Archive for August 2011

Conan the Barbarian   1 comment

I went to see the new Conan the Barbarian movie on Sunday.  I had been looking forward to seeing Robert E. Howard’s epic hero on the big screen again for months, hoping and praying that Hollywood wouldn’t ruin it.  I was not disappointed, although I take it from the reviews that many movie critics were.  I’m not surprised.  Movie critics never get the point of fantasy or science fiction movies.  They use the wrong set of guidelines to judge the movie, and thus they fail to see the real virtues of such films.

I am not going to talk about the plot of the story.  If you want to know that stuff, go see the movie.  It is, in my humble opinion, worth the $7 it will cost you to get in.  I’d go see the ordinary 2D version–the special effects are good, but not so good that you need to see them bursting out of the screen at you.  Maybe the tentacles scene would be worth it (grin).

Critics like to see character development.  Conan isn’t about character development–the personalities of the main characters are pretty much static.  The bad guys stay bad, the tough guys stay tough, the sexy women stay sexy–and that is a good thing in a movie like this.  Critics like to see complex story lines.  Conan doesn’t do complex stories.  Conan stories, for the most part, are simple and direct–like a sword thrust to the gut.  But there is a story in this movie–a pretty strong story, even though it has been often told before.  A sorcerous threat to the world arises–a hero emerges to defeat it.  In a way, the movie has the same plot as the first Schwarzanegger movie back in 1982–bad guy destroys Conan’s family and tribe while Conan is a child.  Many years later, Conan gets his vengeance.  Same plot–different events and characters equals different story.

Let’s talk about the things that make this picture good–very good in my opinion–i give it 4 stars out of 5.  First, there is the acting.  Considering how ridiculous the fantasy is compared to the real world, the fact that the actors all really got into their parts, and portrayed all the villainy, lust, terror, courage, love that the characters in the movie were feeling really impressed me.  When you watch the movie, you believe it.  The acting isn’t wooden or hoaky–it’s real.  The less important the actor in the film, the better the acting was.  Conan the kid was fantastic.  So was Ron Perlman as his father–the blacksmith chieftain of the Cimmerian tribe.

With his village in flames, Conan as a boy is full of fight and determination.

 
Conan is renowned for his ability as a fighter.  Jason Momoa, or his stuntman, does a great job portraying a fighter.  Conan is fearless and deadly.  The critics complain that the movie is one blood-soaked battle after another.  In fact, that is what it is supposed to be.  And the battles are great–cinematic, exciting, fast.  No two fights are alike.  After reading what the critics said about bloody mess, I was kind of disappointed.  There wasn’t that much blood.  All too often the killing stroke was not shown–they were often left to the imagination of the viewer.  I was expecting great gushing fountains of blood such as you get in Japanese Samurai movies, but we never got any fountains of gore–just a stain, or a cut here and there.  So, no, the movie isn’t as gore-spattered as the critics might lead one to believe.  Use of blood was actually rather tastefully done.  But the battles were great.
 

Conan does now what Conan does best.

 
 
Another great thing about the movie was the scenery.  Much of Conan was shot on location in Eastern Europe–looks like Romania or the Carpathian Mountains.  Beautiful, wild, exciting terrain.  It looks like a primal world.  Some of it was Hollywood special effects magic–no doubt about it–but the real parts were magnificent in their own right.  Again, I think the critics fail to take into consideration the sheer beauty of the movie–the attention to detail, the splendor of the settings.   We moviegoers are so jaded.  We take the settings for granted in our films–and yet hundreds of people worked hard to make those settings believable and real for us.  They deserve some credit for doing great jobs.  A movie that looks good is not an accident, and deserves some consideration.
 

Giant tentacles are the quintessence of movie monsters!

 
Although sorcery is at the heart of the plot, the movie is a bit light on actual magic.  And there weren’t as many monsters as you would find in your average fantasy role-playing session.  No elves, dwarves, or orcs.  No dragons or trolls.  But there were some marvelous sand warriors, and there was a gigantic tentacled horror that no hero could possibly defeat.  (I have to admit that the tentacled monstrosity didn’t make much sense, but it sure was fun to watch.)  Conan lives in a world of men.  Men are enough.
 
And the movie also had what all Conan movies need–beautiful women.  I like beautiful women for their own sake–I love them in my fantasy escapist fare.  I was not unhappy with the women in the Conan movie–from the bare-breasted wenches in the beginning to the kinky evil witch to the beautiful fighting heroine–they were all great.
 

