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Sword and sorcery movies: are they all pants?


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#1 BigJackBrass

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Posted 06 April 2015 - 06:12 AM

An exact definition of what constitutes sword and sorcery is unlikely to be agreed upon, but here's part of the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

Sword and sorcery (S&S), or heroic fantasy, is a subgenre of fantasy and historical fantasy, generally characterized by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent conflicts. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of magic and the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters.

The term was originated by Fritz Leiber to describe stories in the style of Howard's Conan tales. Although we might argue over fringe cases I think it's fairly clear that S&S differs markedly from the "high fantasy" of Tolkien, for example.

In the 80s especially there were a number of sword and sorcery movies made, developing out of the "sword and sandals" films of the 60s and largely attempting to capitalise on the success of Arnie's Conan. They're largely rubbish; I include the Conan films too, which are quite unlike the stories in most respects.

I've been rereading Howard's original Conan stories - daft, lightweight, yet marvellously robust and gripping - and wondering why nobody seems to have captured their mood successfully on film. Are there any decent sword and sorcery movies out there? Is such a beast even possible, or does the nature of the genre make it unsuited to motion pictures?
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#2 Lucky_Strike

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Posted 06 April 2015 - 07:46 AM

The ones from the 80's don't hold up. They either add a tounge in cheek element that destroys the suspension of disbelief or are just so demonstrably poorly assembled in film and script that they are terrible.

Also they occasionally are just a chance to put naked breasts on screen at a drive in. Oddly this approach by Corman seems to have been sustainable. See: Deathstalker and Barbarian Queen franchises.

I think the best attempt in recent years was The Scorpion King. That said it wasn't very strong. But for the feel of the original stories, the idea that behind any wins in this film the hero is doomed to become an immortal demon monster adds some pathos.

I think the other part is the narrow focus. Films with special effect budgets seem to want the effects to do the storytelling and are unwilling to keep that focus on personal battles. They seem to think that if there are magic spells (or superpowers for another discussion) the entire world has to be in danger, if not the entire universe.
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