Saturday, 25 July 2009

Kull the Conqueror (1997)

Kull is a conquering barbarian. Not a barbarian in the Roman sense of the word - he does not have a beard - but throughout Kull the Conqueror, there was a reverberating reiteration constantly of the fact that Kull was a barbarian - if not the barbarian - in the fantasy realm in which the film took place. I have to keep the words - 'the Conqueror' - hovering at the ready near the back of my mind in case I accidentally slip - 'the Barbarian' - into position while writing, for you see Kull is quite similar to another all conquering hero with similar personality traits, who for antecedent's sake will remain anonymous until the next sentence. Yes, Kull is quite similar to Conan, but there are a few carefully selected choices that have been made in this film that set the film apart - some for better and some for worse - from the first Conan film. In the strictest sense, Kull is by far and away the younger brother of Conan, who has spent his time angrily head-butting rock formations with his forehead until his eyes water. In other words, he's the far stupider and yet far more entertaining of the two.

Anyway, the extent by which Kull may be enjoyed, can only truly be measured using a methodization that takes into account the viewer's perception of what makes a great movie. In particular it means, a film should be perceived thusly - first, how entertaining is it? And second, how well crafted is it? This means that a truly dreadful film, with the most laughable acting, shoddy camera work, hand made panoramic backgrounds that look like they were hastily put together by a drunken stage-hand - can all converge as one greater whole, far superior to any one particular ingredient. Conversely, a brilliantly well assembled piece of work, where glittering snowflakes drift beatifically onto the blood strewn ground of the later stages of the Battle of Stalingrad, might look amazing, but if nothing goes on to happen but an artistically rendered impression of boredom, then the enjoyment for most people, and me included, would probably not outlast the film. If ever there was a case in court where this could be put up to the test, then Kull would be up there representing. It is laughably bad and that's precisely what makes it brilliant. The maladroitness of the film is a particular highlight. In regards to the acting and some of the SFX and the gloriously machismo musical bars - the film sores into the realm of parody, but the usually gloriously unhinged writing is where brilliance lies.

It's when the film self-consciously starts self-parodying that the fun goes. I mean, if I want to see a film that knows it's funny and means it, I'll go get a comedy out. The line most obvious of this is the semi-famous: 'Your bride is 3000 years old!' (pause for comedic effect) 'What? She told me she was 19!' All very funny but just not the highlight in my book.

There are a number of plot-related areas that do need to be straightened out after watching this film however. For a start, why has Kull been given the completely unnecessary epitaph of 'conqueror', when all his individual achievements in this film, could have been accomplished by any random person with a couple of pointy sticks? Most of all this seems to be true to form, when he stumbles into the throne room of the king, who is clearly off his balls for everyone to see, having just slain a bunch of his own sons and heirs who lie dead at his feet, and having picked a fight with Kull; Kull manages a lucky blow that leaves the king bleeding his innards out onto the ground - and as he lays there bleeding out of his puncture hole, he crawls across to Kull and gives him the crown. Now, according to the Ancient Rules of the Kingdom as they are presented in this movie, if the king does this, then the whole process of primogeniture is overlooked and a new king is anointed immediately. This, despite the fact that the whole point of primogeniture was to stop precisely this sort of thing from happening. A crazy old king giving his crown to a horse or a warren of rabbits.

Moving on to other areas of plotting and the story has Kull's enemies doing a bit of plotting that moves the film's plotting forward. They decide that the best and really only way to get rid of Kull - who is after all just one man with a presumably limited support inside the palace and who had already been bested in swordplay by one of the lead plotters - the only way to get rid of this man, is a resurrecting ritual of a 3000 year old witch woman, who secretly and for no apparent good reason intends to take over the kingdom and bring about a somewhat silly
hell on earth scenario. Why? Why would she want to do this? Why would they go to such lengths? Why not just sneak into the palace in the dead of night and cut his head off? It seems like you're going quite the distance, having to resort to such extreme measures to kill a 'barbarian' who spends a vast amount of his time, running around with his top off.

Kull hardly strikes the impression of a Machiavellian genius, easily dealing with the matters of court intrigue and in possession of a laser sharp mind, presciently dealing with all possible conspirators that spring up during his tenure as an illegally appointed king, so really why the resurrected evil sorcerer? The matters that give Kull the most food for thought are his personal harem of slave girls and one in particular called Zareta. Because of this infatuation, Kull takes the drastically moral and yet unconstitutional step of freeing the slaves. You see, just as he announces to everyone in the Royal Court that slaves are now free to go, the Royal Eunuch rushes in and exclaims and gesticulates with his hands to a giant stone tablet that contain the rules of the kingdom. In a sense it is a written constitution, quite literally set in stone. Kull gets angry and says, 'But, I'm the King, surely as I say, goes?' 'But no,' spakes the Eunuch, 'It's unconstitutional, see?' Now, although I'm making up what they said, the gist is truthful and surely here lies the dilemma, because if what the king says does not always go - if it is deemed unconstitutional in other terms - then surely the old king appointing Kull as his successor must have been unconstitutional, unless this rather bizarre rule was a chiselled reminder of a bygone era that had been yet to be amended.

Anyway, Kull does not have much luck making his will heard and his regal proclamations oft seem to fall on deaf ears, held tightly covered by constitutional hands. His one early proclamation that does get through however - only happening after he whines like a little girl because he does not feel like much of a king - is a universal religious freedom that inadvertently creates the conditions for the resurrection of Akivasha, the 3000 year old witch thing, mentioned earlier. He goes to a party, hooks up with her and then marries her and on their wedding night, they get it on. However he dies. So not a great one really.

Shortly after, it is revealed he is not really dead but is being hung manacled to a stone pillar somewhere. Okay, so Aki can recreate a perfectly realistic representation of a human being simply out of the particles in the air? Hmm. Anyway, Kull escapes, fights some more, rescues Zareta the slave girl he likes, and they are joined by a friendly monk called Ascalante, then they go on a boat for a bit, overpower the pirate captain because he was going to double cross them, before finally arriving at an island where they pick up the wind of a god, Kull gets beaten some more and then he rushes back, just in time for the final confrontation.

It is in this final confrontation that Kull learns perhaps the most thoroughly immanent message of the film and that is - a man should always be himself. Throughout the course of the film he has been regularly mocked for being a bit barbaric and not noble in his blood. However, when he finally accepts who he is, namely a bad ass with an axe, he destroys the opposition before dealing with Aki by blowing off in her face. By which of course I mean, blowing the wind from the god at her face.

And that is that, apart from one tiny extra bit. Kull goes back to court, takes the crown and chops the giant stone slaps in two. As well as being an act of incredible strength, he's also made the kingdom a potentially unstable unconstitutional monarchy. I guess that's his way of making some amendments.

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