Conan the Barbarian by Jason Aaron

conan jason aaronA very welcome oversized hardback collection of writer Jason Aaron’s twelve-issue run of Conan the Barbarian. The arc is titled ‘The Life and Death of Conan’ and is a pretty interesting take on the character for his return to Marvel: I suspect it was a deliberately introductory arc intended for new readers unfamiliar with the character, as it sweeps forwards and backwards in time referencing various parts of Conan’s life and adventures. It may also be a case of Aaron referencing REH’s habit of non-chronological stories, Howard depicting Conan as a King and then in his next story depicting Conan as a young thief, or later in his life as a pirate, writing stories at various stages of Conan’s life as if on a whim. It would be left for two fans to later write a probable chronological outline of Conan’s life piecing the REH stories into some kind of order (“A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” by P Miller and J D Clark first published in a fanzine in 1938). 

One of the ways to judge how good a new Conan story is, is perhaps inevitably to compare it to the mood and spirit of REH’s original tales. This is something of a double-edged sword because there is no way for any writer to really create something that rings wholly true of Howard. Conan’s creator may have been a pulp writer quickly turning out the stories to pay the bills (and at the time of the Conan shorts were written this would include paying for, or contributing to, his mother’s medical expenses as her health failed) but their quality has ensured his work has been in print for close on a century now. Indeed, it can be argued that Howard’s best stories are those not involving Conan at all, but it can’t be denied that the best of the Conan yarns are really something special. 

So how does Aaron fair with such an unfair comparison? Pretty well I think. I’m not really convinced that he manages to capture Conan’s character; there is something a little too civilized regards Aaron’s Conan for all his narrative commentary otherwise, lacking some of the dark barbarian of Howard. There’s a literal fixation on Conan’s wanderlust, Conan’s drive to see over the next hill, an ambition to experience all the Hyborian Age’s wonders that I don’t think was such a character trait in the Cimmerian at all. It feels a little too on the nose, too modern a point of view. I rather thought Howard’s Conan lived more aimlessly, subject to his own physical whim and excess, whether it be wine, women or loot. Aaron further features a rather unwelcome explanation for Conan’s success, attributing it to a witches curse and the protection from a Dark God that needed the Cimmerians blood at the end of a long life in order for that Dark God to return. Hey, I’d prefer to attribute Conan’s length of survival to his own efforts.

The art and colours (chiefly by Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson respectively) are beautiful; modern comic art is on this evidence rather more sophisticated than much of the 1970s art that featured in Marvel’s original Conan books, although I still think John Buscema’s Conan is the definitive one. This edition certainly benefits from the larger size- I initially bought this run in two softcover collections but really struggled with the small print, my eyes not what they were: no such problems here. Aaron left the title after issue twelve but I definitely hope that the successive issues with a new creative team can also be reprinted in OHC format eventually. While I am really enjoying Marvel’s omnibus reprints of both the colour and black & white Conan titles from the 1970s – 1980s, I would be fascinated to see where Marvel goes with this new generation of Conan titles.    

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

murder3Here’s another case where my ignorance of past adaptations (1974 movie for one), and the original source material likely results in rosier remarks than might have been the case- I have no idea how honest it is to that source material, for one thing, or whether it takes diabolical liberties. Its a bit like someone who has never read a Robert E Howard story watching any of the Conan movies and judging them just as movies, ignorant of the fact that each of them ruinously ill-serve the original Howard stories and characters. Indeed, I’m not one for this whole murder-mystery genre at all, and have only recently in the last year or so watched any adaptations of Agatha Christie’s stories. So I’m hardly qualified then. Bye.

