I officially gave up on King Conan though, was when Fortunas finds out that Conan and Kon are trading letters. The mischievous Fortunas then secretly intercepts and throws away those letters, making each believe that the other has forgotten about them.
I can go ahead and buy that plot point in, say, The Notebook or Beverly Hills 90210. But in a Conan sequel??
After this point I found it very hard to stay focused because everything in this script was soooooooooo drawwwwwwwn ouuuuuuuut. From what I could gather, Conan’s boredom leads to him strengthening ties with neighboring countries. But the plan backfires when one of these countries benefits from Conan’s weapons trade, strengthening their army and giving them a decided advantage over a third country. This third country starts bitching at Conan, and he realizes he’s inadvertently created a quagmire in the region.
So outside watching Kon grow up and a king attempt to stave off boredom, we now introduce into the mix… politics? Did we not learn anything from the Star Wars Episode 1 debacle?
Eventually (and I’m talking a good 100 pages into the script here when I say “eventually”) Kon comes back home, and the two try to resolve their artificially fractured relationship. This leads to an assassination attempt on Conan and finally – thank God – something actually starts happening in the script.
But let’s be honest. By that point it’s too late. You are never more drained and more frustrated as a reader than when you’re trying to keep track of a complicated screenplay that you care nothing about. It’s really the worst experience you can have. You want to get it over with, but there are 30-some names like “Lord Gobaniior” along with complicated subplots and reemerging dormant story threads that force you, against all your will, to pay attention. Ugh! I was so drained after I read this.
To Milius’ credit, it’s hard to keep people interested on the page with a story that’s so cinematic – that depends so heavily on actors, costumes, and set design. But that doesn’t excuse the 160 pages, the 100 page first act or the baffling absence of story for long stretches at a time. I remember in the first Conan, which Milius also wrote, Conan pushing that spindle as he grew from a boy into a man. That little montage was a minute long and told me more about that character (how difficult his childhood was) and drew me more into that world, then every single Kon school scene here combined.
I was going to give this a “What The Hell Did I Just Read,” because I just found nothing to grab onto in the story whatsoever. But there’s no denying Milius is brilliant with words. Combined with the extensive mythology he’s created, there’s too much skill on display for me to rate this at the bottom of the barrel, but it was so un-engaging and slow and self-important that I had no joy whatsoever reading it.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Build characters through action. Not through 18 scenes that essentially tell us the same thing. I’m referring, of course, to that scene in the original Conan I just mentioned where we see him pushing the spindle into adulthood. That simple action tells us more than any dialogue ever could. Think about your favorite movies. All of the characters have moments of action that tell us who they are. We see it when Han blasts Greedo. We see it when Neo gives up on the ledge while running from the agents. We see it when Andy Dufrane DOESN’T cry that first night in Shawshank. We see it in how meticulously Wall-E takes care of the city. Those ACTIONS will always be the best way to convey a character to an audience. Favor them wherever you can.