Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has made a deal for The Legend Of Conan, an action film that will star Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his signature roles as Robert E. Howard’s mythic barbarian. The deal brings Conan and Schwarzenegger back to Universal, which released the first film that launched Schwarzenegger’s movie career back in 1982. Universal has world rights on the film.

The film will be produced by Fredrik Malmberg and Chris Morgan. Malmberg is CEO of Paradox Entertainment, which holds the rights to Conan. Morgan is the Universal-based writer and producer whose credits include the last four Fast And The Furious films, along with Wanted and 47 Ronin. Morgan has hatched the story and might write the script. The caveat is that the studio wants The Legend Of Conan for summer 2014, and Morgan might not be finished writing the seventh Fast And Furious installment by then. If that happens he will be a very active producer, because this is Morgan’s dream project.

Schwarzenegger starred in two Conan films before moving on to Terminator and other blockbusters as he became the world’s biggest action star. Paradox was involved in a 2011 reboot at Millennium Films that starred Jason Momoa and misfired. Paradox’s Malmberg, who moved the project away from Warner Bros after seven years of development with big-name filmmakers because the project was moving too slowly, feels that this is the version of the film that he and everybody else always wanted to see on the screen but couldn’t while Schwarzenegger was governor of California.

“The original ended with Arnold on the throne as a seasoned warrior, and this is the take of the film we will make,” Malmberg told me. “It’s that Nordic Viking mythic guy who has played the role of king, warrior, soldier and mercenary, and who has bedded more women than anyone, nearing the last cycle of his life. He knows he’ll be going to Valhalla, and wants to go out with a good battle.”

There are no plans for Momoa to return. Morgan said that in his mind, The Legend Oof Conan not only skips over that film, but also the 1984 sequel that Schwarzenegger starred in. The direct link is to the original, which was directed by John Milius from a script he wrote with Oliver Stone. That was a testosterone-laced exploration of Howard’s mythology of a child sold into slavery who grows into manhood seeking vengeance against the warlord who slaughtered his family and his village.

“After the original seminal movie, all that came after looked silly to me,” Morgan said. “Robert E. Howard’s mythology and some great philosophy from Nietzsche to Atilla the Hun was layered in the original film. People say, he didn’t speak for the first 20 minutes of the film, but that was calculated in depicting this man who takes control of life with his own hand. This movie picks up Conan where Arnold is now in his life, and we will be able to use the fact that he has aged in this story. I love the property of Conan so much that I wouldn’t touch it unless we came up with something worthy. We think this is a worthy successor to the original film. Think of this as Conan’s Unforgiven.”

They’ve yet to figure out whether the film will be R-rated like that original, but they won’t flinch from the hardness of the period depicted.

“I loved the choices they made in that film,” Morgan said. “You start with the wholesale slaughter and death of Conan’s village at the hand of the warlord played by James Earl Jones, and you see young Conan chained to a wheel as he becomes stronger. Then he’s a pit fighter, and later basically a stud bull before he meets the first kind person of his life, who lets him go. All of that horrific stuff happened for a reason, and then an act of kindness sends him on his journey. Will that level of violence be there? Absolutely, but only if it serves a character who lives by that barbarian law of the wild, who is capable of extreme violence and rage, but who has created his own code and operates from within it. By the end of that film, Conan became a certain character, and this film picks him up there, as he faces different challenges that include dealing with age.”

Said Schwarzenegger: “I always loved the Conan character and I’m honored to be asked to step into the role once again. I can’t wait to work with Universal and the great team of Fredrik Malmberg and Chris Morgan to develop the next step of this truly epic story.”

Universal co-president of production Jeff Kirschenbaum will oversee the project, and attorneys Patrick Knapp and Richard Thompson made the deal for Paradox. CAA reps Schwarzenegger along with Knapp and Jake Bloom. ICM Partners reps Morgan.

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