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Conan the Barbarian


Title: Conan The Barbarian
Year Of Release: 1982
Running Time: 130 minutes
DVD Released By: Universal
Directed By: John Milius
Writing Credits: Robert E. Howard (Conan creator), John Milius and Oliver Stone (screenplay) Edward Summer (story uncredited)

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Sven-Ole Thorsen and Mako

Taglines:
1. Thief Warrior Gladiator King
Alternate Titles:
None Found
Review Date: 2.21.05 (updated 1.1.10)

Shadow's Title: "Beefcake, Boobs, Blades and Blood"

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Conan - The Complete Quest  

Characters
Conan – One of the few survivors of a massacred village, he was sold into slavery as a child. Eventually he becomes a masterful, yet brutal warrior and attains his freedom. Setting out on a quest for vengeance against those responsible for the death of his people, he has many interesting adventures.
Thulsa Doom – He is the leader of the Snake Cult of Seth. He has a thirst for power and in his younger days he killed many people – including Conan’s village, in his quest to answer the riddle of steel. The master of the hypnotic mojo, he can also transform himself into a giant snake.
Subotai – A thief and archer who becomes Conan’s first travelling companion and the one who introduces Conan to cities and civilization. It must be from him that Conan learns his thieving skills. Subotai is a pretty faithful companion, coming to Conan's aid after he has set out alone.
Valeria – She is another thief who meets Conan when she chooses to rob the Snake Cult on the same night as he and Subotai. They join forces and get away with the treasure. Soon after, they fall madly and passionately in love with one another. Sacrifices herself later to save his life.
The Wizard – Another of Conan’s companions. He doesn’t appear in the movie until nearly halfway through it, but as the chronicler of Conan’s tale, his voice is heard throughout the film, narrating events. He uses his magic to help keep Conan alive after he was crucified on the Tree of Woe.
King Osric – The ruler of Shadizar. Once he was a powerful Northman, he is now old and sodden. He enlists Conan and his companions to rescue his daughter from Thulsa Doom’s mountain of power. For some strange reason, I kept expecting him to call for The Bore Worms.
Rexor – Thulsa Doom’s second in command. He conducts bizarre rituals where naked young women throw themselves at giant snakes. Is that an allegorical representation of something – naked women and giant snakes? Nah, couldn’t be. In battle he uses the sword stolen from Conan’s father.
Thorgrim – He is one of Thulsa Doom’s two right hand men. He uses a GIANT warhammer in battle. I don’t think he ever uttered a single word throughout the entire film, though there were plenty of grunts and screams. Despite his Thor-wannabe look, he is ultimately no god of thunder.
The Princess – The daughter of King Osric. Like so many impressionable youths, she falls under the sway of the charismatic Thulsa Doom. At first she does not wish to be rescued, but after Doom attempts to kill her, she has a change of heart and helps Conan in the end.

 

The Plot Hold your cursor over an image for a pop-up caption

The late night talk show wars are heating up.The film opens with the voice of The Wizard:

"Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas there was an age undreamed of, and unto this…Conan, destined to bear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure."

Now the kick ass score from Basil Poledouris kicks in and we are treated to scenes depicting the forging of a sword as the remaining credits unfold. We see a young Conan and his parents taking great care in crafting this fine weapon. Finally, when the credits end, we see Conan’s father talking to him and relating to him some legends about the god they worship – Crom, and the enigma of steel.

Now we see some riders bearing a serpent standard coming over a snowy hill. Soon enough the people of Conan’s village see what is thundering down upon them and take up arms to defend themselves. Now we get several minutes of the raiders massacring the villagers, including Conan’s father, who is torn apart by dogs.

With the village in flames and the people defeated, the leader of the raiders approaches on horse and dismounts. He is Thulsa Doom, though we won’t learn that for a while yet. His two lieutenants hand him the sword wielded by Daddy Conan and then he approaches Conan and his mother. She is holding up a sword to fend off the raiders, but Doom uses his hypnotic mojo on her and she lowers the weapon. He turns to go then suddenly spins around and swings Daddy’s sword, which cleanly removes mom’s head. Conan can only watch in sadness as his mother’s headless body falls to the ground beside him. Doom fixes him with a stare and then leaves.

