10,000TH STORY!! AICN World Exclusive!! MORIARTY Reviews KING CONAN, CROWN OF IRON Draft By John Milius!!
Published at: Aug. 27, 2001, 4:49 a.m. CST by staff
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
This marks the ten thousandth time since Harry started AICN out of the back bedroom of Geek Headquarters that we have asked you to give us your attention, your trust, and your time. It’s been a long strange trip so far from our end, and I personally feel like I’m still just getting the hang of things. Over the course of every story I’ve contributed, one thing has always been true: I’ve enjoyed the hell out of this, and I can’t see that changing any time soon. I love this dialogue with all of you, this ongoing daily excuse to immerse myself in films and television and books and comics and all the other objets d’art that fall under scrutiny here at the site.
This past week, Harry and I both had chances to read scripts that have been the subject of intense geek curiosity. Harry is still buried under the intense bombardment of QT5, though, and is a greedy bastich besides, willing to keep all his goodies for himself. Not me, folks. Nope. I’m on your side. Remember that when the revolution comes. Ahem. Remember who decided to share the wealth a little bit, if you know what I mean. I decided to mark this occasion, this milestone of ours, by bringing you something special, something worthy.
Something like your first look at the May 21, 2001 draft of KING CONAN, CROWN OF IRON, written by John Milius, 146 pages of Robert E. Howard-inspired carnage and treachery.
Yes, yes, I know there already was a sequel. Hell, there’s a guy right now who is working to organize a petition to get CONAN THE DESTROYER released on DVD as a longer R-rated cut, complete with love scenes between Sarah (SUPERMAN II) Douglas and Arnold. You can sign his petition here!! I’m not a fan of that film, though, and when I think of CONAN, I think of two things... the original Robert E. Howard stories, and the film by John Milius.
Last July 4th, I wrote a comparison of Oliver Stone’s CONAN draft and Milius’ original movie. It was a chance to express how much I love that film, and even though I’ve seen it dozens of times since its release, it turns out I made some glaring errors in regards to plot and the film's two swords. Funny... even when you adore a film, who’s to say you’re right about everything in it? That was one of those cases where I genuinely learned from the Talk Backers, and it was obvious from the passionate responses that were posted that there’s a lot of people who feel about that film the same way I do, who love it dearly. When the special edition DVD for CONAN THE BARBARIAN was released, Milius and Arnold talk about KING CONAN and their original plans for a trilogy during the commentary track. This set off all sorts of speculation, and tracing the development of the film has become a personal mission of mine. I’ve been parched for tidbits about it, and then, all of a sudden, someone drops this script in my lap.
I’ve read it four or five times now, and each time, I put on the Basil Poledouris score for the original film and turn it up, letting the music curl around me like a blanket. Right away, just looking at the cover of the script, it’s obvious that Milius is the right man for the job, thrilled to be back and working with this character. There’s Xeroxed pages of Frank Frazetta artwork interspersed throughout the script, setting the tone perfectly, pointing at the world Milius is trying to recreate for us. If there’s any doubt about whether this is a sequel to the first film or not, the voice-over by THE WIZARD should dispel that right away. Mako’s character did the voice-over at the beginning and the end of the original movie, with his memorable, “Let me tell you of the days of hiiiiiigh adventure!” Using him again is enough to clue fans in from that opening frame that they’re in for another visit to that world, to that vision of Howard’s work.
”Sit on the ground with me. Let the fire warm you and I will sing of greed, deceit, lust, and power. Ha! But that is not all. I sing of loyalty, honor, and love. Yes, love, for that is what makes men foolish or great. You may choose.”
The film’s opening finds CONAN older, disheveled and bearded, alone in “A Northern Land of the Picts.” He huddles by a fire during the night, trying to stay alive in a snowy land. By day, he moves through a strange forest where he ends up chasing the mysterious alluring figure of a woman enshrouded in mist. When he finally catches up to her, he is hypnotized by this woman wrapped only in gauze, this Daughter of the Snows. She touches his face, burning him with frost where her fingers passed. “Some say I am the Frost Giant’s daughter,” she says. “You are one I could love. But first, you must fight my brothers.” And just like that, we’re into it.
Conan dispatches these two giants in a vicious flurry of moves, then lays with the girl, taking his reward. Afterwards, she orders him to leave her land before the Ice Worm finds him. Conan says he will fight the Ice Worm, but she won’t have it. She says she has given Conan her love, and now she wants him to repay her. “Bring me the jewels of an Empire. Bring these and I will give you your son.”
