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Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Directed by: John Milius
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman
Running Time: 2 h 9 m
TMM Score: 2 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Production Design, Some Action
WEAKNESSES: Acting, Writing, Story, Aged Poorly
A barbarian seeks vengeance on the sorcerer that slew his parents when he was a child.
Alright, so recently I rewatched Conan (2011) for my own amusement. When that film came out I worked at a theater and received free movie passes, so I believe I saw Conan (2011) three times in theaters. It’s a stupid movie, but it’s bloody as what, and its pacing after Conan finally grows up is frenetically fast. For me, Conan (2011) is a guilty pleasure film, much like King Arthur (2004). Though it may be rather stupid, it’s entertaining and harmless. After watching that bloody affair however, I grew curious. The original Conan I’d only seen once, and that had been a long time ago. I remembered not really caring for it too much even the first time through, but the idea of a barbaric adventurer in a sword and sorcery setting fascinates me even to this day. I’m a fantasy nerd at heart, so it only seems natural that I’d watch movies like this. Well, let me just say that returning to this movie was a rather big disappointment. I actually think I like Conan (2011) more, because while that movie was big and loud and stupid, at least it wasn’t completely aimless for the first hour of the film.
Conan the Wanderer
The plot of this movie is simple, but random side quests and characters Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Last Action Hero) meets along the way bog it down immensely. This movie feels like you’re watching someone play an Elder Scrolls game because the plot of this film is so completely aimless for the first hour. It's like you’re watching someone slowly level up, fighting random baddies and slowly gaining experience until they’re powerful enough to start the main quest. Conan’s parents are killed by a Snake Cult Sorcerer named Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones, The Hunt for Red October) and Conan is then sold into slavery, where he’s forced to walk around in a circle, pushing a wheel for his whole life. When he grows up, he’s sold again, this time into a gladiator arena. Eventually, Conan is set free and he goes on a quest to find the sorcerer that killed his parents. After sleeping with a witch, and almost falling into her magic trap, Conan runs into a thief named Valeria (Sandahl Bergman, Red Sonja), and she says she’ll help him out. Finally, when we’re about fifty minutes into the film, Conan and Valeria come before King Osric (Max von Sydow, The Virgin Spring), who asks them to rescue his daughter, Princess Yasmina (Valerie Quennessen, Bolero) from Thulsa Doom. It's only then that Conan then goes after Thulsa Doom, finally starting what could be considered his main quest.
The first forty-minutes/ hour of this movie could’ve been condensed into a ten-minute opening. This movie is long and drawn out for no reason whatsoever. It seems to think it’s an epic on scale with great films, but it’s not. It’s a schlocky action movie with way too much sex, not nearly enough action, and absolutely horrible dialogue. If this movie had been approached with a bit more humor (I.E. Conan (2011)) this movie could’ve been a lot of fun. Instead, it’s a drab, boring romp through the wilderness, with random flashes of excitement. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good scenes in here, but the scenes feel only loosely connected to the rest of the film. This movie feels like it’s just a bunch of random adventures Conan went on; it doesn’t feel like we’re building towards anything, or gaining any new information. The movie is completely flat in it’s tension building, and nothing ever seems to have any consequence.
Another issue I have with this movie is acting. Arnold has never been a particularly great actor, but when given the right role, he can make it work (Terminator, Last Action Hero). This film was tailor made for him, and honestly it should be one of his best roles, but I felt nothing for him the entire time. He’s a character that has no real moral compass or any sort of driving force behind him except revenge; he doesn’t really care about anyone. Even Valeria, who supposedly cares about him, he doesn’t really give the time of day. We’re intended to feel for Conan when he is in captivity, but how can I feel for a man who we’re told is ‘bred with the finest stock of women,’ and then we’re shown a scene that implies he raped a lot of women in captivity. Conan is a completely humorless, unsympathetic character, and this movie makes him even less likeable than Jason Momoa in the remake.
Now, there are some good things about this film. As far as production design, a lot of stuff still looks pretty good. There are some cool costumes and weapons, some interesting creatures/ sorceresses that Conan fights as well, and some of the action scenes are actually okay. There’s a decent amount of over-the-top 80’s blood, and that’s always nice to see in movies like this. And there are a few good looking shots… Max von Sydow outacted everyone else in the film in his one scene.
Erm… I think that’s about it as far as the good things in this movie.
Sword and sorcery films have never been amazing additions to cinematic history. They’re schlocky stupid fantasy films that are forgotten by most almost as soon as they leave the theatre. I’m honestly not sure why this film is considered a classic; it’s not good, that’s for sure. There are still some entertaining scenes, but for the most part this movie is more infuriating than anything else. By the time the plot was introduced, I had almost checked out of the movie. I wanted to scream at the screen, “DO SOMETHING!” because I was so sick of watching Conan wander aimlessly. There are better sword and sorcery films out there; you just have to search for them (I’d still say Conan the Destroyer is better than this). This film has not aged well, and I know some people will call it heresy, but I’d recommend Conan (2011) over this one. At least the remake knew how stupid it was.
Do you like the schlocky sword and sorcery worlds of Robert E Howard? Then check out more films like this in our An Age Undreamed Of series.
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