The brutal reality of this new weight loss retreat was beginning to sink in.Now all the village children are rounded up, chained together and marched North until they come to a barren landscape dominated by a strange contraption. A large turnstile with several large logs as spokes sits in the middle of nowhere and the children are each chained to a spoke and made to push it. Used to grind grain, it is called The Wheel of Pain (hey that rhymes). Various shots depict the passing of years and the aging of the children, until we finally see a single youth pushing the entire turnstile. He looks up and we see that Conan is now an adult and ripping with muscles. After a few more shots of him pushing the gizmo, a rider approaches and soon Conan is led off by him, chained to his horse. It seems this guy has bought Conan as a slave.

Conan becomes a pit fighter, earning money for his owner and glory for himself because of his violent wins. In time he is taken to the East where he is trained by war masters in the use of the sword. He is also taught how to read and write with various texts and philosophies made available to him. Being such a stud, he is bred to various women, no doubt in hopes of creating more excellent fighters.

Then one dark and stormy night (how is that for a cliché) his owner breaks his chains and sets him free. Why does he do this? I have no idea. Conan runs off into the night, but before too long is being pursued by a pack of wild and feral dogs (or wolves). He eludes them by climbing a large pile of boulders, but slips and falls into a hidden cavern. He manages to get a fire going and does some exploring. He finds the burial tomb of some ancient king or warrior. He helps himself to the dead guy’s sword. Well, that guy ain’t gonna be needing it anymore, right? Believing the sword to be a gift from his god Crom, he emerges from the cavern to find it is now day and uses the weapon to remove the manacles still on his ankles. We can still hear the dogs barking, but one assumes that he quickly ran them off, as the next shot shows him jogging through the wilderness.

As he’s wandering the countryside, he comes across a lone cabin. A sultry woman invites him in to warm himself by her fire. So he goes in, relaxes and has a drink like she’s running some primitive motel six. The woman starts mumbling about how she knew he would come – a warrior from the north who would one day be king by his own hand and who would crush the snakes of the earth. At the mention of the word snakes, Conan tells her that he seeks a standard made of snakes. She seems to know what he is after and says that there will be a price. The next thing you know, these two are screwing like horny rabbits. The woman (whose level of hospitality has really improved my opinion of her) starts calling out the name Zamora (which a little research reveals to be the name of an ancient kingdom of the Hyborean age). The screwing continues and the light in the cabin changes from red to blue. The woman then goes nuts, her eyes turning wild and her teeth suddenly looking like a hacksaw. She attacks Conan (so much for her hospitality rating) but he just rolls over and throws her into the fire. She seems to jump out momentarily, then transforms into a small ball of flames and bounces her way out of the cabin and off into the night.

"Tastes like chicken? It IS chicken you dork!"So morning comes and Conan emerges from the cabin. He doesn’t seem the slightest bit fazed by events of the previous evening. A voice nearby calls for food. Conan investigates and meets Subotai, a thief and archer whom the Witch had chained up so she could feed him to the wolves. The two hit it off and begin traveling together, eventually arriving at some city, or what was called a city in the Hyborean age. Cities are new to Conan and he takes it all in wide-eyed. Then they are off again to a new city. Everywhere he goes, Conan asks about a snake standard until a drug peddler points him toward the tall towers of the Snake Cult that seem to rise in every city.

So, the two decide they are going to break into the local snake tower and divest the owners of any jewels and riches they may be hoarding. As they approach the tower they run into Valeria and it is soon apparent that she is there to rob the place as well. Birds of a feather flock together, so the trio decides to scale the walls of the tower as a group. At the top they find a shaft that descends the height of the tower and more – reaching down to sub-levels below ground. Quietly they descend and on one of these lower levels they see members of the Snake Cult performing some kind of ritual. Valeria opts to stay and explore while Conan and Subotai descend even further. They find a chamber where a huge snake is resting. There is also a huge jewel nearby and they quietly sneak up and snatch it. However, sweat from Conan’s brow drops onto the snake, waking it. They go to leave, but Conan sees an emblem of the snake standard above the doorway and is reminded of the standard bore by the raiders who massacred his village. He takes that as well, but is unaware that the big-ass snake is now awake and moving towards him. It attacks, but he and Subotai dispatch it rather quickly and messily.

