Fanboys' acceptance would boost reboot

Lionsgate has a lot riding on the Aug. 19 launch of the nearly $70 million “Conan the Barbarian,” and a good reception at Comic-Con would go a long way to helping the cause.

One key hurdle: convincing moviegoers that the R-rated 3D warrior epic is far removed from the Arnold Schwarzenegger actioners.

With campaigns for films typically revving up a month before their release, this week’s San Diego fanboy fest is well-timed for the launch of the co-production with Nu Image and Paradox Entertainment. The distributor is looking to deliver one message to potential auds: that the new film returns to the character’s roots from the Robert E. Howard novels and comicbooks and isn’t a reboot of the 1982 and ’84 pics — the last time Conan was seen on the bigscreen.

While it’s been nearly 30 years since the last pic, the Conan character has been a steady fixture on Comic-Con’s show floor, with booths selling everything from books and art to games and collectibles. Yet ever since the new “Conan” pic was announced in 2008, fans have been skeptical about the Marcus Nispel-helmed project.

They initially raised eyebrows when relative unknown Jason Momoa was cast; his biggest credits had been the final seasons of “Baywatch” and syndie skein “Stargate: Atlantis.” But they have warmed up to the thesp since he impressed playing another notable barbarian in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

More than 100 actors, from Sweden to Australia, were considered for the role.

“Nobody noticed Jason because he had dreadlocks and the beard from ‘Stargate,’?” said Fredrik Malmberg, CEO of Paradox Entertainment, which oversees the entertainment rights to Conan and all titles in the Howard library. “He looked like a big caveman.”

But the thesp, who was born in Hawaii and raised in Iowa, landed the role because of his size, hair color and skin tone, “which resembles how Robert E. Howard described (Conan) in the books.”

With his role on “Game of Thrones” wrapped, Momoa is expected to be a hot property at Comic-Con when he appears on that show’s panel and signs autographs at the Lionsgate booth. He will also participate in a “bar invasion” around San Diego’s downtown Gaslamp district to greet fans and host trivia contests.

Skeptics also had questioned whether Lionsgate would tame the books’ gory battle details, and this week the company released a red-band trailer filled with enough blood-splattering violence to dispel any doubts.

“That’s the only reason we created a red-band trailer,” said Jason Constantine, president of acquisitions and co-productions of the motion pictures group at Lionsgate. “A lot of diehard fans were wondering if we would be true to the world of ‘Conan.’?” Producing an edgier pic was always part of Nu Image and Paradox’s plan. “These stories take a special kind of barbarian. This world is not PG-13.”

This week, Lionsgate also premiered red-band scenes from “Conan” on Twitter for the first time, under the hashtag #WhenBloodIsSpilled. And Dark Horse Comics will release a prequel comicbook for the film to Comic-Con attendees, again promoting the film’s tie-in to its graphic novel heritage.

Lionsgate won’t promote the film with a Hall H presentation, however, due to scheduling issues.

Still, Lionsgate will have the cast, including Momoa, the film’s villain Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan, signing autographs at the company’s booth, which will also give fans the chance to insert themselves into the film’s trailer through a pair-up with Yoostar. New action scenes will also be shown at the booth.

All of the effort is to get the approval from Comic-Con attendees, which “is essential,” Constantine said.

“This is the fanbase that loves Conan and has loved the source material for years. We wanted to make they know this movie was made with integrity and creatively is true to its heritage.

“Our feeling was always we really see Comic-Con as an important part of making sure that fans get to learn even more about the film,” than the trailers and character posters released so far have revealed.

The effort is part of the roughly $30 million marketing campaign Lionsgate is launching around the domestic rollout of the film, one of its more expensive promo pushes. “We’re letting fans know that we’ve made a movie for them.”

Constantine said Lionsgate also realizes it needs to promote the film to 17- to 25-year-old males “who weren’t born when the last ‘Conan’ came out.”

And that is why the August release date isn’t coincidental.

Comic-Con’s berth on the calendar is “wonderful timing for us,” Constantine said. With Marvel and Par’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” bowing the same weekend as Comic-Con, “Conan” will be one of the few “comicbook-branded films coming out weeks after.”Paradox has been wanting to produce a “Conan” pic since it acquired entertainment rights to the character in 2001. While the “Age of Conan” game, Dark Horse comicbooks and toys or collectibles were produced — with 70% of the company’s coin collected overseas — a film at Warner Bros. languished in development.

“Studios prefer PG-13 material, but Conan is an R-rated property and that is tough for big studios to embrace,” Malmberg said. But that’s not the case at the minimajors, which are eager to get into the branded biz in edgier ways.

Having seen a complete screening of the film this week, days before heading to Comic-Con, Malmberg is confident the fanbase will embrace the new version of “Conan the Barbarian.”

“It’s true to the property, which is what we always wanted,” he said. “Comicbooks, toys and games are great, but a great movie will propel Conan for another 25 years.”

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