Still here? Well then. One thing is for certain- this film is utterly gorgeous to look at. I saw it via streaming in HD on Amazon Video on a rental, but that is hardly doing the term ‘HD’ justice really. I cannot imagine (well I can, and it has me salivating) what this film looks like on Blu-ray or 4K UHD. The colour palette, lighting and production design are all exquisite. Of course it could also be argued that it is all overly fanciful and possibly even distracting, but I found the look of the film utterly charming and impressive, and yes quite cinematic. This is, at all times, clearly a ‘MOVIE’ and not at all the kind of thing you’d see from a Netflix Original- well, that seems to be the clear intent.  There is also the very modern trend of the film clearly setting itself up as the start of a possible franchise, with a not at all subtle lead-in to a sequel based on Death on the Nile.

murder2Equally impressive is the cast- a list of A-listers indeed and a throwback to the ‘Old Hollywood’ habit of throwing great casts at prestige films or novelty projects like Irwin Allen disaster movies. Kenneth Brannagh as the sleuth Poirot, of course, but also a list of suspects as esteemed as Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Derek Jacobi, and Johnny Depp (the wrap party must have been legendary) as well as a supporting cast no less impressive. There is something almost comforting about seeing so many recognisable faces hamming it up in this old-fashioned 1930s murder mystery.

And ‘hamming it up’ does seem to be the order of the day- it would be fair to suggest that only Brannagh himself really gets into it and chews up the scenery sufficiently. The rest of the cast rest on their laurels, mostly, as if just bringing their familiar faces on-set and saying their lines is going to be enough. Perhaps there is something to be said that the script hardly demands anymore of any of them, and as far as the huge talents at hand, most get wasted.

As a pleasant matinee diversion this film ticks all the boxes, and I can imagine, with its snowy vistas and starry cast, this film is destined to become a mainstay of Christmas schedules in years to come. Perhaps I should criticize it for lack of ambition and failing to really stretch either itself or any of its genre boundaries- the denouement may be faithful to the book, for instance, but I did feel it rather jumped the shark and threatened to spoil the whole experience. But would that be unfair complaining about the film when it should be the original author taken to task? Or does the film have a different solution to the mystery than the book did?

So yes, maybe I’m not at all qualified to measure the worth of this film. I will just say that I quite enjoyed it, distracted throughout, admittedly, by how lovely it looked and by each famous face that appeared onscreen. Certainly a guilty pleasure then.

murder1

Next-Gen Griswold: Vacation

vacation2017.78: Vacation (2015)

One of the blights of the last few decades of film-making has been the industry’s propensity towards remakes/prequels/sequels/reboots of existing intellectual properties, whether it be old movies or tv-series. We’ve seen big-screen outings for Starsky & Hutch, Baywatch and the A-Team and so many other old tv-shows. And don’t get me started on the number of film properties that get resurrected- from 1982 alone, we’ve seem a  prequel to The Thing, a reboot of Conan, a sequel to Blade Runner, a remake of Poltergeist, a sequel to Tron. It seems anything goes. No sooner as Ben Affleck quits his current Batman role, it is just taken for granted that another fresh Batman will immediately hit the silver screen, for better or worse.

One of my family’s favourite film series of the VHS era was National Lampoon’s Vacation series, in which the hapless Griswold family endured terrible holidays to great comedic effect. The whole family would sit down and enjoy them- we must have watched those films so many times. Even today there is an enduring charm to the films, and I can watch Christmas Vacation every year during the Christmas holidays and still get a giggle out of it. Sometimes films age like wine, somehow, no matter how truly average they originally were. Nostalgia no doubt plays a part of that, and no doubt that’s why we get so many reboots and remakes anyway- that, and the intellectual and creative desolation that is modern Hollywood.

So here we have what amounts to the Griswolds: The Next Generation, in which the young son of the originals, Rusty, now a married man with two kids of his own, decides to re-capture the disastrous family holidays of his youth by taking his own family on a roadtrip across America to Wally World. In that weird way so many of these reboots fashion themselves, its part-continuation, part-remake. It’s a road-trip like the first film, it features a hire-car like the first film, they have all sorts of mis-adventures like in the first film. Many of the gags are direct references to the first film, such as Christie Brinkley’s supermodel in a supercar whose drive-by flirtation with our hero in the first is reprised here, a gag probably working better here than others, with a great twist that offers something new.