This witch girl has grown into one of the nastiest villainesses ever, but all she really wants is her father's love.

 

Marique offers herself to her father--this is kinky and could have gotten pornographic very easily. It didn't.

 
Lastly, there is a veiled element of eroticism in this and all Conan movies.  The handsome half-naked hero is attractive to both men and women–there is a homoerotic element to the movie that most people simply refuse to see.  The picture above clearly shows a kind of perverted love interest.  The beautiful women that appear all through the film are there for those of us who are straight, and also for women who like women.  Every sexual taste is subtly acknowledged and catered to in Conan the Barbarian.  You won’t see critics deigning to mention or even talk about that, but at least half of the fantasy element is these movies is the sexual fantasy part.  Sex and Death are always connected.  Conan the Barbarian carries the sexual parts of the fantasy very well.  It is erotic without ever becoming pornographic.  I say it was well done.
 
Those are the things I really liked about Conan the Barbarian.  Let me talk about the weaknesses just a little bit.  First, the story was not that original–basically the same story that they used for Arnold’s first movie–the names and places and events were different, but the plot and result were the same.  I half expected Conan to confront the villain at some point and say, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die!”  Well, he would have said Conan, not Inigo Montoya, but you know what I mean.  Second, the movie has the usual Hollywood ending–the villain’s fortress collapses and more or less explodes around the heroes at the end.  There was no need for that.  Third, they played fast and loose with the geography of the Hyborian world.  Only a dyed-in-the-wool Conan purist fan like me would notice such things.  Those things are quibbles.  The movie isn’t about revenge, or fortresses, or geography.  It is about being Conan the Barbarian in a barbaric world.
 
The movie contains one line that is pure Robert E. Howard–kudos to the script-writers for getting it in there.  Tamara asks Conan if he believes the gods have a purpose for everthing.  He answers “I know not and I care not.  I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.”  As moviegoers we get to watch him live, love, and slay, and we should be content with that.  I am.
 
 
 
 
Tell me how you liked the Conan movie or didn’t in your comments.
 
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GenCon 2011   4 comments

I spent most of last week–Aug. 2 through Aug. 8–at GenCon in Indianapolis.  Thirty or forty thousand gamers, dealers, exhibitors, models, musicians, and cosplayers were also there.  What a scene!  I talked to a lot of people, sold and signed a lot of Tunnels and Trolls stuff, and got some incredibly kind words and compliments from nearly everyone I met.  I had a blast.

Last year I devoted my camera work to people in costume.  The costumes were abundant this year also, but I’m not going to do that again.  This year, I just took a bunch of pictures, and each one reminds me of the fun I had.  Sit back and enjoy the show.

Rick Loomis and Corencio are having supper at Steak and Shake near the convention center.

Rick Loomis, Mr. Flying Buffalo himself, is my principal publisher and patron.  I go to big conventions like GenCon and Origins with him to help man the Buffalo booth and to promote Tunnels and Trolls.  This year I brought along my son Corencio to help with the heavy lifting.  We arrived late on Tuesday, set up the booth on Wednesday–that’s a miserable job as the convention hall is not fully air-conditioned before the show starts–and it’s 90 degrees and 200% humidity inside.  After setting up we all went over to Steak and Shake to have supper–yum!  I do love those double fudge shakes, and this is the only place I ever get them.

Three Amigos--Grimtooth, Shrek, and Trollgod.

Later in the day, I ran into my friend Steven Crompton, and Corencio took this  Three Amigos picture for us.  I didn’t expect to see Steve at the show, but he came to demonstrate his new Powers superhero trading card and sticker game.  Steve is an amazing artist–and the creator of Flying Buffalo’s Grimtooth the Troll character.  Steve is an Arizona boy from Scottsdale, and also a member of my <a href = “http://trollhalla.com&gt; Trollhalla </a> web fanclub for Tunnels & Trolls fans.  That gigantic ogre is really a foam rubber creation and lighter than it looks.  He was extremely busy taking pictures with Con attendees for the whole week.

Rick and Corencio teach retailers how to play Nuclear War.