Meanwhile, Valeria has disguised herself as a cult member. The cult ritual seems to involve stripping some gal nearly naked and having her jump into the pit with the big snake. She does a free fall and goes POW on the hard ground. She then screams when she sees what is left of the snake. I take it she was supposed to be a sacrifice to the snake, and must have considered it an honor to be gulped down by it. Idiot. So now the cult is in a panic and Valeria sees Conan and Subotai escaping back up the rope to the top of the tower. She manages to evade the cult, and by tying a rope around the neck of some poor fool, and using him as a counter weight, she rides a rope to the top. At the top, the three thieves opt for the quickest way down the outside of the tower – they jump. Luckily, there is a big pool of water in which to land.

Next on Fear Factor, watch as our contestants try to choke down a bowl of puréed yak shit.The trio now celebrates their good fortune. They take their newfound riches and live it up in grand style. As they do this, Valeria and Conan grow closer...and it ain’t too long before they are screwing, too. More scenes follow that convey the idea that is not some cheap affair. The two have genuinely grown rather fond of one another. Time goes by and exactly how much boozing, partying and shopping the three do is unclear, but finally there comes a point where they are just exhausted from it all.

Long about now, some of the local king’s guards show up and haul them off to see their boss. King Osric the Usurper holds no great love for the Snake Cult and salutes the three for what they have done. The king is grieved because his own daughter has fallen under the spell of Thulsa Doom and the cult. He wants the trio of thieves to rescue her and return her to him, offering as many jewels as they can carry in payment. Once the three are alone, Valeria and Subotai don’t wish to undertake the king’s quest. Valeria values what she has found with Conan and does not wish to throw it away. As they embrace, Conan looks at the emblem of the snake cult. When morning arrives, Valeria wakes to find herself alone.

So Conan rides East towards Thulsa Doom’s mountain of power. Through desert and snow he makes his way, meeting people along the way who point him further East when he inquires about the Snake Cult. He even runs into The Children of Doom, followers of Thulsa Doom on a pilgrimage to the mountain of power. Eventually Conan comes across a Stonehenge-like location near the sea, complete with large boulders and rocks formed into patterns and an altar atop a small hill. Skeletons abound and the entire place seems to be some burial ground for ancient kings and warriors. Here he meets The Wizard, whose voice has been interrupting the movie from the beginning. The Wizard gives him the low down on the local area and Conan leaves his belongings with him so he can disguise himself as a pilgrim on a camel.

Conan rides to a large encampment of Doom’s followers. Some are singing, some are praying and some are burning incense. Think of it as a prehistoric Woodstock – without the rock music. Conan settles in with the hippies…er…followers and when morning arrives everyone is off on foot to Doom’s fortress. Leading the way are some of his priests, who pass out white robes to all the pilgrims. Conan gets one such priest alone and savagely beats him over the head before taking his robe.

So now disguised as a priest, Conan makes his way with all the others to Doom’s fortress. The fortress itself is mostly underground, with only a large wide stairway and an entrance adorning the mountainside. Still, even that is pretty damn big. All the followers cram the staircase and take seats on the steps. As Conan approaches, a guard stops him but he hands over the snake emblem he took from the snake tower. The guard lets him by, but takes the emblem over and shows it to Rexor and Thorgrim. Atop the stairs, King Osric’s daughter emerges from the entrance, holding snakes in her hands, and then Thulsa Doom himself appears and speaks. Rexor and Thorgrim close in on Conan and he is unmasked as an infidel. He is hauled off, kicking and screaming while Doom watches from above.