I suppose the question is, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? And if this is what a Vacation movie is, why should it be anything more? On the whole it’s a poor imitation of the original, as it largely misses the chemistry of the original leads and can’t help but feel over-familiar and tired (as so many reboots/remakes do). But I still got plenty of laughs out of it, once I’d warmed into it twenty minutes in. Its a Vacation movie, and quite fun. You know what you are getting- it ain’t great, but it ain’t bad. Is that damning it with faint praise?

1982

As I write this, 35 years ago.

Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.

I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever,  lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.

It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us-  2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.

In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.

1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play.  I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.

I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…

1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.

I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.

1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.

Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy-  how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).

I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983.  Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.

Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.

It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).

When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.

Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.

 

 

My REH Bookshelf Pt.1

Last week I received the three most recent Robert E Howard books from the REH Foundation Press, so I thought it timely to post some pictures of my Robert E Howard collection. I’ve been collecting REH books since 1978, and I think it is true to say that REH fans have never had it as good as they do now, thanks to the efforts of the folks at the REHFP. There is still, and always will be, a unique thrill to receiving a box from them postmarked from the post office at Cross Plains, Texas, a special place in Howard lore.

reh1So here’s my first photograph, and this is pretty much my collection from the last few years and it clearly demonstrates how much I have benefited from the REHFP. While many of these books contain stories I already owned in earlier books, they also contain a wealth of fragments and drafts, and informative essays. And of course they are handsomely collected in hardback format in very limited editions, usually only 200 copies. I can never figure out how REH fandom is so limited that these books don’t seem to sell-out. They aren’t cheap, but when I think back to the bad old days of buying paperbacks these are more that worth the investment, and will hopefully last the rest of this REH readers life.

Highlights are almost too numerous too mention. The Collected Poetry is a hugely important volume, and the Collected Letters also. If these were the only books that the REHFP had ever printed, that would have been more than enough to satisfy collectors. In all honesty though I adore all of these books and only wish I could make the time to properly re-read them all enough. I often think that if ever I manage to retire one day I will enjoy the fruits of my collecting by spending years reading and re-reading these volumes -I only hope I can keep my marbles in order to do so! But I’m certain in the meantime I’ll give it a good go whenever I have time- currently I’m reading through the Breckinridge Elkins books. At any rate, though their frequency of books is somewhat haphazard, I’m certain that the REHFP have yet more books in the pipeline.

One anecdote I must make- my copy of the Collected Poetry was actually delivered across town as the address hadn’t been written properly on the package. As it wasn’t tracked, I had no idea, but thankfully it was delivered to me by the recipient of the package who had subsequently managed to track me down. I don’t think I ever had opportunity to thank him enough, as I was quite bewildered when he turned up at my door late one summer evening with the box. I’m really not usually that lucky a person -the ghost of Howard was looking over me that night!

This second photograph is a sample of the REH volumes I’ve collected over the past few decades-

reh2Now this picture contains a few real finds that REH collectors out there will likely recognise and which will mean nothing at all to most everyone else, so please bear with me. First is The Last Celt, which I bought from Forbidden Planet back in, 1985 I think, on a rare trip down to London. I couldn’t really afford the book but I couldn’t resist it. Its a hugely influential book about REH, at one point the bible of REH collecting. Written and compiled by the late Glenn Lord, who was the most important REH fan there ever was, its a cornerstone of my collection. Glenn was kind enough to reply to an email from me many years ago.

