Ah, Conan the Destroyer. The Rodney Dangerfield of Conan movies. But you know what, at the risk of being labelled an idiot, I have to admit I kinda like it better than Conan the Barbarian (the original one, not the new version, which I haven’t seen, and I’m still on the fence about seeing — ever.) Sure, Destroyer could have more blood and T&A, but if you go in with the foreknowledge that it’s not really a sequel to Barbarian and more of a reboot (it had a whole different creative team behind it after all), there’s a lot to love in Conan the Destroyer. Seven things, at least.
- The Casting – Come on, how can you not love a movie that casts non-actors Grace Jones and Wilt Chamberlain? Add in Sarah Douglas — yep, Ursa from Superman II — as the main baddie, plus Mako and Tracey Walter, and you’ve got movie magic.
- The Tone – Where Barbarian was almost entirely, except for the setting and trappings, John Milius’ primal-man vision, Destroyer is Howard’s adventurer vision from top to bottom. In both tone and characterization, it’s more like the original Howard stories and the subsequent comic books. Much more. And so much better for it. It’s lighter, more adventurous, and has much more magic… and much more Lovecraft-influence. (Howard and he were friends. Look it up.)
- Ahnuld “Acting” Drunk – I can see the story meeting now. Ahnuld, flush with box-office success, wanted to stretch his new acting chops, show his range. So he pounded on the conference room table and declared: “Write me a scene where I get drunk for no reason! I can so pull that off!” And man, does he.
- Olivia d’Abo – In diaphanous, low-cut, form hugging gowns.
- The Sidekicks – Tracey Walter’s thief, Mako’s sorcerer, Jones’ warrior woman. The interplay between them is pitch-perfect. Funny, character-driven, and plot-specific. This is how sidekicks should be done.
- It’s Really a Dungeons & Dragons Movie – When it first came out, I remember reading somewhere–Starlog, probably–the idea that at heart Destroyer was a dungeon crawl, with its magic and its traps and its trick rooms and underwater passages, and probably the best Dungeons & Dragons movie we could expect until someone got around to making an official D&D movie. Can’t argue with that. And then of course when they did get around to making an official D&D movie and it sucked, Destroyer retained its crown as the King of All Dungeon Crawl Movies.
- The Climatic Battle – Conan fights a man in a rubber monster suit. And it is awesome. How could it not be?
Since I could go senile at any moment, I figured it might make sense to make a list of things I prefer so they know how to entertain me (or conversely piss me off) in the nursing home.
- Hogan’s Heroes to M*A*S*H
- Deep Space Nine to Voyager
- Larry Niven to David Niven
- Conan the Destroyer to Conan the Barbarian
- Myth Adventures to Lord of the Rings
- Mad Men to Mad Money
- A Princess of Mars to Tarnsman of Gor
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to All the President’s Men
- Community to Big Bang Theory
- Neuromancer to Pattern Recognition
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to Childhood’s End
- Space Quest to King’s Quest
- Original Doctor Who to New Doctor Who
- Inspector Spacetime to Doctor Who
- Borderland’s Pandora to Avatar’s Pandora
- Groucho to Karl
- Lost Seasons 1 through 5 to Lost Season 6
- Star Wars tie-in books to Star Trek tie-ins
- And Bruce Campbell to All Other Actors
So, what’s your nursing home list?
1989’s Arena is, inarguably, the finest alien wrestling/boxing/gladiatorial fighting film produced in 1989. And, I venture to prognosticate sight unseen, it is arguably a finer film than Real Steel.
He's an alien! And a cyborg! And he... boxes, or something.
And here’s why:
- Cyborgs! The fighters take so much damage in the ring, they must get replacement mechanical parts to keep on fighting. Or I assume. Doesn’t matter why — they designs are pure 80’s sci-fi clunky cool.
- It’s like a Babylon 5 / Deep Space Nine pre-reunion, with Bab 5’s Claudia Christian (Ivanova) and DS9’s Armin Shimerman (Quark) and Marc Alaimo (Gul Dekat) in major parts. Plus it’s set on a space station. Spooky, eh?
- The hero’s sidekick/mentor has four arms — the lower half obviously belonging to a guy standing behind him, hidden by the character’s giant loose cloak.
- It’s a Charles Band production. It’s one of his bigger-budget ones, too. Say what you will about Charles Band, but when he has money for a production, he throws all of it on screen. While the sets, props and costumes aren’t A-level, they’re certainly at the top of the B-level. Better than most contemporary TV shows.
- There’s actual science fiction in it. Sure, it’s mostly just your average 1930s boxing movie with a plot about a crooked promoter with sci-fi trappings, but writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo sprinkled in some thought here and there. Little things like the fighters being handicapped by forcebeams to make fights more even between physically disparate species, non-humanoid aliens (played by puppets!), and some alien/human-relation politics.
- There’s the obligatory cheesy nightclub scene — with a “sci-fi” singer belting out a space music torchsong. (It’s a well known 80s sci-fi movie rule: You must have a nightclub scene. I blame Battlestar Galactica‘s casino with the four-eyed alien “Supremes” and Return of the Jedi‘s Jabba Palace ho-down.)
- But mostly, it’s because the hero is named Steve Armstrong. He’s a fighter. And his name is Armstrong. Priceless!
I am an easily influenced person. At least by books and movies. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Nueromancer, Star Wars, Buckaroo Banzai, Time Bandits, Tank Girl… all stuff that has heavy influenced my work, to name just a few.
But until this weekend, I didn’t realize just how much one movie in particular has influenced me.
That movie: Smokey and the Bandit.
Yep, Smokey and the Bandit.
It has influenced the shit out of me… and I didn’t even realize it, until I watched it again this weekend. First time I’d seen it in 30 years.
It’s almost like a template for everything I’ve ever written. Cartoon like plot. Criminals as the heroes, who are also full-of-themselves yet somehow endearing reprobates. Bitchin’ machines. And it doesn’t actually end — there’s no climax… no resolution… they just take a breather then start up the chase again as the credits roll.
The only thing missing was a robot.
It must have seeped into my subconscious and just sat there, revving it’s Trans Am engine.
I wonder what other forgotten influence is sitting in my subconscious, waiting… please don’t let it be Xanadu. Please, I’m begging you… now that you’re here… oh no! It’s starting. Guess I’m going to have to throw roller skates on all my characters in the new book…