I first ran this post about one of my favorite movies back in 2012. There is still talk about a Conan reboot, also starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the horizon. They’d better hurry; dude is turning seventy next year!
The thundering drums from Basil Poledouris’s awesome score tell me that, for perhaps the hundredth time, I’m about to immerse myself in the 1982 screen exploits of author Robert E. Howard’s most famous character, Conan the Barbarian. What can I say? I love this film, warts and all. And the memorable soundtrack is only one of the reasons why.
Three decades ago, where the movie premiered, a lot of the reviews were brutal. But then, how many bad reviews have been written for fantasy, science fiction and horror films by reviewers that could give a rat’s ass about any of those genres? Some even proclaimed Conan the worst film of the year. Well, at least the Razzies didn’t think so; it wasn’t even nominated. Its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger? Yes, he was in the top five for Worst Actors, but he “lost” out to—believe it or not—Sir Laurence Olivier. (On the Razzies’ website, by the way, the movie is referred to as Conan the Bavarian.)
During his early movie-making career, Arnold usually didn’t say too much, and Conan was no exception. But then, the brooding Cimmerian seldom had much to say in Howard’s stories, so between the muscles and the minimalist dialogue, Arnold fit the role perfectly. His first lines come about twenty minutes in, and subsequently they’re spaced few and far between. His dialogue, and that of many other characters, can at times be painful to hear. But then, we can’t be sure of how people spoke “…between the time the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas…” Can we now?
Serviceable sword & sorcery plot: the boy Conan sees his parents murdered by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his evil minions. Ah, vengeance as motivation. After a childhood and young adulthood of slavery and busting heads in arena games, Conan is set free and begins his quest for Thulsa Doom. Along the way he meets the kick-butt warrior woman Valeria (Sandahl Bergman, she of the incredible body who drove men nuts with her sexy dance sequence in All That Jazz), and he’s instantly smitten. (Curious: during the entire movie Valeria is never referred to by name; it shows up in the final credits.) Together they steal a valuable gem from one of Doom’s temples, and Conan kills the giant snake that guards it.
A king then sends Conan on a mission to rescue his daughter from Doom on his Mountain of Power (really!). Conan is captured by Doom, who is a bit put out by the theft: “You broke into my house, stole my property, murdered my servants, and my pets! And that is what grieves me the most! You killed my snake. Thorgrim is beside himself with grief! He raised that snake from the time it was born.” Poor guy. Conan is strung up to die but is rescued by Valeria and Subotai, another thief, and the trio breaks into Doom’s temple. They take out a whole bunch of Doom’s people and grab the king’s daughter, though not before first witnessing a well-attended orgy and a feast where the diners chow down on a thick green soup full of human body parts. Valeria is killed as they escape, and Conan consigns her body to flames.
In one of Arnold’s more memorable monologues of about seventy words he prays to his god, Crom, as he awaits Doom’s pissed-off top lieutenants, ending with: “Crom, grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!” Then, with the help of Valeria, who briefly returns from the dead, shouts “Do you wanna live forever?” and saves his butt, he hurries off to take out Doom once and for all. He succeeds, though not before Doom utters the lines that must’ve caused the distinguished James Earl Jones to cringe: “For who now is your father if it is not me? I am the wellspring from which you flow. When I am gone, you will have never been. What would your world be without me?” And off Conan rides, though not before the end credits hint at a sequel…which of course ultimately happened. But that’s another story, and maybe another post down the road.
So, hokey though it may be, Conan the Barbarian pays off for most fans of the genre. And it certainly beats the 2011 CGI-fest of the same name. So enjoy. And remember the answer that I always give when I hear this question posed: “Do you wanna live forever?”