So in comparison, what do the films and their characters tell us of how narratives were forged in 1982 compared to 2011?
In 1982, they relied on persona for casting first. Arnold was a name then, not much more, but one known and larger than life. Conan was more than a grunting thug and would take some ability to perform, but it wasn’t Hamlet so it was well within his purview of early skills. The filmmakers wisely chose similarly talented actors to act beside him most of the time (Bergman and Lopez are very good, but they aren’t master thespians) so as not to outshine him, and added veteran screen virtuosos von Sydow, Jones, and Mako to be solid feet on the acting floor to make sure there was some balance.
In 2011, they seemed to rely on the look more than the persona. Momoa played a good-looking barbarian in Game of Thrones, a character very Conan-like, so since he’s the kind of guy that would bring young women to a hack and slash movie usually audience’d by young men he was a win for them. The other “good guy” characters seem to appear more out of convenience than necessity, the possible exception being Artus, Conan’s friend. Tamara is the pretty damsel in distress and El-Shan is a sneaky thief who comes in handy because they need a sneaky thief.
Zym as a villain is far more in-your-face than Doom; bashing, smashing, and slashing his way through the film seeking revenge…much like Conan really, except he is basically wearing a t-shirt that reads “I’m evil and I know it.” Doom’s perspective is far more gray, as proven by a speech he gives:
Purging is at last at hand. Day of Doom is here. All that is evil, all their allies; your parents, your leaders, those who would call themselves your judges; those who have lied and corrupted the Earth, they shall all be cleansed.
Like any kooky cult leader Doom sees himself as righteous, not wicked. Not for some personal wrong (“You killed my evil wife!”) but because as the last Atlantean he is clinging to a time when his people were the power of the world and he longs to go back to those halcyon days. But the movie doesn’t need to spoon you that – it’s just part of the back story, insinuated by dialogue, mood, and Jones’ performance.
Overall, it gives the newer film less complexity, but not really in a good way, just in a “this-is-just-a-sword-swinging-hack-n-slash-adventure-for-fun-so-let’s-not-do-any-more-than-that” kind of way, which really is the trend of narratives now. If something can be simpler it is made simpler. Or often “darker” because much of the audience automatically feels “darker” is “better” or “more real” (See Star Wars I-III). “Real” has come to mean everything has to be shown or explained directly. Nothing has nuance or subtlety. Many narratives’ most powerful points are either spelled out and/or done so blatantly as to provide little interpretation or analysis, thereby robbing the audience of some of the intensity of personal realization.
Next time will be the summation, one best provided by a riddle…