Fans of Robert E. Howard's famous barbarian heaved a collective sigh of resignation and turned back to their dog-eared paperbacks following the disappointment of last year's Conan reboot. But fears that it would be another 30 years before the Cimmerian resurfaced onscreen have proved unfounded: Universal have just announced that they're at work on The Legend Of Conan, which will see Arnold Schwarzenegger finally returning to the role.
We've been here before: Arnold's adventures wearing the jewelled crown of Aquilonia upon his troubled brow were teased as early as the John Milius film in 1982, and Milius was attached to a film along those lines, the ultimately abandoned King Conan, in 2001. That one would have been produced by the Wachowskis.
The Legend Of Conan is not a remounting of that film, although Fredrik Malmberg of Conan rights-holders Paradox Entertainment suggests that it will be a direct sequel to Milius' Conan The Barbarian, ignoring both Richard Fleischer's Conan The Destroyer, and the 2011 version.
"The original ended with Arnold on the throne as a seasoned warrior", says Malmberg, "and this is the take of the film we will make. It’s that mythic guy who has played the role of king, warrior, soldier and mercenary, and who has bedded more women than anyone, nearing the last cycle of his life. He knows he’ll be going to Valhalla, and wants to go out with a good battle."
Producing with Malmberg will be Chris Morgan, the in-house writer at Universal who was behind the last four entries in the Fast & Furious series, Wanted, and perhaps most relevant here, the forthcoming 47 Ronin.
"After the original seminal movie, all that came after looked silly to me,” Morgan says. “[Conan] lives by that barbarian law of the wild, capable of extreme violence and rage, but he has created his own code and operates from within it. By the end of that film, Conan became a certain character, and this film picks him up there, as he faces different challenges that include dealing with age. [It's] where Arnold is now in his life, and we will be able to use the fact that he has aged in this story. I love the property of Conan so much that I wouldn’t touch it unless we came up with something worthy. We think this is a worthy successor to the original film. Think of this as Conan’s Unforgiven."
The irony here is that, after years of studios pursuing the idea that Conan need not be Arnold, and after a very credible turn by Jason Momoa proving just that (in spite of what might have been happening around him), we've come full circle, reinforcing the notion that no Arnold equals no barbarian. Notice also that nobody is quite demonstrating an intention to go back to the original stories. A King Conan film could give us an adaptation along the lines of Howard's The Phoenix On The Sword or The Hour Of The Dragon, but the source everyone seems to be talking about so far is Milius.
Still, it's early days yet, although The Legend Of Conan appears to be on a very fast track. Universal want it in theatres by the summer of 2014. The story is Morgan's, but Deadline believe that tight turnaround may mean he can't actually write the script, since it could clash on his schedule with Fast & Furious 7. In any circumstance, this seems to be very much his project, meaning he'll stay hands-on as producer. The next job is to find a director, but at least the film's star is sorted.
“I always loved the Conan character and I’m honoured to be asked to step into the role once again," says Arnold. "I can’t wait to work with Universal and the great team of Fredrik Malmberg and Chris Morgan to develop the next step of this truly epic story.”