On Wednesday night before the show we went off to demonstrate our games for retailers at Victoria Station.  We showed a few people how to play Nuclear War and Lost Worlds.  Wizards of the Coast hogged most of the visitors with their lavish spread and demonstrations of Magic ™ and their Dungeon Assault version of Dungeons and Dragons–not available for purchase, but playable by groups in game stores that sell their products.  Steve Jackson Games and Mayfair were also there in force.  I ignored the big companies pretty much–I’m there to see what the little guys are doing.

Typical of the small exhibitors was this company with their pirate miniatures game. Very nice toys they had.

Explorers back from the Center of the Earth.

When the show opened on Thursday morning I went around and talked to some of the dealers.  I most admired the ones who came in costume and wished I had more than an old Tunnels and Trolls t-shirt to wear.  Before it opened on the first day was the best time to see what was at the show–after it opened it was a shoulder to shoulder crowd scene most of the time.  That’s great for dealers, but not so good for rubber-necking game designers.

The Flying Buffalo booth number 501 just before the doors opened to the public on Thursday morning.

Flying Buffalo shared 1/8 of our booth with a small company this year that couldn’t get their own booth.  Studio 9 does small fantasy-themed card games.  Last year they released Treasures & Traps; this year they came out with Villagers and Villains.  People in the picture include Cameron and Lisa in the light green shirts, Bill who helped us in the booth, Rick in the command chair, and Corencio hanging around the back.  One of the few games I got at the con was the T&T card game.  I liked the initials.

Christian, also known in Trollhalla as Dupin, stopped by to say hi.

Death wandered around during the convention. He didn't seem to be taking anyone with him, though.

The Olde Guard was there in force. Here I am with colleagues Robin Laws and Ken Hite.

A member of Trollhalla demos my new DewDrop Inn solo adventure.

Trollhalla member Brrrennt gives A TRAVELER'S TALE a thumbs up plug.

Trollhalla member Kopfy shows off the latest two publications from Peryton Press–Elder Tunnels–Tunnels & Trolls fiction and games that don’t come from me and Flying Buffalo.  I think it is very good to have some outside support for my game.

Perrryton and Aarrra'aghaa are both members of Trollhalla.

Classic profile of a winner--later in the afternoon, Perrryton came and whupped Corencio, Brrrennt, and me in a game of Magic.

Brrrennt explains some of the finer points of the game to Corencio.

The convention center provided a couple of good places to simply sit down, eat, relax, play your games.  I spent a fair amount of time in this area gaming.  It wasn’t as noisy as the main halls, and food was close at hand in the form of small convention center cafes just out of sight.  I ran my one game of Tunnels and Trolls at this table on Friday afternoon.

I had to walk a mile for my supper on Thursday night.

When the dealer room closed on Thursday, Corencio and I joined some friends for a Mexican supper.  Afterwords, we went to their domicile for a Call of Cthulhu game–everyone died, but no one went mad.  Thursday was actually the first and the best day of the Con for me.  Flying Buffalo had a very good day for sales, and most of the friends I actually wanted to see at the Con came to see me that day.  Then we finished it all off with a game.  Can’t beat that!

Fast forward to Friday . . . We had so many helpers at the Flying Buffalo booth that I couldn’t actually stay there all the time.  In one way that was bad because some of the people who came to see and meet me actually missed me.  In another way it was good because I got out and saw more of the Con.

Friday morning found me at the Namaste booth where I went to see my friend Liz Danforth–she who is the very Goddess of Fantasy Illustration–and the creator of the classic Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition cover.

Dungeon delving is a blast.

Aaron wants to revolutionize MMORPGs. I'll help him if I can.

I’m in the picture here with John Harmon who is one of the artists at Namaste games.  He spent some time explaining their storyblocks system to me.  They brought Liz Danforth to the con for the first time in ten years, and signed her up to do concept art for the mmorpg they are creating.  I demoed their system, and I like it–very story based, and not so much twitch gaming like most of the runner/shooter computer rpgs you see these days.  I hope they succeed.

Liz Danforth (in purple) is talking to some of her fans.

It was great to see Liz out on the convention scene once again, and apparently having a good time.  On Saturday night Liz had supper with me and Rick and Corencio and Steve and Rick Roszco at the High Velocity Sports Bar in the Marriott.  That’s living the high life, folks.

Arch geekery with Steve Jackson.

Liz and I connected with the ever reclusive Steve Jackson at the Namaste booth.  Twas really good to see Steve again–it has been more than a decade since our paths last crossed.