He is taken to a courtyard where Rexor and Thorgrim beat the hell out of him. Thulsa Doom arrives and questions him. Conan accuses him of killing his parents and his people. Doom admits that it was probably when he was younger, when he searched for steel and prized it above gold and jewels. Conan mentions the riddle of steel and this gets a reaction from Doom. He claims to know the answer and will share it with him. "Steel," he says, "isn’t strong. Flesh is stronger." He turns and calls to a girl standing high on a cliff overlooking the courtyard. She responds to his beckoning by jumping to her death. That to Doom is power. The strength and power of flesh. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? After some more blathering, he finally orders that Conan be crucified on The Tree of Woe.

This was not exactly my idea of "branching out."Next we see Conan hanging from a lone tree in the middle of nowhere. As he rests against it, nails through his hands, vultures begin to circle. One even lands on his shoulder and starts pecking at the flesh on his chest, but our Cimmerian friend just lunges out, grabs the bird’s neck with his mouth and begins shaking it back and forth, then letting it drop to the ground dead. Time passes and we see a figure approach in the distance. As it nears, Conan begins to laugh. It is Subotai!! His archer friend frees him and takes him back to The Wizard’s place, where Valeria awaits. Sadly, it seems that Conan is in pretty bad shape and will most likely die. The Wizard states that the spirits of the place will exact a heavy toll if he is to intervene, but Valeria assures him that she will pay them.

When night falls, Conan is all wrapped up in a black robe and tied to the ground. The Wizard paints various runes and sigils over his exposed flesh as the winds begin to pick up. He says that soon, "they’ will try to take him. Indeed, soon enough a storm blows in and these small little spirits arrive and try to make off with Conan’s body. Valeria and Subotai try and stop them while The Wizard just cowers in his shack in fear, no doubt prepared to shit his pants if the need arises. Finally, after much struggle, the little demons are driven off into the night and the winds calm.

Morning arrives and Conan awakens. As he opens his eyes Valeria promises nothing would prevent her from fighting at his side, even if she were dead and he still lived…she would find a way. The three thieves plan to visit Thulsa Doom’s hideout, using some caves on the other side of the mountain. Soon they ride off and make their way to the secret entrance to Doom’s lair. They apply white and black paint to their bodies and make their way in.

Orgy tonight at the palace! First served, first come!Inside they follow a group of men carrying a huge pot through some dark caves into an opulent chamber where there is a massive orgy/party underway. People are writhing around in ecstasy with Thulsa Doom and the Princess nearby overlooking it all. The big pot is set down and people line up to get some of the vile green shit that is in it. Whatever it is, the main ingredient seems to be people, as a human hand is pulled from the bowl and munched on by one woman. WAIT! It’s green colored…and it is made from people – it’s Soylent Green! Soylent Green is people! Well, it’s Soylent Green soup or something similar. Still…Soylent Green is Peop…er…sorry, wrong Republican in this movie. Anyway, the three thieves make their way into various positions throughout the room. While they are doing this, Thulsa Doom is slowly transforming into a snake. What a cool party trick!

Eventually our three heroes reveal themselves and start hacking up all the guards. Valeria sets some curtains on fire and soon the place is going up in flames. Conan tries to get to Doom, but the now transformed bad guy has slithered off through a small hole in the wall.

Along about now Rexor and Thorgrim arrive and when Conan sees them, he overturns the massive stone pot of Soylent Green, letting it spill all over the place. Rexor recognizes him and they approach to do battle. Thorgrim is wielding a gigantic hammer, and at one point after swinging it around, it hits a pillar, which crumbles to the floor. When the dust clears, the three thieves have gone, taking The Princess with them. They fight their way back to their horses and mount up. As they are riding away, Thulsa Doom, now back in human form, watches from the cavern entrance. He takes a small snake in his hand and straightens it. The critter stays rigid and using it like an arrow, Doom fires it at the fleeing group where it strikes Valeria.

