By Crom, Conan the Barbarian is 40.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan), James Earl Jones (Thulsa Doom), Max Von Sydow (King Osric), Sandahl Bergman (Valeria), Ben Davidson (Rexor), Gerry Lopez (Subotai), and Mako (The Wizard)
Directed by: John Milius
Written by: Robert E. Howard (Based on the character created by), John Milius, Oliver Stone
After dwelling in licensing Hell for most of the 1970s, executive producer Edward R. Pressman was finally able to get development going for a Conan movie. After all that work he put into acquiring the license from the publisher, and the development groundwork laid, Pressman had to sell the rights of this project because he didn’t have the capital to fund it. So, he made some moves and sold it to renowned producer, Dino De Laurentiis, who let his daughter handle the production work. Following more calls and meetings hoops to jump through and hurdles to jump over the production team was able to land their star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Universal picked up the distribution, and the rest is history.
For Arnold, Conan the Barbarian was his opportunity to prove himself as a legit Hollywood star, and he nailed it. He’ll never win an Oscar for any acting performance, as evidenced by every movie he’s ever made, but he was the perfect action movie star, and it really began with Conan the Barbarian. The next movie he made after Conan the Barbarian was a little-known arthouse flick called The Terminator, and it cemented Arnold’s stardom.
It wasn’t a blockbuster, but Conan the Barbarian was a commercial success back in ’82. It didn’t capture people’s attention like The Terminator would, or its far superior sequel, but it became a cult classic among fans of sword and sorcery tales.
It’s interesting that several scenes were cut from the film because they were too violent, and that despite these edits, critics still found the movie to be too violent. What did they expect? Barbarians are savage and cruel by definition.
Director John Milius, known in Hollywood for penning the legendary “Go ahead, make my day,” Dirty Harry line and for being the Coen brothers inspiration for Walter from The Big Lebowski, gave us a stylish and entertaining action-fantasy movie that was heavy on the blood and boobs, but absent of substance. If you were looking for that here, then you came to the wrong place. You spend the two hours and change to watch this movie with the full expectation of seeing gratuitous scenes of boobs and blood. So what if most of those scenes feature Arnold’s naked chest. There’s a bunch of that eye candy because at this point in his burgeoning career as an A-list hit maker, Arnold’s best asset was his body. He looked like a comic book character flexing out, swinging those $10,000 swords on vast Spanish landscapes, with the wind whipping his hair, Black Sabbath shredding in the background (ok, not that part).
Most of the performances in Conan the Barbarian are awful, but James Earl Jones pulls off the Ramones wig and manages to be imposing. It helps having Darth Vader’s voice. The orgy scene in his lair (or one of them), the scene where they serve the human soup and he turns into the big snake, is wild. Did Thulsa Doom need the orgy to turn into the snake, or was the entire transformation a metaphor for getting a boner?
I was always partial to Subotai. He seemed cool, the perfect companion for our yoked-out hero, Conan.
Pretty much every line of dialogue from this movie is painful to hear, but Arnold does get to deliver the movie’s best line, something he often got to drop during his epic blockbuster run through the 80s and early 90s.
Mongol General: Conan! What is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.
Composer Basil Poledouris’s score is bombastic when the movie swings with bravado and the heads roll. He blended sweeping choral arrangements and driving percussion to create those big audio moments. He also composed more subdued movements in the few quiet moments in this movie. The score is a fantastic companion to Duke Callaghan’s cinematography.
Why do I like this movie?
It’s bad ass. Among the films in Arnold’s resume, with Twins being his best work, Conan the Barbarian lands somewhere between True Lies and Kindergarten Cop. I’m just kidding about Twins. Junior is his best movie.
All jokes aside, Conan… is a fun watch if you’re into that kind of fantasy thing. For a 40-year-old movie, by Crom, it holds up well enough, and you get to watch an all-time Hollywood action legend cut his acting chops as he cuts off a few limbs.