Throwback SF Thursday: Amazon Announces Option on Conan TV Show

If there was any fantasy movie boom post-Lord of the Rings, it was a disappointing one.  Will Game of Thrones produce a fantasy TV boom that fares any better?  It has taken several seasons, but it looks like a boom is finally gearing up.  Netflix and Showtime announced TV adaptations of The Witcher and Name of the Wind (the latter to be a prequel series).  A Wheel of Time project appears to still be in the works—the only question is where.  I pointed to Amazon in a post looking in detail at the challenges of adapting the Wheel of Time.  But first Amazon announced they inked a deal for a Lord of the Rings prequel series.  And now Amazon announces they have optioned rights for a Conan TV series.

I’m not going to lie, Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings notwithstanding, I am really excited about the possibilities here.  (It’s probably going to be mediocre, but if we want to talk about things that aren’t probably going to be mediocre, we should go back to talking about books.)  I am excited about this for a pretty obvious reason—it’s Conan!  But I have reason to be particularly excited about this announcement.

Conan is better suited to TV than to movies.  The nature of movie storytelling pushes the creators to give it a definitive beginning-middle-end.  If you’ve read Howard’s Conan stories, you know that Howard gives Conan neither beginning nor end.  You can try to short circuit that to set up a cinematic universe (please God no, not again), but that often hamstrings the movie that is supposed to kick things off.[1]  A Conan movie has the additional problem of living under the shadow of the original 1982 movie.  A movie that is great in its own right but that takes Conan away from his canon and undercuts any potential sequel.  The 2011 movie makes nods toward the original canon but suffers too much from basically being a remake of the 1982 movie.

(I agree with Bob Freeman, by the way, that Momoa deserves another shot as Conan.  He has the look and the physicality.  Conan isn’t just strong he is powerful—he has speed and agility to go with that strength.  Momoa breaks away from the idea of Conan as musclebound.  They don’t even have to erase the 2011 movie; just ignore it.)

I already gave my solution to the movie problem: any new Conan movie should take a page from Mad Max.  Make it someone else’s story, and let Conan play the role of wandering hero.  This actually fits really well with the original stories.  I take it as a very good sign that the creators are signaling they want to return to the source text.  Howard only wrote one Conan novel—Conan’s bread and butter was more around the novelette range.  Which can work really well for TV.

But for Crom’s sake, abandon the trend toward serialization and focus on episodic storytelling.  Sure, some of the stories will need two or three or maybe even four hours to tell, but having your own delivery vehicle gives you the chance to experiment.  Amazon can put out a three hour episode.  Or, better yet, cluster episodes that make up a single story together within the Amazon Video GUI so that it is obvious to viewers.  Don’t want to start a multi-episode story?  Just skip ahead and watch a single episode story.  Look, I love serialization, but innovators make new trends, they don’t just follow old ones.

I did a deep dive into Conan over the summer.  You can find all the posts that resulted here.


[1] A better idea: Tell the creators to make the best movie they can make, leave it all on the table, and don’t worry about sequels.  If—if—the movie is a big hit, figure out how to make the cinematic universe work after the fact.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
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5 Responses to Throwback SF Thursday: Amazon Announces Option on Conan TV Show

  1. pcbushi says:

    Yup, Conan would be great for TV! I am cautiously excited by both this and the Witcher series.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! We can only hope that this will end well!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “I already gave my solution to the movie problem: any new Conan movie should take a page from Mad Max. Make it someone else’s story, and let Conan play the role of wandering hero.”

    I agree with you here. The stories are written as chapters from Conan’s life and this makes it perfect for television. I am hopeful about this series because of the following:

    “Condal admits to having a personal obsession with the material, which Sapochnik also has been a longtime fan of, leading to their collaboration on the project with the creative goal to return to the original Howard literary works and produce a series that is faithful to the spirit of his Conan character. Conan the Barbarian, aka Conan the Cimmerian, was created by Howard in 1932 in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales magazine”

    If they successfully translate their obsession to this series, man, this show will kick ass. I am particularly excited because if they really are fans they’d know Conan isn’t a musclebound buffoon. In that respect I liked Mamoa as Conan. I could see him embracing the character. Just a pity the movie sucked and I hated the swords they used. The devil is in the details.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. John Boyle says:

    I agree with PCBushi, Conan could be great for TV! Not familiar with the Witcher, but I’m curious to see what these film makers can do with REH’s Cimmerian.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Constantin says:

    I agree overall with your article, especially the part where the episodes should focus on Conan in someone else’s story instead of his own. This trend where they take classic characters and try to “humanize” them and make the stories too personal needs to die.
    But I still remain skeptical and half expect them to fuck it up, either by poor writing or inflicting SJWism intro the stories.

    These are the two requirements I absolutely hope they match:
    1) Don’t make it like Game of Thrones. Every show today wants to be like game of thrones. Conan’s stories have always been dark, that’s true, but without the try-hard edginess that happens in GoT(constant rape, sex scenes galore, constant political intrigue etc). At their heart, they are still adventure stories. Don’t fall into the hipster trend of being edgy to prove that it’s “mature and gritty”.

    2) Don’t make it politically correct. I am 95% certain that they WILL do it, since there are some events in Conan’s stories that might be considered “controversial” these days, but that’s part of his appeal. He is a freaking barbarian living in a place and time where barbarism clashed with civilization. Steel is the only thing that makes the law. PC stories are garbage and boring.

    Nobody wants this show to succeed more than me, I love these stories but I’ll remain realistic; a lot of adaptations these days turn out to be disasters, and the same can happen to this show.

    Additional requirement: hire an actor that LOOKS like a barbarian, not a pretty boy pretending to be something he is not(John Carter movie, anyone?).

    Liked by 2 people

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