A Little Touch of Harry in the Akaana-Haunted Night

Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News weighs in on the casting of James Purefoy as Solomon Kane in the Michael Bassett project here. Although Purefoy’s Mark Antony was never able to dominate that hypothermia-inducingly cold, ceaselessly calculating cyborg-of-a-Caesarean-heir Octavian during the second season of HBO’s Rome, the actor’s performance bestrode the show like a colossus. Unfortunately, Purefoy’s thespian firepower may be wasted on a snipe hunt; given the signs and portents so far, it is not especially reassuring that Bassett has promised Knowles “a unique and darkly powerful heroic fantasy adaptation which also does full justice to REH.”

Kenneth Turan on Conan the Barbarian


At the end of film critic Kenneth Turan’s new book Now In Theaters Everywhere: A Celebration of a Certain Kind of Blockbuster, he includes his 1979 essay “Behind the Scenes: Conan the Barbarian” which might be of interest to fans of Howard and of that film. A recent Los Angeles Times book review by Tara Ison calls that particular essay “a wonderful look at the origins and development of a then-high-risk film project” but adds that “the story ends, disappointingly, in pre-production” rather than also describing the shooting of the film. Still, if you are a fan of that movie, you may want to hunt it down.

Basil Poledouris, R.I.P.


One of the greatest film composers of all time has been felled by cancer. Basil Poledouris (1945-2006) leaves us with some of the most stirring and evocative music ever written for the screen, including Conan the Barbarian, Lonesome Dove, The Hunt for Red October, Robocop, The Blue Lagoon, Free Willy, Farewell to the King, Quigley Down Under, Cherry 2000, and Flesh and Blood. He specialized in crafting A-list music for B and C-list movies, and he did most of the scores for one of the favorites of this blog, John Milius. Friends of mine in the industry and out have always reported how generous he was with time, advice, and encouragement, and his interviews in print and on DVDs were always learned and perceptive. In a town that too often lives up to the appellation “Hollyweird,” Poledouris was one of the good guys. The age of sixty-one was way too early to leave us, and he will be missed by all who value film music at its best.

Conan the Barbarian is a film that elicits varied reactions from fans of Robert E. Howard, but I think it is indisputable that the film’s soundtrack is one of the best ever written, with an influence among film composers rivaling the influence of Frazetta on art. Its main theme is instantly recognizable and has been co-opted for all manner of people and events. What is less appreciated is how lush and romantic and nuanced the score is, with many quiet themes that sweep you away as if on a cold wind through a lost age. Poledouris recorded the score in Italy and modified the orchestra with a variety of barbaric-sounding instruments and percussion, which lends the music a tinge of antiquity and exoticness that never fails to thrill me. Many of Poledouris’ lesser-known scores build on the achievement of Conan the Barbarian and offer potent treasures for lovers of such music. Farewell to the King and Flesh and Blood especially owe a lot to the earlier score.

Poledouris’ commentary on the Conan the Barbarian DVD is one of the high points of the disc, and he avoids all of the unseriousness and misinformation that mars too much of the contributions of Milius and Schwarzenegger. He has also been featured in fascinating interviews in publications like Film Score Monthly. I always thought Poledouris deserved far better than the career he had, as brilliant as that career was. Many of his very best scores were for movies that barely rose above the level of dreck, and I wonder what he would have done with some of the non-action blockbusters of the eighties and nineties, the kind of films that too often went to lesser composers secure in their blandness. The few times he was able to cut loose in a film of real quality, such as Lonesome Dove, he was astounding (for that one he won a well-deserved Emmy).

It is sad that there will be no more music coming from such a talent, but thankfully every year more of his older work is released for us to savor. Basil Poledouris was a giant in the field, and his legacy will not soon be forgotten.

The Gold(finger) Standard

Longtime REHupan and TC contributor J.D. Charles and I could not be farther apart on various political, literary, and cultural issues if one of us resided in the Andromeda Galaxy. That having been said, apparently we’re both Ian Fleming fans as well as REH aficionados, and today Big Jim posted about how the two writers have fared cinematically at rehinnercircle:

Anybody who gripes about the Millius [sic] Conan flick really needs to sit down and read one of the classic Fleming Bond yarns then watch the movie “adaptation” featuring Connery or Moore. You will get down on your knees and thank CROM that Conan never had to undergo such drastic alteration.

