Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What is Best in Life?


This troll spent the last week and a bit moving to a new cave. Eventually, a troll's cave gets so funky all you can do is set it on fire and move to a new one. Now that it's done, I should be getting back to the hex mapping articles soon. Maybe by Friday, but certainly by Wednesday.

In the meantime, to celebrate having moved all my loot to a better cave, I treated myself to the new Conan movie. It's not bad, and I can understand why some folks might even compare it favorably to the Schwarzenegger film from the 80s. I'm not quite willing to go that far just yet, but it wasn't horrible. It was much better than "Sucker Punch" for instance.

What follows isn't a review of the movie. Frankly you probably already know if you're going to see it and reviews are unlikely to sway you one way or the other. You know if you are this movie's audience. And after you see it, you'll know whether or not you liked it. I did, however, want to point out a few interesting things I noticed.

(Spoilers follow, so if you don't want to know too much before seeing the flick, stop here.)

First, something silly that amused me: adult Conan does not wear pants. It's a sartorial choice he shares with John Carter when the latter is on Mars. So let the ladies have their pants! The look of today's masculine fantasy hero is a layered kilt and boots.

There were a lot of missed opportunities in this film, and I suspect most of them are the fault of the writers. There are three writers listed, and I suspect it was a matter of rewriting rather than collaboration. Toss in the cutting-and-editing process, and who knows what was originally intended?

Early in the second act, we are treated to a scene of the bad-guy army dragging a boat through a forest. It's a neat visual and immediately makes you wonder why they're doing that. It's intriguing. Unfortunately, it's also never explained. The ship on wheels is never used in the water, it's never demonstrated to have magical powers, and ends up just seeming kinda silly.

The villain's sorceress daughter (apparently rewritten from an original male version) has a neat look and a creepy vibe. We get one brief interaction between her and her father with Electral undertones. It makes both of them a lot more interesting. Dad has a goal that isn't just the typical take-over-the-world, and Daughter is a little conflicted about bringing Mom back from the grave. Again, this is set up in the second act and nothing is ever done with it. I was kind of hoping that these issues would explode into some really interesting dynamics in the final confrontation. That never happens. Instead, we get a fairly bog-standard mano-y-mano fight at the end.

If you get inspired to throw in little twists in the story or adventure, be sure to do some follow-through. Make it matter! This is at the heart of old-school improvisation. You just rolled hobgoblins on the wandering monster table. Sure, you could just have a randomly generated band of hobgoblins sitting in the middle of the road waiting for the PCs to arrive so they can fight.


Why are they here? Are they part of the larger tribe? Is it nearby? Are they renegades? Survivors of genocide? Scouts looking for a good target for a raid? Heroes seeking some lost hobgoblin relic? Even if all you want is a brief little battle, you can at least have them ambush the party.

On the other hand, if the players really are not that terribly interested in your hobgoblins, there's no reason to beat them over the heads with whatever clever idea came up with. Not everything needs to be explained or make sense. But if your players do seem intrigued you should absolutely take advantage of that.


Trey said...

I agree with most of your review, but I flat out confused with a favorable comparison to Sucker Punch! Conan (by-the-numbers to the point of almost somnabulism) ain't even in the same ballpark as visual innovative and at-least-grasping-for-something-more Sucker Punch. Which is not to say either are great--but one's at least trying, and the other not so much.

The Hopeless Gamer said...

The wife and I plan on seeing this Friday in a matinee showing, so I appreciate a fellow blogger's view on the movie. I do have to laugh because you warn us of spoilers, and then your first spoiler is that Conan does not wear pants. Don't ask me why, but I found this to be hilarious.

E.G.Palmer said...

What is best in life? To not wear pants!

trollsmyth said...

Trey: I'm not so sure "Sucker Punch" was grasping for something more as it was embarrassed about what it was and attempted to cover that with pretentions towards being "art." Also, if you gave me the option to watch either, but not both, movies again tonight, I'd go with "Conan."

But if you gave me a choice of soundtracks, I'd go for "Sucker Punch."

The Hopeless Gamer: Hey, pants are apparently an extremely important issue!

E.G. Palmer: End the tyranny of the bifurcated garments!

Anthony N. Emmel said...

I'm upset with the treatment of the world. Like many actors, Momoa was at the mercy of the writers. Kilt aside, I enjoyed his presentation of Conan and thinks he looks more like Conan than Ah-nuld. (I do enjoy Barbarian, though.)

Dangerous Brian said...

The three writers were all brought in at different times. The final writer was called in half-way through filming in a last minute bid to "save" the script. Which probably explains why so many interesting plot elements just disappear and why the dialogue is so inconsistant: even Conan's speech patterns change from scene to scene.

One minute he's using flowery, archaic-sounding language and the next his speech is littered with anachronisms. I've only seen the film once, and I've already been able to identify "writer-changes" from scene to scene. It's not something everyone would notice, but it's jarring enough even when you only pick up on it subconciously (like most non-gaming or non-writing viewers, I would imagine) let alone when your a gamer or a writer yourself.

Dave R. said...

To me it it's a movie that benefits from low expectations. I did enjoy it, but I'd have been let down if I hadn't read the Rotten Tomatoes reviews before I went. Some of the set pieces were very good and very D&D-y. I liked that the villain actually had some charisma in a non-maniacally-laughing way, making his bid for world domination somewhat plausible.

In the end though I just think it could have been better.

And I'm starting to think Hollywood is too hung up on origin stories. Apparently every character who hits the big screen needs one, but I'm no longer sure why. Is the general public really going to be totally confused if we don't get a childhood flashback and a man who killed the hero's parents? I think, just like the the stories, Conan would be an ideal character to make some unrelated movies of, without a unifying arc. I'm pretty sure the general public would grasp the concept if it's done well: here is Conan, and here is what he does. Unfortunately I think this movie set the franchise back for some time.