He heads west to the sea, where he becomes a pirate, pillaging and raping his way to the Eastern border of civilization, where he and his men join a massive gathering of barbarians to meet GAIUS METALLUS, the Aquilonian Tribune, a cultured warrior in golden armor. He speaks on behalf of Emperor Tisus, offering the barbarians gold, glory, and citizenship if they will fight for the Aquilonian army. Conan is the first to volunteer, and Metallus becomes a mentor to him, training the barbarians to work not as individuals in a fight, but as part of a massive chain, unbreakable and strong as long as it is united. They go into battle and are indeed indefeatable. Conan rises quickly, a hero, a perfect soldier, and when Metallus returns to Aquilonia, his own rank increased now as a result of his success with the Legion, he leaves Conan in charge.
Conan wins even more victories as general of the Legion, and when he and Metallus meet again in a battle, they win a great, bloody victory. Conan is rewarded with jewels and riches to spare, and Metallus notices how Conan puts most of it away, as he always does. He asks why, and Conan explains about his son, his desire to go get him. Metallus gives him leave to go back to that Pict wasteland, to get what’s his. When he finds the Daughter of the Frost and gives her all the jewels he has, she is impressed, but she wants something that has meaning for Conan. She asks for the Eye of the Serpent, the stone he wears around his own neck. Fans of the first film will remember the gem, and they’ll know the significance of his still having it. Even this is worth nothing compared to his own flesh and blood, though, and Conan gives it to her. As Conan goes to walk away with the boy, the woman reveals something to him: ”The boy is not yours. He will never be. You may take him, but that is the Ice Worm’s seed that grew in me. You only served him that night as I wished. He is the son of the Ice Worm.”
Conan doesn’t listen, though. He takes the boy and returns to the Zingaran Legion. Kon, as he is named, spends his childhood running with the Legion, learning about life in the face of death. Battlefields are his playgrounds, and by the time he is seven, he is already a strong, somber child. He and Conan visit Tarantia, the capital of the world, a giant city, beautiful, the cradle of civilization. Sitting on a hill, looking down at this marvel of man’s hand, Conan and his son talk, and I couldn’t help but recall that great moment at the beginning of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, when a young Conan listens to his own father talk about Crom and the riddle of steel.
They say the gods live here.
I thought they lived in the mountains?
Our god does. He sits on a cliff in the cold and watches.
Can he see us here?
Even here where the wind is warm and the smells of food and spice, where men wear silk and brocade and women wear little or nothing. Yes, he watches us in places like this.
He turns to Kron, kneels down.
Remember how I showed you my father’s sword?
It was not my father’s. I broke my father’s sword with mine. He told me to trust steel, not men, women, animals. I trust nothing but my will and instinct. Trust no one, Boy... not any of this.
If gods live here, they are treacherous and dark. Trust no one but the wind and the cold night sky. Make them your friends and you won’t need this. You won’t need me.
I’ll always need you, father.
Tears fill his eyes.
No... someday you must break my sword. Now let us go and eat their beeves and pigs and watch their women dance for us.
That exchange not only ties us into the first film, it also expands upon it. Conan trusted steel in the first film, and it cost him. By the time he learned to trust Valeria, she was gone. The only way he learned to trust his friends was by dying and having them fight to drag him back to life. The Conan in this movie has gone through those dark moments, and he has survived, and this worldview of his is informed by those things. When Metallus informs Conan that the Emperor has chosen to make him the King of Zingara, it makes sense. This Conan is ready to be a leader of men. He is ready to leave behind the blood of battle for the comforts of a crown. He doesn’t realize that there is a price attached until he goes to leave the city. Metallus informs Conan that Kon will stay behind and be raised at the Academy of War with the finest sons of Aquilonia. Conan’s last glimpse of his son is as he rides out the front gates of the city. Kon is held at the wall, tears streaming down his cheeks, by an Aquilonian officer. Conan only has time to lock eyes with his son for a moment before they ride past, then on to Messantia.
Life is hard for both father and son as they grown into these new roles fate has cast for them. Kon finds himself being schooled alongside Fortunas, the Emperor’s son, and there’s immediate animosity between the two. Fortunas has to grown into the role of a natural leader; Kon was born to it. The only way Fortunas can handle Kon’s presence is to break him, to constantly make him look bad. For Conan, ruling a land is not what he expected, and it is only by listening to those close to him, like the warrior Michaes, that he is able to bring some sense of order and even peace to Messantia. Conan and Kon write letters to each other, but the mail gets shut down somewhere in the middle, and Kon grows up thinking that his father has forgotten him, his heart growing harder with each year that slips by without word.
And keep in mind... all of this is before page 33 of the script.
That’s where Milius reintroduces The Wizard, brought along during a negotiation between Conan and another King. Conan asks for the Wizard as part of the bargain, and is reunited with his old friend, his loyal servant. He needs someone he can trust as the Emperor uses Conan like a chess piece, manipulating him from a distance, allowing him to serve in name only. All glory is the Emperor’s; all failure is Conan’s. Kon reaches manhood and joins the Imperial Cavalry, and in his mind, Metallus has become his father, his protector. If he spares any thought to Conan now, it is of betrayal long buried. Conan, feeling disconnected from his people, has The Wizard disguise him so he can walk among them at night.