The three ride on, but stop a short time later. Conan pulls the snake-arrow from her and then holds her as she dies. I guess those spirits did exact a pretty hefty price for not taking Conan. Next we see Valeria laid out on the stone altar back at The Wizard’s place. Conan lights the wood stacked under her and POOF. Up she goes in flames. Conan, Subotai and The Wizard look on as the night sky is lit by Valeria’s funeral pyre. As day breaks, Conan sits thinking. Now he has really got to be pissed at old Doom. First his parents and people, now his lover. Behind him The Princess is chained to a rock. She warns Conan that Doom has seen the fires and will be coming to kill him.

Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.

Now Conan and Subotai are preparing for battle. The burial grounds where The Wizard lives are lined with spears in the dirt, traps are set and all sorts of various preparations are made. Even The Wizard gets into the act, donning some truly ill fitting armor. Soon enough, horses and riders can be seen in the distance riding ever closer. As his foes come charging toward him, Conan offers up a prayer to Crom. He asks for revenge against his enemy.

"Quick! Help me get this armor off! I have to go really bad!"The riders arrive and what follows next is a true bloodbath. Axes, swords, spears and arrows are used to remove men from their horses. The blood can literally be seen flying through the air. As the battle rages on, Thulsa Doom watches from a hilltop not too far away. With most of the bad guys dead Conan now faces off against Thorgrim and Rexor, dodging in and out of all the large rocks and boulders in a game of cat and…er…cat, while Subotai and The Wizard deal with the remaining forces of Doom.

At one point Thorgrim sees a helmet just on the other side of a boulder and brings that giant hammer down on what he believes to be Conan’s head. However, it is a trap, and it sets of a tightly wound gear that snaps into place, swinging a large sharpened stake around at Thorgrim that impales the unlucky bastard. Conan appears and watches Thorgrim squirm around in his death throes, but then Rexor arrives to fight. These two now battle and soon Conan is on the ground with his back to Rexor. As Rexor swings his sword in a killing blow, a figure steps out of nowhere and blocks the strike with another sword before hitting Rexor across the face. As Rexor stumbles back, Conan looks at the new figure. It is Valeria! She’s decked out in some shiny armor and asks him, "Do you want to live forever?" He turns and picks himself up, but when he looks again, she is gone. It appears she kept her vow to fight at his side no matter what. Conan now closes on Rexor and quickly makes short work of the guy, breaking his sword, slicing open his stomach and finally landing a killing blow across the chest – blood flying the whole time.

With all his men dead, Thulsa Doom goes to leave. The Princess calls for him not to abandon her. How does he respond? By pulling out another snake, straightening it into another arrow and firing it at her. What a loving guy! However, Subotai is there to block the arrow with a shield. He and The Wizard laugh as Doom rides off. Conan picks up Rexor’s broken sword and sees that it was the one that once belonged to his father.

Next we see Thulsa Doom on a platform, overlooking the broad staircase that leads to his mountain fortress. It is night and his followers are all stretched out below, bearing torches that light up the valley floor. He begins speaking to them, droning on with his made up religious rhetoric. Conan, with the help of The Princess, sneaks back into Doom’s fortress using the back door. I guess she has had a change of heart after almost being killed by Doom. Conan makes his way to the platform behind Doom.

Doom turns and sees him as he slowly approaches. He tries his goofy religious talk on him and attempts that hypnotic mojo of his, but Conan snaps out of it and swings his sword – landing a blow on Doom’s neck. Blood sprays everywhere. He lands another blow. More blood and Doom falls to his knees. Then coming up behind him, Conan grabs Doom’s head and swings a third time. More blood and Doom’s body falls while his head remains clasped in Conan’s hand. Conan holds it up high for all of Doom’s followers to see, then throws it out over the stairs, where it bounces down a ways before stopping.

Then for some reason, all of Doom’s followers line up and extinguish their torches in a small pool of water before leaving. Next we see Conan sitting on the stairs by himself, The Princess a distance away by the pool. He descends a few stairs, grabs a brazier on a chain, then swings it around his head a few times and releases it towards the top of the stairs. It lands and set the fortress on fire. Soon the entire place is ablaze, lighting up the night sky. As he leaves, Conan takes the hand of the Princess and leads her away. In the distance, the morning sun breaks through the clouds, heralding a new day and a new beginning.

