Conan the Barbarian Reviews
The plot is simple, Conan is taken from his family who have been conveniently killed by a band of nasty warriors dressed in black. He is put into slavery and made to do hard labour for the rest of his foreseeable future. The torturous slavery makes Conan big and strong despite the apparent lack of decent food, nutrients, fishfingers or milk. He eventually is sold into gladiatorial fighting where he becomes a brilliant battler and swordsman and wins his freedom. From there on he's off to avenge his families death, as you do.
Obvious premise but its an old film folks. Yes the film is old, back in 82 things were different, what you see now when watching is a horribly cliched, predictable, hammy, semi cheap looking mess, but back then it was fresh...ish. All the bad guys wear black and look a bit camp with their wigs and handlebar moustaches, you wonder why exactly these groups of bad guys always attack and kill helpless useless peasants, what's in it for them? why they always leave one kid alive to grow up and take revenge on them?? and what is James Earl Jones character actually up to? what's his goal? his plans? why do all those people follow him? etc...
Yeah I know I'm being picky, it matters not really, the film is old and all these barbarian films are pretty much the same, its all about the spectacle and fantasy right. This first film is definitely more adult than the rest, lots of blood splashing about with limbs being hacked off...good stuff. Yet despite that there isn't too much action really, more character development surprisingly and what action there is has some nice effects too, nice snake work and some nice animated spirits also.
To be honest I've actually always preferred the original 'Beastmaster' film over Conan. There a few nice moments in this but really its pretty tepid, if only 'The Beastmaster' starred Arnie. And what the hell was that huge wheel thing Conan pushes for half his life suppose to be? a mill? a well? or merely for torture? a plan that backfired for Thulsa Doom methinks.
In the end the final teasing image and narration about King Conan is actually far more interesting and intriguing than the film that preceded it.
My biggest problem with this film is that it isn't really about anything. There's some talk of Conan's plot to revenge the death of his family. However, the film incoherently follows Conan's life as if it were some kind of epic. But the casting of Arnold Schwarzennegger is perfect only in a physical sense, not in the actor's range to communicate any emotion. Yes, I know it's an Arnold movie, and character depth is secondary to violence, but.....there's barely even any action. And the action is severely dated; poorly choreographed with obvious continuity errors and actors throwing blood packs on themselves. The film attempts to be more of a pulp epic fantasy but only turns out to be an epic failure.
The script contains the biggest screenwriting flaw in that a narrator recites the entire film. Why? It doesn't create any sense of a legend or mythology for the character. It distances us so much from what is going on that it is impossible to care about anything that happens. Laughable sex scenes, painstakingly long scenes of characters doing nothing, no character depth, and no plot. It actually takes over forty five minutes just to set up the so called revenge narrative. There is nothing of value in this movie.
In the early 1980s Conan got his first film. It launched Arnold Schwarzenegger's career. It was a brilliant film, flawed, but it soared above its flaws. It has been often imitated since then, yet most of those efforts failed miserably.
Why do imitation films fail in this genre? Because they focus on the half-naked babes, the half-naked muscle bound (and often angry) hero, the violent fights, the wizards with special effects at their fingertips, as if this were enough. But they fail to capture the fundamental and necessary element of the genre - a subtle atmosphere of the supernatural and the uncanny. There must be a credible, ever-present but not over-done supernatural theme pervading the setting. The darkness, the pathos, the sense of horror necessary for the genre entered for a few moments of the film. The witch, the wizard, the evil priest of the snake cult, the cultist's suicide, the scene where the spirits are trying to steal Conan's soul, the occasional banter about the gods, the orgy...all of these elements capture the proper atmosphere. The sorcery is not overblown, nor is it all about special effects. Few S&S movies get this right. Conan the Barbarian shows how it is done.
There are a few issues with the movie that will bother Conan purists but all in all, I imagine Robert Howard would be happy with this Conan. A few of the scenes were right out of his stories - the crucifixion tree, the ghostly help from a dead girlfriend, gigantic snakes, thieves climbing a mysterious tower. Sadly missing are the monstrous man-apes, or unnatural creatures summoned out of the abyss by sorcerers, both of which feature prominently in Conan stories.
The music is awesome, James Earl Jones and Sandahl Bergman are fabulous. And of course Arnold is perfect. I keep hoping for another great Sword and Sorcery movie like this one and there are no contenders as of yet.
Not a bad adaptation of the Conan origin story, even if it is somewhat sanitized and less brutal than the source material. Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Earl Jones are improbable, often hilarious, but somehow good fits for the characters of Conan and Thulsa Doom.
Overall, this will probably be worth your time if you're interested. Lots of sword-fighting action, that's for sure.
"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!"