Before he was the Terminator, he was Conan the Barbarian. Now, some 30 years after his screen breakthrough in “Conan the Barbarian,” the former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed on to a new movie project that would see him reclaim his warrior’s throne.
Universal confirmed today that it is moving forward on “The Legend of Conan,” as the new movie will be titled (with a planned release in 2014). The project arrives as the latest splashy star vehicle for the Governator, who inhabits a small part in two “Expendables” films, will be next seen as a small-town sheriff battling a drug cartel in “The Last Stand,” set for release early next year, and is currently filming “Ten,” a David Ayer-directed thriller in which he portrays a Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
Created in the 1930s by pulp author Robert E. Howard and immortalized by Schwarzenegger in 1982’s camp-movie classic, Conan the Barbarian evolved from a menacing killer into an amiable superhero. Featured in Marvel comic books, a Saturday morning cartoon and a Universal Studios Hollywood stage show, the conqueror slowly but unquestionably went soft.
That prompted Lionsgate to attempt a $90-million hard-R franchise reboot last year with former “Baywatch” and “Game of Thrones” star Jason Momoa swinging the broadsword, but it flopped, taking in just $48 million at the box office.
With the new project, the filmmakers appear hopeful that returning Schwarzenegger to the screen will serve the character, the actor and the franchise’s interests equally. But there might be one hitch to Conan’s comeback.
While doing the promo rounds for his memoir “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story” last month, one constant comment nagged at Schwarzenegger — namely that he’s much more physically diminished than moviegoers remember him. While hardly a little old man, the 65-year-old is most not the bodybuilder who put Hollywood in a headlock four decades ago.
That perception will focus debate about his latest movie: Are multiplex audiences really clamoring for a barbarian who qualifies for AARP rates? Will fans accept a Schwarzenegger whose deltoids are no longer as knotted and burnished as challah bread? The in-built mucho macho factor of that first film, written with testosterone-y gusto by Oliver Stone and directed by John Milius, would seem to preclude the existence of a “Golden Girls”-edition barbarian.
Moreover, the character in all previous installments was partial to leather Speedos and furry codpieces – not necessarily the kind of thing you want to see a 65-year old wearing on a 30-foot wide screen.
“Legend of Conan” producer Chris Morgan — a screenwriter whose credits include “Wanted” and four of the films in the “Fast & the Furious” franchise — told Deadline that the new movie won’t shy away from the fact that Schwarzenegger is now a bona fide senior citizen and even compared the upcoming film to a certain Clint Eastwood old age western.
“This movie picks up Conan where Arnold is now in his life, and we will be able to use the fact that he has aged in this story,” Morgan said. “We think this is a worthy successor to the original film. Think of this as Conan’s ‘Unforgiven.’”
— Chris Lee
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