Hmmm...do I do a third film or run for governor of California...Next we see an image of Conan sitting on a throne. The Wizard’s voice breaks in again and narrates, the text of his words scrolling up the screen:

--So, did Conan return the wayward daughter of King Osric to her home. And having no further concern, he and his companions sought adventure in the West. Many wars and feuds did Conan fight. Honor and fear were heaped upon his name and, in time, he became a king by his own hand…

And this story will also be told.

Fade out. The End.

 

Review

Conan the Barbarian is a film with balls. It debuted at a time when explicit displays of blood and violence were still not the norm for action and/or most horror flicks. That it can take that violence, and coupled with the scarcity of dialog in the film, make the story an engaging look at one man’s quest for revenge in a brutal prehistoric world, is a testament to all involved.

When viewed within context of existing Conan stories by creator Robert E. Howard, the film is somewhat of a patchwork affair, taking various ideas, characters, locations and names from the Hyborean age and melding them into a storyline that simultaneously has little and everything to do with the character. The look and feel of the people and world in the movie are most certainly recognizable as Conan, yet there is an odd emptiness that can be felt on occasion by many fans of the character’s literary origins. Something perhaps lost in translation from written word to silver screen.

Visually, the film is stunning to look at. No small accomplishment given the desolate and barren landscapes that make up the bulk of the scenery. Wide-open desert has never looked so beautiful on film. Coupled with the great production design, and the audience is treated to a cinematic world every bit as real as our own. Twenty years before Peter Jackson got his hands on The Lord of The Rings, the Conan team had effectively created and presented an authentic fantasy world, albeit a much more primitive and brutal one than Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. It is that harsh brutality that sets Conan apart from similar efforts in both literature and film. While the more romanticized, optimistic and dare I say, cookie cutter approach used in modern fantasy may be more popular with the masses, it is the stark, gritty world of Conan that comes across as much more realistic in terms of historical comparisons. The Hyborean age truly seems like it could have existed at one point, and with the exception of magic and monsters, there is not much to set it apart from real history. It is this feeling that really pervades the film and probably the one single reason why it is so enjoyable.

Still, there are many things that contribute positively to the film. Here, the two leads are excellently portrayed. James Earl Jones is awesome as the charismatic, yet dangerous Thulsa Doom. He totally sells the audience on the idea that this guy can be totally loving one moment and a split second later, one hundred percent homicidal. Yet, it is murderous in that calm, reflective fashion that almost belies insanity that really makes the character shine for the small amount of screen time that he gets. The complete and total lack of caring for the lives around him adds not only to the savage feeling of the setting and film, but transforms him from a cardboard cutout villain, to a antagonist with a quiet edge.

Surprisingly Arnold Schwarzenegger turns in a great performance. Not that his thespian skills at this point in his acting career are at the top of the game (or ever were for that matter). No, it is the demands of the character that let him shine in his first starring role. In the same fashion that the film takes a hodgepodge of Conan lore and molds it into something new, likewise the film Conan is his own person…and being quiet, brooding and aloof is who he is. Schwarzenegger achieves this very well, and though it may not have been the hardest assignment given an actor, he still stands out because of it. This film didn’t help create a movie superstar for nothing, after all.

As thin as the plot may be, and as sparse as the dialog is at times, acknowledgements must be made to the writing team. There are some wonderful lines in the movie that will live on well after it is over, but beyond mere verbiage, there is the lack of words that helps make this film stand out. What I mean by that is this – it has become a horrifyingly all too common trend in Hollywood action films, even those with a historical or fantastical setting, to imbue the project with humor in the form of witty dialog. In other words: one liners. Schwarzenegger himself would later be extremely well known for the one liners he spouted in his films. Yet compare this film to say…The Scorpion King, which features many similar elements: a barren land, a quest for revenge, magic, a bad guy who commands a huge following and lots of swordplay, all set in an ancient world that never existed. A full twenty years separate the two films, yet the latter was positively loaded with inane dialog and horrendous one liners. It completely and totally detracts from the feel of the film by ripping the viewer out of the past and planting him right back into the present by using such contemporary speech and speech patterns. In the case of Conan, the film eschews such idiocy in favor of gritty realism, which I much prefer anyhow and I applaud the producers for not going down the easy road of forced humor. True, that trend really hadn’t gotten off to too much of a start in those days, but I’m thankful nonetheless.