Slowly, KING CONAN, CROWN OF IRON draws all these story threads together, using that first half-hour to lay the groundwork that allows the rest of this story to play out so well. This is about Conan learning to negotiate a different kind of battle, more subtle, more dangerous. This is the kind of battle where you cannot see your enemy’s face, where you are never sure who your friend is, and who truly stands at your back, ready to help. When Fortunas takes the throne after the death of his father, the script really picks up. A beautiful woman, Countess Zulieka, is sent to serve as Aquilonian Magistrate in Conan’s court, and to keep an eye on him both by day and by night. Metallus professes to be Conan’s friend, helping him rise in rank, even as he insinuates himself with Conan’s son, making sure to keep them from having any contact. Fortunas forces Metallus into a position where he must prove his loyalty to either the Emperor or Conan, and Fortunas also brings Kon close to him, even though he may be harboring an old grudge, preparing to strike.
Milius makes many references to his original film, and one subplot in particular ties the films together, with Conan still pining for Valeria, his fallen lover and fellow fighter. On one of his nightly excursions, he spies Aeldra, a woman who owns a local tavern. Her husband is dead, and she is alone in the world. She also happens to be the spitting image of Valeria, twenty years older, but still strong and beautiful. He is immediately drawn to her, tortured by the idea that this is a second chance for him to have something he lost long ago.
There’s enough story here for three films, and it’s all solid stuff. I love certain sequences, particularly an attempted assassination of Conan that turns into a bloody battle sequence that rages for ten pages. I love the world that Milius is writing about, the way things work. The political machinations of this world are as interesting as the battles themselves, and that’s important. This isn’t built for an attention-deficit-disorder suffering audience like so many of the action films of today. This is an elaborate story that expands the mythology of this character, that takes its time, erupting in furious flurries of violence from time to time, but always interested in telling a real story, complex and demanding. I love characters like General Nicomdeia Scauria Carnifexia, also known as “The Butcher,” a giant, brutal woman “famous for her lack of mercy and sexual enjoyment of conquest and slaughter.”
Milius brings Kon face to face with the truth about his parentage, and it is stranger than even that opening suggests. He brings Conan face to face with the treachery around him and forces him to become a true leader of men again in action, rather than just words. There is a speech that Conan gives to his troops that is truly beautiful writing, chilling, and when I learned what the significance was of the Crown of Iron... well, let’s just say it’s worth the wait. Milius lets the subplot about Conan and Aeldra build to a lovely conclusion, and one exchange between them in particular nearly broke my heart, it’s so perfect.
There’s a line in the original CONAN THE BARBARIAN that I dearly love, a quiet moment just before the final major battle. It’s just Conan by himself, praying to Crom. Fans know the dialogue by heart: “Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought and why we died. All that matters is that today, two stood against many. Valor pleases you, so grant me this one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, the HELL with you!”
Well, there’s another prayer here in another quiet moment just before battle, and even though this is an early draft and there are rewrites already underway, I hope this is one of those things that makes it through intact:
Crom! Again we are here. One thing I know... you are watching, you old wolf! The odds are long again, you enjoy that. If I die, we will meet in Valhalla, I will eat at your table. And if I live, you will find other ways to torture me.
Conan salutes the sky.
I hope you enjoy it!
I did more than enjoy this script. I devoured it. I pray that Warner Bros. is successful enough with LORD OF THE RINGS that they give Milius the greenlight to make this film. It’s an epic adventure he’s written here, and the biggest surprise of the whole thing for me was the last paragraph on the last page, when I realized that Milius is still determined to make his CONAN trilogy. I’ll delete a few names to preserve a bit of mystery about what happens in this film:
But there is more! Conan, NAME DELETED, NAME DELETED, and NAME DELETED must find their destiny in the great struggle to come. This too will be told in BENEATH MY SANDALED FEET, the final installment of R.E. Howard’s CONAN.
Bottom line: I love this script. I am dying to know what is being done to it now as Milius works on a second draft. I’m sure there’s a million ways Milius can make it even better than it is now, but as it stands, this is a promise fulfilled, a dream realized. For nearly 20 years, I’ve thought back to that image of an older Conan sitting on his throne, and I’ve been driven crazy by the implied sequel that image suggested. Now, finally, the blueprint exists to continue the story in the right way, to make something that not only stands up next to the original but actually enhances it and expands upon it. Milius has it in him to make another great movie, and this script is the proof I’ve been waiting for. Before I go to sleep tonight, I’m going to watch my DVD of the original, and when I close my eyes tonight, I’ll dream of a barbarian army, clashing with the full force of the civilized world, with one shadowy giant at the lead of it all, a crown of iron on his brow, and as I sleep, I am sure that I will smile.
Thanks for reading the first 10,000, everyone. Stick around for the next 10,000, and we promise to try even harder to make it worth your while.