Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A little levity

Korgoth of Barbaria (2006) NR

Korgoth of Barbaria was a pilot for an animated show on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Set in a world similar to that of White Dwarf magazine's comic Thrud the Barbarian, Korgoth takes sword & sorcery tropes to the extreme, with hilarious results.

Starring a barbarian who would much rather use violence to solve an issue than speak, the story of Korgoth takes the feel of Howard's Conan series and turns them up to 11. An example takes place in one of the (many) battle scenes where Korgoth grabs a man by the topknot and tears the flesh off the front of his body, then douses the wound in alcohol, then sets him ablaze. Over the top and "gonzo" are both terms that have been used to describe this popular piece.

Shown as a pilot, Cartoon Network's Adult Swim had announced that the show was being picked up for a season. When the season never appeared, the next word of Korgoth's fate was in an Adult Swim bumper that revealed why several shows had not made it to production. Korgoth was listed as "Too Expensive". This sparked an on-line petition to raise support and awareness, as well as a Korgoth Facebook page.

While I'm not often a fan of Diedrich Bader and his tendency to ham up the gravely quality to his voice, for Korgoth it strikes the perfect note. The voice being as over the top as the action is really helps sell the concept.

Betrayed by the "Baron of Thieves", Korgoth must seek out the tower of the wizard Specules and steal the Golden Goblin of the 4th Age. Specules is believed to be dead, but when is anything ever that easy. Monstrous trees, giant pigeons, exploding fruit, diabolical poisons, and more all await Korgoth as he attempts to fulfill his quest.

Tropes Explored
Korgoth of Barbaria explores and lampoons a number of sword & Sorcery tropes, beginning with the quintessential beginning for many an adventure, the tavern. In a scene lifted almost directly from a Thrud the Barbarian comic, the brooding barbarian ignores everything until his drink is spilled. Then, all hell breaks loose. In this same scene, perhaps as another nod to Thrud the Barbarian, Korgoth cleaves a man in half.

Old acquaintances that are not truly friends is another theme that arises in many Sword & Sorcery stories and films. Kull the Conqueror, for example, has the character of Juba. In this case it is Ga-Ma-Gogg, the "Baron of Thieves." We know that theme demands that this character betray the protagonist (we are even told of a prior betrayal) and betray him he does. This sets up the motivation for Korgoth's quest.

Epic quest locales are certainly brought in. In montage we see the characters travel through desert, plains, forest, icy mountains,  swamps, and a floating wizard's tower. In the opening we see a fallen Statue of Liberty-like statue.

Since Korgoth of Barbaria is actually meant to be taking place in a post-apocalyptic setting, the inclusion of the Golden Goblin of the 4th Age is a wonderful touch. That it is some future equivalent to the singing "Billy the Big-Mouth Bass" adds a touch of humor while still touching on the concept of toys of the ancient past being looked on as great treasures.

Sexual Themes
The sexual theme of Korgoth is certainly, women as objects. Every female character is a focus of sexuality. The first is the stereotypical, buxom, barmaid who is last seen with a villain combatant's head buried deeply in her cleavage. The next, a rag clothed prisoner, sits in a golden cage while Ga-Ma-Gogg attempts to fondle her. Third is Orala, another rag clothed woman, rescued after being chained to a monstrous tree. This character is the "love" interest, and runs off to the bushes with Korgoth the first possible chance.

In addition, the evil wizard, Specules, adds to these themes in several ways. As his monster (made of chewing gum) attacks Korgoth, Specules repeatedly runs his hands up and down the golden goblin idol in an intentionally masturbatory fashion. His creature then becomes a bloated, six-breasted, monster that grabs Korgoth and mercilessly tongues him. Finally, after being slain, Specules' head appears on the body of the now decapitated Orala. The villain makes several suggestive comments before escaping.

The Music
Normally, one might not think too much about the music involved in a program like this. However, the music for Korgoth of Barbaria comes with a pretty solid pedigree. The music is by Lee Holdridge, who did music and orchestration for Wizards & Warriors and The Beast Master. His music is almost a character in itself. Having someone who has written music for the genre doing the music for this piece is an unexpected pleasure.

What Didn't Stink
The entire, and much too short, twenty three minutes of this cartoon are a non-stop delight. The over the top violence, the witty dialogue, the fantastic art direction. There is not a single sour note in the entire program. That is what makes it such a shame that the series was never picked up. So, enjoy the one episode that exists.

Final Thoughts
I note that I've been assembling notes and writing about this program longer than I was watching it. Korgoth of Barbaria really sticks with a person that way. Watching it is entertaining and, if you are a fan of the genre, you'll find yourself remembering bits and pieces of it later. The show really has legs. Too bad Cartoon Network kneecapped it and brought this cult favorite to a halt just as it was beginning. Check out the Bring Back Korgoth blog while you are at it.

Works Cited

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