One cannot talk about Conan the Barbarian without mentioning the impact it made on early 80’s cinema. Every now and then a film comes along that manages to present something new…or at least something no one has seen in quite a while, so it is like new. The commercial success of Conan the Barbarian saw a glut of cheap and cheaper copies in the years immediately after its release. These included films such as The Beastmaster (which was itself based on an earlier literary work), The Sword and the Sorcerer, Red Sonja (which also co-starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman), the David Carridine vehicle Circle of Iron, the idiotic The Barbarians, the ever decreasing in production value Deathstalker series and the truly abysmal Yor, the Hunter from the Future to name but a few of the titles that flooded theaters and later, video rental stores in the mid 80’s. Despite that wave of Sword and Sorcery films, the original Conan still reigns supreme at the top of the heap.

Lastly, there is one element to Conan the Barbarian that still resonates to this day, though some people may not realize it. It this: the booming, thunderous and exceptional score by Basil Poledouris. Not only does it sweep the listener away with its epic Carmina Burana-like feel and almost regal undertones, its more subtle moments lend an incredible amount of emotional drive to the film's narrative. If there is one thing about the movie that has endured over the intervening years, it is the music as it has been used on countless occasions in the time since, mostly in trailers for new films (Gladiator comes to mind). In my opinion it truly is one of the best film scores ever, and music lovers should check it out.

Conan the Barbarian is a fun film. Certainly it is the best example of the Swords and Sorcery subgenre of fantasy films. Beyond that, it exudes a certain brutal and primitive charm. Not to be over analyzed, it exists purely on a popcorn movie level. Even to this day, it may be too violent for some people, especially kids. For those who like lots of talking in their epics, this film may not be for you. However, for those who like sweeping visuals that really add atmosphere to a story, this may be more to your liking – even if the story in question is a bare bones affair driven by plot more than character. Fans of fantasy films should check it out at least once, though don’t expect the deepness or intricacy of The Lord of the Rings.

 

Expect To See:
Action - Lots of action here, mostly in the form of one sword fight after another, especially during the early pit fighting montage. Horses thrown into the mix for the big final fight.
Castles - The movie is set thousands of years in the past, so naturally castles will make an appearance. Some are pretty old like Osric's, while some are spiffy and new (Doom's).
Desert Hijinks - Most of this film occurs in locales best described as dry and arid. In fact, after the beginning I don’t think more than four or five trees were ever seen at once.
Extreme Violence - This film goes for a more realistic depiction of fighting with swords that a tamer PG rated film: blood and severed body parts are everywhere.
Ghosts - Not a ghost in the traditional sense of the word, Valeria returns briefly from the dead to help Conan during a fight. Plus the spirits of the dead appear at one point.
Gore - There is a lot of blood in this film, though the gore elements are limited to some severed heads rather than going full out with entrails and guts flying all over the place.
Magic - When was the last time you saw a man turn into a snake? Such a trick is either accomplished through science or magic…and since I didn’t see any chemistry sets in this film...
Nature Run Amok - Thulsa Doom has a thing for snakes and likes to breed them big. Some of his pets get rather large – one appearing to measure at least fifty feet in length.
Nudity - Scattered glimpses of bare chested women throughout the film. Also a shot of Conan’s ass when he gets it on with a witch. Lots of skin here, as well.
Romance - When Conan meets fellow thief Valeria, it is nearly love at first site for both of them. Things get more complicated as the film unfolds.
Sex - Conan gets lucky quite often in this film. First with some women he is bred to, then with some witch woman he meets while wandering the countryside and finally with Valeria.
Swords - The swordplay here is through the roof. Every battle or fight employs swords or some other sharp, stabbing or slicing weapon. This isn’t called Swords & Sorcery for nothing.