LIfe-sized Robo Rally.

When I wasn’t in the dealers’ room trying to sell stuff or talking to people, I hung out in the convention lobby a lot.  In once place they had a life-sized Robo Rally game going for the whole convention.  It attracted a lot of attention and was beautifully produced.  Where do they get those fabulous toys?

Steve came by and talked business with Rick later in the day.

Richard Roszko is the Nuclear War apps developer for Flying Buffalo.

One of the people who helped out at the Buffalo booth was “Nomad” Rick Roszko.  He created the spinner map for Android cell phones for Nuclear War, and is working on a complete Nuclear War app.  The two Ricks think that if Apple Computing would only approve these apps, they would soar to undreamed of heights of popularity and richness.  C’mon, Apple, get off your butt, and approve the Apple I-phone version of the Nuclear War spinner.  Later you can approve the T & T cell phone interactive stories we intend to do.  Nomad took us all to dinner on Friday night at the Claddagh Pub.  Thanks, Nomad!

Saturday was Shadowfist Day!

On Saturday Corencio and I spent a lot of time playing cards at the World Championship Shadowfist tournament.  You may see me write about Magic a lot, but my real favorite collectible card game is Shadowfist–the game of Hong Kong action science fiction movies.  My son, Corencio, is currently the Arizona State Champion of the game–though I think he was lucky when he won that–and we tried our hand at the World Championship.  Now this is sort of typical of my life in gaming.  Here I was, competing for the world championship in a game, and there were only 14 other competitors.  Neither Corencio nor I even came close to winning–we didn’t even make the finals–but we had a good time, and saw some great players in action.

Do these guys look like kung-fu killers to you? The Shadowfist Championship tourney.

After the Shadowfist tournament I went back to the Buffalo booth for the afternoon.  Rick went off and ran a Nuclear War tournament at 4 p.m.–he had 30 players.  Ha!  He should bill it as the Nuclear War World Championship tournament at GenCon.  He might get 100 players if he did that.  When the hall closed a bunch of us went off and had supper at the High Velocity bar.  What  a feast!  But what will forever stick in my mind was the fact that they had television monitors in the Men’s restroom.  You could stand there doing your business and never miss a moment of whatever game was currently playing.

Sports TV heaven and the food was good too. I could not say the same for the Champions Bar in the other Marriott hotel down the street where I had lunch on Sunday.

We parked across the street from the football home of the Indianapolis Colts. The whole stadium is enclosed within this gigantic brick building with huge neon lights on the outside.

The City of Indianapolis has a lot of bizarre and impressive structures in it.  I would have a good time just riding around and photographing strange places.  The football stadium is one of them.  So is the church that follows.  I wish I had time and a local guide to get to know these places better.

Twin Towers--the top of the cathedral across the street from the convention center.

Go for baroque front facade of the church across from the convention center.

The church was so massive I couldn’t get it all into a single photograph.  Likewise for the stadium, and I didn’t even try for a photo of the power plant or the convention center itself or the state Capitol buildings a block to the north.

Some Uruks got lost in the Dealers' Room on Sunday--three of them.

Did I mention that the hall costumes were incredibly great this year?  They were spectacular and none were better, imho, than these lost uruks.  The leader, above, had this harsh rasping voice you could hear halfway across the hall, and yet he was the soul of courtesy and couth.  I tip the trollgod’s battered fedora to the Uruks of GenCon.

Looks real to me.

This fellow had an axe to grind--luckily not with me! I'd sign him up in a hearbeat to guard the trollcave at Trollhalla.

Sunday was the least eventful day of the trip.  I had lunch with my Trollhallan friends and said goodbye to them.  Perhaps we’ll meet again some time.  By 6 p.m. the Con was over, and we had packed the stuff we didn’t sell and were ready to head out.  This concludes my tale of GenCon Indy 2011.  It was the best I’ve ever attended.  All the dealers seemed to do well, and the gamers, cosplayers, etc.  all seemed pretty pumped up and pleased with it.  My congratulations to Peter Adkisson for running a great Con.  Long may it continue!

Goodbye to Indianapolis!

I know thousands of you were at GenCon with me.   There were a million other things I could have mentioned, but I’ve been working on this blog for half the day already, and I have to stop some time.  What did you enjoy most at GenCon?  I’d welcome your comments for this blog.

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