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IN SHORT: A barbarian date movie. Who would've thunk it?
Before there were comic book superheroes, there were "pulp" heroes. "Pulp" referred both to the cheap newsprint paper the stories were printed on as well as the condition the bad guys in the stories were always left in once the hero got done. As in "beaten to a . . ."
Before there was science-fantasy, there was plain old Fantasy writing. Most of those tales took their roots in tales of chivalry and knights and kings and their time frames in periods that never existed. A Texan named Robert E. Howard wrote the template for stories of barbarians and Kings; of beautiful women and hideous demons; of battles on land and sea. Emphasis on the women, and the demons. What all the stories have in common are a barbarian, whose muscles are mightier than his grey matter, who comes to a civilized land where the nobility is even dumber than he. The Barbarian must save the kingdom from ancient evil -- demons and monsters and such from a much earlier time. The difference between Kull and Conan is that Kull gets to become king fairly early on in his career and finds himself battling politicians even more than demons. Barbarians don't like that, y'know.
Yep, Cranky read them all, beginning with the Roy Thomas/Barry Windsor-Smith adaptations of the Conan stories (and the Thomas/ John and Marie Severin adaptations of Kull) for Marvel Comics and then ploughed through the paperback collections of Howard's "real" writings. I knew Kull the Conqueror was going to be a hard flick to sit through because pounds of pulp were still stuck to a brain stem somewhere in my head. I was convinced I was in for a big screen take on star Kevin Sorbo's "Hercules," with a different name and all the blood and violence television won't allow. But I was wrong.
The creative team behind Kull the Conqueror have pretty much crammed all the REH template stuff into a nice and compact package, leaving out only the couple of hundred gallons of steaming, fresh blood that liberally colored the battle pages in each story. There's so much story here that I'm not even going to try to summarize it. Let's just say that the background has to be explained by the supporting characters at least two or three times. There's something to do with ancient evil and demons and Hell on earth -- all the good stuff. What keeps Kull the Conqueror from total confusion is that the screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue has pillaged all the comedic concepts that make Sorbo's "Hercules" television show so much fun. There are close to a dozen back-handed one-liners in the flick that are terrifically funny. Harvey Fierstein shows up for ten minutes or so as a slave trader with a rather unique, shall we say, fashion sense. Always good for a laugh.
But they went overboard with nods to George Lucas' Star Wars Trilogy. The first one will have you doing double takes, the second time you'll be able to speak the line back at the screen. Just goes to show that Darth Vader is an even older evil than we suspected.
Tia Carrere is, as usual, hotter than hot as the bad girl with the good job (Queen of Valusia). Karina Lombard is just as sexy as the good girl with the bad job (harem harlot and soothsayer).
The fighting sequences are the let down. They're just not interesting. What was interesting, to Cranky, is that all the boy kidlets who walked in expecting buckets of blood and guts du jour walked out mumbling how the movie was "garbage." They were in the minority.
Kull the Conqueror treads a mighty fine line between adventure and comedy. It does it well.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for , he would have paid . . .
And while we're on the topic, you should be able to rent the movie based on Howard's life story that got lost in last year's Oscar race. The Whole Wide World stars Vincent D'Onofrio as Howard, and Jerry Maguire's Renee Zellweger as Novalyne Price, the only other love of his life, besides his mom. That's recommended too.
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