Next along the shelf are, like The Last Celt,  a number of REH books from Donald M Grant, one of the most important publishers of REH material, certainly in the 1970s/1980s- the highlight of these is the rare Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, a semi-autobiographical novel by Howard. Another favourite from my collection is a book about Howard rather than one by him- a memoir by Novalyne Price Ellis titled One Who Walked Alone. She was a friend of Howard and was the only girl he ever dated or had any kind of relationship with, and as she had literary leanings herself, she kept journals and diaries of their times together. This book is a particularly candid, first-hand document about Howard and formed the basis of a later film. Remarkably vivid, reading this book is like stepping into a time machine and the closest one can get to meeting Howard.

Then we come upon the expensive section of my collection- back before the REHFP rescued Howard collectors, the British publisher Wandering Star instigated an ultimately too-ambitious project of luxury limited editions. The books proved a contentious issue in REH fandom, but I well remember my thrill back when they first came out and I’m grateful to everyone involved in the (ultimately abortive) project. Having had to put up with cheap paperbacks and those old second-hand Donald M Grant editions that I could get hold of, new, luxury hardbacks of curated Howard material were a godsend. I remember picking up a flyer in Forbidden Planet announcing the three-volume Conan books. It was like winning some kind of lottery, it was so exciting! The first Wandering Star book was the Solomon Kane book, lavishly illustrated and bound, complete in slipcase with prints and a cd of some recited Kane material.  I bought that from the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham- it was an expensive purchase but I never regretted it.

Further along the shelf you will see my copy of the Neville Spearman edition of Skull-Face Omnibus. In the history of REH publishing, this is one of the important volumes, originally published in 1946 by Arkham House. Dating from 1975, I bought this copy of the Neville Spearman edition from Andromeda Bookshop in 1983. Although I had bought some Conan paperbacks years earlier, it was this book that truly sealed my fate regards collecting REH books. The typeface is so small just reading a paragraph now is enough to induce a major headache, but fortunately all the books material has since been reprinted elsewhere and more legibly.

A few more Donald M Grant editions follow, and L Sprague de Camp’s rather inflammatory biography of Howard that I bought for £8.75 in 1986 (I know, because I have the receipt slipped inside the book), back when I was deep into buying the many REH  paperbacks of the time. I don’t have any of those paperbacks at hand to display, as they are stored up in boxes in the loft- but there were lots of them.

Finally (for now) on the shelf are two deluxe reprint volumes of the Roy Thomas/Barry Windsor-Smith Conan comics that pretty much started my whole affair with REH when I first read the weekly reprints here in the UK in 1975. So in a way they bring things full circle.

I have some other REH books I haven’t photographed here -the Bison books from several years ago, the Del Rey books based on unpublished Wandering Star volumes, the aforementioned paperback pile from the 1970s-1980s boxed away and several volumes of critical works about Howard’s work, as well as a number of comic collections from Dark Horse. Plenty there for an eventual Pt.2 indeed,  but what I have featured here is pretty much the bulk of my collection. I certainly don’t consider myself an hardcore REH collector but it has become something of a lengthy fascination that somehow defines me- any other REH collectors care to share details of their collections?

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

DF-04525 - Moses (Christian Bale) charges into a fierce battle.I have a suspicion that I haven’t really watched Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, if only because there is a nagging feeling that I have just watched an incomplete work. Not a Rough Cut exactly, but Scott does have a track record of these things. Like Kingdom of Heaven, I have the impression there is a longer Directors Cut in the offing, although it must be said this theatrical cut worked much better than the theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven did  (I don’t expect any incarnation of Exodus will equal the mighty DC of Kingdom of Heaven though- I suspect that film’s DC will be Scott’s last great movie, although obviously I’d love to be proven wrong).

Of course the danger is that I could cut the film too much slack thinking its deliberately compromised at studio behest to manage the running time. You could well be forgiven for arguing that Scott should have gotten it right first time, and 250 minutes is plenty long enough for any epic. I could moan about the current state of affairs in which I can see a film at the cinema in a version deliberately lesser than it should be with a more complete/superior version waiting in the wings. It may even damage the box-office for the film, as I well suspect many will be waiting for a longer/better cut on the eventual Blu-ray and will ignore the theatrical release completely.Which would be pretty ironic, as if the film fails to do the business the Studio may not see any worth investing in a longer cut for home release.

