Stephen Lang on “Conan”
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
posted by Al Harron
In the wake of Miguel’s amazing scoop on the new pictures of Jason Momoa as “Conan,” Lionsgate really have to up their game before even more blurry photographs from camera phones and film festivals predicate official releases. In the meantime, Stephen Lang spoke to MTV about the film.*
“I think we’re right in the spirit of Howard,” Lang recently told MTV News during a phone call from Sofia, Bulgaria, where he’s been staying during the shoot. “It’s got the same kind of lurid quality. The purple prose of Robert E. Howard is really being translated to the screen.”
That nebulous “spirit of Howard” rises like a ghoulish spectre again, though exactly what makes something in the “spirit” of Howard is so vague and ill-defined as to be useless. I’m sure “lurid” could easily apply to Howard’s gore and horror scenes, but I always have a problem with “purple prose” used in context with Howard. It gives the impression of Howard’s writing being self-indulgent, needlessly flowery or otherwise breaking the flow of the narrative — a problem of which I’d argue it is certainly not guilty. Still, one could suppose that “purple prose” in this context simply means atmospheric, descriptive and poetic, and I don’t doubt Lang has the best of intentions.
“One of the things about his prose that’s so distinct is that it takes itself very seriously,” he explained. “There’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about it at all. And there’s nothing send-up about the world we’re creating, though hopefully the movie is made with a lot of wit.”
That’s more like it! Despite the assertions of many (usually those seeking to prove how Conan the Barbarian “elevated” the character over its lowly pulp origins) Howard indeed took his stories very seriously, and I wish I could believe Lang when he says “there’s nothing send-up about the world” they’re creating.
That’s exactly the way Lang wants it. He says that their “Conan,” in which Momoa takes over Schwarzenegger’s role, will have less in common with the Governator’s movies than with swashbuckling classics from the ’50s and ’60s. “I’ve never been a huge fan of the ‘Conan’ films,” he explained. “To me, in spirit, the movie we’re making is lot more like ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ or ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.’ It’s this huge adventure, these otherworldly things, these rip-snortners.”
I think the “camp” or “tongue-in-cheek” value of Conan the Barbarian is about on the same level as that of Jason & The Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: in other words, it’s fairly minor in comparison to other films, and it’s only if you actively look for it that you find the camp. Conan the Destroyer, naturally, is another story…
The “Conan” shoot is expected to run though May, and by the end Lang might well have some serious bruises to show for his work as Khalar Singh, a villain whom the actor calls simply “a motherf—er.”
In fact, Lang says that the role is far more physically demanding than his turn as nefarious Colonel Quaritch in “Avatar.”
“It’s all sword-fighting and horse work and wire work,” he said, adding that facing off against Momoa is no easy task. “He’s a big dude. It’s hard for me to out-muscle him. He’s 28 years younger than me and 30 pounds heavier than me. I have to do it with my wolf-like brain. I have to use all my old man strength. I’ve encountered him twice. I’ve beaten the s–t out of him a couple of times.”
I hope that “Khalar (grr) Singh” is a typo from MTV, and that Khalar Zym, laughable as it is, will stick. It’s also depressing to note that the scene where Khalar beats “Conan” to within an inch of his life — something completely unheard of in the stories, where nothing short of a great ape, eldritch abomination or small army of warriors could put the real Conan through the wringer so thoroughly — remains, thus leading me to concern that Hood & Lobel’s rewrites might not be as extensive as we’d hope.
*Thanks for the tip from “Beirla” on the Official REH Forum.