KING CONAN: CROWN OF IRON
April 14th, 2004
Written by John Milius
Reviewed by Christopher Wehner
NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
I just recently read John Milius King Conan: Crown of Iron script (5/24/01 draft) and felt compelled to write. I am a big fan of the original movie (though I sense that I am no longer the target audience for such a movie.) Ive seen it dozens of times, maybe more than a hundred. Most of those viewings took place when I was a teenager.
When I first saw Conan the Barbarian I was twelve and it changed my impression of movies. Before then I was given a steady diet of the kinder-gentler movies (though good ones) like Grease, E.T. and Tootsie. Movies my older sister would drag me to as she was my sitter and I had to go.
But Conan the Barbarian showed me that movies could be edgy, dark, thrilling, and capture my imagination in ways I never knew. It was the first movie I went to see with the "guys," my friends. No sister, no parents, just me and the fellas. After the movie we went back home and stayed up all night in the basement playing D&D (Dungeons and Dragons)everyone wanted to be "Conan."
So when I heard that King Conan was in the works I was pleased to hear Milius was the writer. How to describe Milius as a writer? Hmm well, hes kind of the Miller High Life of screenwriters. Hes not one of those wimpy beers like Heineken or Michalobe, hes a mans beer... I mean screenwriter. I could drink beer and smoke cigars with Milius and be enthralled by his stories.
Another Milius movie that I loved as a kid was Red Dawn. The guy spoke to me as a writer (and director) in my youth. But Im older now and the machismo that I loved about movies isnt as appealing as it once was. Im not that easily distracted. I want a good story, good characters, and if its also got some exciting and action packed scenes, so much the better.
Conan the Barbarian was a story of mythic proportions. Red Dawn was an interesting story with great action. Apocalypse Now Milius masterpiece script written before Conan is considered by some to be the best movie dealing with Vietnam ever made.
Before getting into the review, which will be very basic as the script has been rewritten, I want to say that Milius has a very distinct writing style and a unique voice. In an interview with Creative Screenwriting magazine he said that, "the world I admire was dead before I was born." Indeed, and much like Patton, Milius is a solider born of another era. His prose is lively, highly visual, he doesnt use sluglines in the traditional sense, and his stories are poignant and edgy. If there is a major complaint, its that he tends to recycle character traits and mannerisms. But for the most part, he writes energy charged action-adventure stories that are usually crowd pleasing.
Milius early draft of King Conan is a convoluted script that lacks focus. After an opening voiceover we find Conan alone in the woods. It's cold. He meets the Daughter of the Snows, wins the right to bed her, and she ultimately bares him a child that he can not have until he brings her the "jewels of an empire."
Conan eventually conquers many empires along with his mentor and Aquilonian friend Metallus, who shows the barbarians how to fight as an army, telling them they must be like a "chain" and that they must hold the line as one. Using metaphors such as "chain," "line," and "brotherhood," one of the themes of the story is presented.
Mettallus and the Aquilonians represent the "civilized" world (the empire). Their ideological rhetoric is the device they use to effectively brainwash their subordinates. They present the illusion that a greater good is being served and that the common soldier is a part of a "brotherhood." Its very reminiscent of the Romans, which of course was recently depicted in Gladiator.
For me, the script was workmanlike, which is common of most Milius scripts. Its more utilitarian and anatomic than aesthetic, but visually the landscape and action is always par excellence.
Conan becomes a great general and is able to get his son back. The entire subplot involving the Daughter of the Snows only served to pull you out of the main narrative, as do other subplots. The relationship between Conan and Kon lacked detail and substance. However, the father-son relationship is eloquently handled by Milius, which was surprising to be honest. (I half expected the two to go down to the local tavern for arm-wrestling matches and ale drinking contests.) There are subtle moments between the two that I thought were well written. Especially when Kon is taken away from Conan to be trained as an imperial warrior.
When Conan is declared King of Zingara the downward spiral of a mighty warrior ensues. He becomes fat on wealth, power, and concubines. Conan loses touch with his inner-barbarian. He loses his edge. After riots and revolts he finds himself and his kingdom in danger.
Lonely he writes letters to his son, but they are not given to him. The Aquilonians isolate Kon so they can influence him and make him their servant. Kon is seen as a future general who will become even greater than Conan. Conan unwittingly is a part of this by letting them take him in the first place. Meanwhile Kon grows bitter that his father has apparently forgotten him.
The center of this story is Conan and Kon, but there is too much else going on around them. As this relationship is fleshed out and focused on, future drafts of the script should present a more dramatic narrative and in the end a better one.
Overall I thought the script was sub-par for Milius, but it has lots of potential. It almost seems as if Milius couldnt help himself with this draft and threw everything into the stew first without writing down a recipe. As he reworks the material I have no doubt it will be much improved.
Before I go I want to leave you with one passage from the script, page 136, where we find Conan and his army outnumbered three to one, and about to wage a desperate fight:
Crom! Again we are here. One thing I know---You are watching, you old wolf! The odds are long again, you enjoy that. If I die--We will meet in Valhalla, I will eat at your table. And if I live, you will find other ways to torture me.
And this is of course followed by a massive and bloody battle. What more can a Conan enthusiast ask for?
Until next time.