Of course I could raise a note of caution, in that we all thought we would see a better cut of Prometheus that actually made sense, but that never transpired, so there’s surely no guarantee of there ever being a better Exodus in the future (although I believe Scott has hinted at one and been quoted regards a four-hour version).

exodus2

So how to judge Exodus then, without waiting a few months for a longer (superior?) Directors Cut?  Well in truth I guess you can’t. The film doesn’t reach the heights it aspires to, and lacks the depth or subtlety it might have had, and there’s no guarantee it will work any better in any longer cut, if it even exists. And yet there’s a damn good film in there and it might actually be a great film in a longer cut. The good news is that we only have to wait until March for the films home release, so if that longer cut is ready we may not have long to wait. Here’s a few points that spring to mind for now-

1) The 3D was excellent; I’m not one usually swayed by 3D but in this case I’ll just say that Scott displayed a mastery of the frame with a keen eye for use of depth. It wasn’t too distracting but rather aided a sense of immersion. Much, much better 3D than I experienced in the Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies anyway.

2) Ridley Scott remains one of the finest visual directors working today, and indeed one of the finest of all time. Exodus is a beautiful-looking movie and really shines on the big screen (but of course we all expected that anyway).

3) As Biblical films go, I felt this was far superior and more successful than Noah. Noah may have been more radical/experimental but Exodus worked better as a movie. And that’s not to say that Exodus plays it too safe or doesn’t try to be controversial- it depicts God as a petulant/fairly irritating young boy and suggests that some of the story may be instigated by a trauma/brain damage suffered by Moses in a fall. Of course there is a fine line with films like this regards respecting people’s faith and beliefs (one persons religion is another persons science fiction/ Ancient Aliens fantasy).

4) I wish Ridley had made a Conan movie. I believe he was lined up for one in the late ‘seventies at one point. Some of the battle scenes in Exodus are brilliantly staged and shot (just look at that picture at the head of this post), and the ‘look’ of Egypt is such a tease for an adventure in a Ridley Scott Hyboria…. it’ll never happen, but file it under Great Films That Never Were for discussion someday. There were several moments watching Exodus that I thought, ‘wow. that would be great in a Conan movie’. Come on Ridley, forget Blade Runner 2…. have a stab at saving the Conan franchise and shoot The Hour of the Dragon.

 

 

 

Three Grail Soundtracks of 2012

The guys over at the filmscore monthly forums have a word for their most wished-for and cherished soundtracks; they refer to them as their Grails. Its a term usually reserved for those titles that, over the years, have gained an almost mythical standing, usually due to rights issues or ‘lost’/destroyed recording masters. Hollywood has not always seen soundtrack scores as marketable commodities outside of the film itself, and cost-cutting or negligent archiving has resulted in many scores being lost forever. Over the past few years however researchers have discovered many scores thought lost to the ages, and as Hollywood studios recognise a new revenue-stream from old films, specialist labels like Intrada, FSM and La La Land Records have released many gems as limited-edition CDs.

startrektmp12012 has seen the release of three items that might be considered ‘Grails’ of mine. The first one was early this summer with the release of La La Land’s three-disc edition of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I have loved this score ever since I first heard it when seeing the film back in 1979, and subsequently bought the vinyl soundtrack album and later on further incarnations on CD. It’s a rich and powerful symphonic work that deserved a better film- indeed, I’d contend that the score is the best character in the film, its such an important element to the flawed, overly-rushed-to-release movie. This three-disc edition of the soundtrack is a dream come true to its fans; the complete score is spread over two discs, followed by several early pieces discarded from the score as themes were revised and redone, accompanied by the original 1979 album sequence. This latter section is important, as it arises that the album was mostly re-performed music conducted by Goldsmith during the scoring sessions, so the album we heard for so many years was not the score as heard in the film. Disc three features a further 74 minutes of alternates, rehearsals and related oddities such as a Disco-flavoured instrumental single that is a sobering reminder of the era the film is from, and a song by Shaun Cassidy based on the love theme. Sometimes when I see the disc sitting on my shelf I have to reach out and pick it up in a ‘pinch me I’m dreaming’ kind of moment, just to check its real. After so many years waiting for someone to release the full score, to see it done so well and so complete, with all those unknown extras and sumptuous liner-notes in an extensive booklet, well, its a remarkable release.