 

Movie Stats:
Shadow's Commentary:

Deaths: At least 69
Decapitations: 3
Animals killed: 3
Animals punched: 1
Snakes used as arrows: 2
Partially or fully naked women: 5
People with unusually sharp teeth: 2
Women seen in free fall: 3
Minutes into film before Conan speaks: 23
Total words Conan speaks directly to Valeria: 5

09 Mins – Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of…mauling.
18 Mins - I bid Fifty Quatloos on the newcomer!
30 Mins - It’s like the setup to a prehistoric porno!
33 Mins - I hope Zamora doesn’t mean "wrong hole."
39 Mins - Somebody call PETA!!
47 Mins - Somebody call PETA!!
60 Mins - Oh lord, prehistoric hippies. Get a job!
77 Mins - Somebody call PETA!!
95 Mins - Soylent Green is people!
120 Mins - Heads up!


Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time the name "Thulsa Doom" is spoken, take a drink.

 

Images Click for larger image

With the new Cimmerian excercise equipment -
endorsed by Conan himself, you'll shed both
pounds and enemies!



Dammit! My contract does say I have to
do a sequel.


Pardon me miss, would you have any
Gray Poupon?

Anaconda III: Snakes in a Drain.

Prehistoric hippies.

 
That is the biggest chessboard I have ever seen.


If I may…these flowers really bring out
your man-boobs.

The annual world championship toga party was
off to a good start.

My head…what did I drink last night? Oh…my…
WHAT did you do to my face while I was out?


Soylent Green is people!!!

Does this winged helmet make my ass look fat?

 

Immortal Dialog

Conan talks about life’s simple pleasures.

Mongol: "Conan! What is best in life?"
Conan: "Crush your enemies. See them driven before you…and to hear the lamentation of the women."

Shadow’s comment: It is so good to have priorities in life.


Thulsa Doom is not happy about those who busted into his crib.

Thulsa Doom: "Now they will know why they are afraid of the dark. Now they will learn why they fear the night."

Shadow’s comment: My all time favorite movie quote EVER!

 

Keep In Mind
  • Walking in circles for years will make you buffed.
  • Kill enough people and others will bring you women with whom to have sex.
  • Ancient weapons only need to be banged a few times to make them usable again.
  • Witches are highly combustible.
  • Giant snakes make good pets.
  • Wizards always live alone…as well they should. They don’t look like they bathe too often.
  • Birds taste better when they’ve been cooked.
  • People ran everywhere in the ancient past.
  • The spirits of the dead can be easily thwarted with a simple knife.
  • Snakes can be utilized as arrows.



This Film & Me

Ah, Conan The Barbarian. I remember that I was in junior high school when this film came out and many of my classmates were able to go see it. Alas, it was not a film I could convince my parents to let me see…at least, not until it showed up on HBO a year later. After waiting all that time, the talk I’d heard at school about bare boobies, severed heads, blood spraying all over and orgies had really built up my expectations. I had to sneak to see the movie on HBO, as we only had one TV in those days, but I was able to accomplish the task. Needless to say, in my eyes the film delivered. Not long after that I became extremely interested in fantasy novels, D & D and the like, so this film always remained among my favorites as the years went by. I even rented the film and dubbed a copy at one point, so I could watch it whenever I felt like it. Another early edition to my DVD collection, this film is the source of my all time favorite movie quote.

Shadow's rating: Nine Tombstones



The Good

  • Fully realized fantasy world
  • Some impressive sets
  • Awesome musical score
  • Excellent cinematography
  • Good, if somewhat underdeveloped villain

The Bad

  • Giant rubber snake
  • Too violent for kids
  • Arnold’s accent doesn’t fit the setting
  • Obvious dubbing in places

The Ugly

  • Inconsistent with established Conan lore
  • Violence towards animals


This review is part of the Hunky Heartthrobs Rogue Reviewers Roundtable:

Review Round-Up
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