In a word, no. Nein. Nyet. De gustibus non disputandem est — except in those emergencies where the “disputandem” part becomes unavoidable in the face of rampant absurdity. The Roger Moore Bond films are what they are (with the commendable exception of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, into which screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael Wilson worked some relict Fleming-derived scenes), but Big Jim also mentions the Sean Connery era. From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball are, like diamonds, forever — launchpads for the modern action film, bravura exercises that imprinted themselves on Sixties popular culture almost as much as did the Beatles. More pertinently, the original creative team of Maibaum, Terence Young (or Guy Hamilton), Peter Hunt, Ken Adam, John Barry, and Connery himself succeeded brilliantly in adapting Fleming’s novels, whereas Milius couldn’t even be bothered to try with Howard’s Conan stories. Goldfinger and Thunderball are recognizable versions of the source material (note that Auric’s masterplan for the raid on Fort Knox is more ingenious and less logistically challenged in the movie than in the novel); Conan the Barbarian is an adaptation of nothing save a bit of “The Thing in the Crypt,” out-of-context signature moments from “A Witch Shall Be Born” and “Queen of the Black Coast,” and Milius’ Zen-surfing superiority complex. Kurosawa for retards. Karl Edward Wagner, an author Big Jim is on record as respecting, put it best: Li’l Abner versus the Moonies.

(Continue reading this post)

The Duplicity of Davy Jones

Guest blogger Jim Keegan follows up on Steve Tompkins’ post on ghostly pirate stories with a look at whether Hollywood has been looting any booty from Howardian treasure chests:

Jim says: Two years ago I read numerous comments on the Internet that pointed out the uncanny similarity between the design of the title character in the 2004 film Van Helsing and illustrations that Gary Gianni had created for the 1998 book The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.




Was it merely coincidence, or was Hollywood strip-mining Gianni’s REH illustrations for ideas?

Well, Steve Tompkins’ description of Davy Jones as portrayed in the new Walt Disney film rang some bells. On the left is Davy Jones as envisioned by Walt Disney filmmakers for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Man’s Chest. Next to it, on the right, is Gary Gianni’s design for Davy Jones from his 1997 Corpus Monstrum comic book, “Autopsy in B-Flat.”

Another coincidence? What are the odds?

Conan sighting in the Los Angeles Times


The following cartoon appeared in the Los Angeles Times supplement West magazine this morning, showing the Governator in the role that made him famous, and once again cementing the cultural iconography of Howard’s best-known character into our consciousness. (click on pic to enlarge)

New Conan movie news


Rusty Burke, fresh from his stint at the 2006 Robert E. Howard Days, has posted some new Conan movie news at Dennis McHaney’s REH Inner Circle email group (hat tip: Don Herron):

Announced in VARIETY:

Barbarian back at gate Yakin to write, direct ‘Conan’


Looking to re-establish Conan as more than a chat host, Warner Bros. has set Boaz Yakin to write and potentially direct “Conan the Barbarian,” a new take on the Robert E. Howard-created character.

WB is eyeing an early 2007 production start for the film, which will be produced by Irving Azoff, Jon Jashni, Richard Alexander and Akiva Goldsman. Peter Sederowsky and Fredrik Malmberg of Paradox Entertainment, the intellectual property company that controls rights to the Howard estate, exec produce.

Yakin, best known for writing and directing “Fresh” and for directing the gridiron hit “Remember the Titans,” has been a fan of the Howard series since childhood and came up with a take that impressed the studio.

Yakin’s concept is more faithful to the Howard story than were the two Dino De Laurentiis-produced “Conan” films that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as the sword-wielding conqueror.

WB has tried diligently to revive Conan and got close twice. “The Matrix” directors Larry and Andy Wachowski circled, and then Robert Rodriguez emerged, but hiring the latter became problematic after he quit the Directors Guild of America so he could co-helm “Sin City” with Frank Miller.

Date in print: Thurs., Jun. 15, 2006, Los Angeles

Rusty then added:

Interesting sidenote is that “Boaz” and “Yakin” are both names from Howard stories. “Boaz” was an anthropologist cited by a character in “Children of the Night” (actually meant to be Franz Boas, the noted anthropologist); “Yakin” of course is part of the compound name “Bit-Yakin,” as in “The Servants of Bit-Yakin” aka “Jewels of Gwahlur” aka “Teeth of Gwahlur.”

I didn’t attend the Paradox panel at Howard Days, but to my knowledge Sederowsky and Malmberg didn’t mention anything about this project during their speeches. Like the other Conan projects that have threatened to take flight only to crash back to earth, we’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach to this one.