As I write this I have a framed print of Frank Frazetta’s Conan painting “The Destroyer”, that I ordered from Frazetta’s own mail-order enterprise several years ago, hanging on the wall above me. Its a wonderful, amazing work of art that dates back to the original paperback covers Frazetta painted in the 1960s when REH’s barbarian became hugely popular. The ‘Howard boom’ that was fueled by Frazetta’s art and subsequent comics success of Conan culminated in 1982’s Conan:The Barbarian directed by John Milius and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film was quite successful and shot Schwarzenegger to Hollywood fame. Some thirty years later, the films wonderful score by the late Basil Poledouris remains one of the greatest scores of its time. Budgetary limitations on the film resulted in it being released in mono, impacting on the power of the films score and soundtrack during screenings, but the original album presented its highlights in stereo giving fans a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. The budget also impacted on the size and ability of the orchestras playing the music itself but to be honest I hardly noticed that whilst playing the score over and over. The album became the soundtrack to many RPG sessions and background music to my many paintings during my art student days.

conanThe music in the film is integral to the whole, particularly as for much of the film, dialogue is kept to a minimum. The film being pretty much wall-to-wall music, over the years, many fans began to ask about that music missing from the original album. It transpired that the original score elements had been lost or destroyed, leading to the composer himself abandoning his own efforts to release a more complete soundtrack album. Varese released a slightly-expanded edition using additional cues with fair to middling sound issues. Recently a remarkable re-recording, that had the blessing of the composer prior to his death, was made correcting problems with the original recording, and it was believed this would be the last word on Conan. And yet film  music fans have of late have become used to the adage ‘never say never’. After so many years of fruitless searches, the complete original score on 2″ 24-track reels surfaced at last and has resulted in a three-disc edition from Intrada. Whilst not as authoritative as the Star Trek:TMP set, as Conan was not such a major Hollywood production, nevertheless this release is another Grail for me. The Prometheus label’s re-recording wins hands-down on both performance and sound quality (although its differences are not always ideal) but this new Intrada edition is, after all, the actual original soundtrack, warts and all, and something we fans had believed lost forever. There are even nearly thirty-minutes of early alternates that are a complete surprise, featuring a spine-tingling version of the track  Orphans of Doom, and it includes the 1982 album sequence as a fine highlights version and reminder of what used to be. Fans might be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed/weary of so many editions of the score, particularly following the Prometheus set, but yeah, its another ‘pinch me’ moment for me.

Finally, the third Grail soundtrack release for me this year is La La Land’s breathtaking 15-disc box of the Star Trek: The Original Series scores. Its everything; the complete music for all the episodes of the three-year original series, including some sound effects and even music not used in the show. Over 17 hours of nostalgic joy. As someone who, as a kid, was simply in spellbound love with this show, this release, some 45 years after the show aired, is  just monumental. I only wish I could comment further, but unfortunately my (very expensive but to hell with the cost, it’s the original Star Trek! Its Christmas!) box set is, according to the USPS tracking website, still stuck in a sorting facility in New York. Has been for getting on for a week now, so yes, I’m getting rather concerned (although its insured, thank goodness) and yes, it looks like one big Christmas treat that I will not be getting this year, drok it.  So I’ll have to comment further when I actually get the damn thing, and in the meantime just drool and dream over the gorgeous pictures of the set. Agh.

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