Swords, Sorcery and a Sandahl
It's important to remember that when "Conan the Barbarian" was released back in 1982 the whole "Dungeons & Dragons" thing was massive and so movies which played on the swords and magic thing were also popular. Now I wasn't into the whole "Dungeons & Dragons" scene and as such back in the 80s when I watched "Conan the Barbarian" I didn't really enjoy it and now having re-watched it to be honest my opinion hasn't changed. Oh the almost operatic soundtrack is great, so are the impressive settings and the costumes but "Conan the Barbarian" is not a movie for me and as such the storyline failed to engage me causing me to constantly struggle to get into it except for the various moments of action which are scattered through out. But I am sure those who were into the whole "Dungeons & Dragons" scene enjoyed it and probably still do.
After witnessing his parents murdered and his village burned down by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones - The Reading Room) and his warriors, young Conan (Jorge Sanz) is taken into slavery. Over the years Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger - The 6th Day) grows into strapping man who becomes a trained fighter as he is thrown into gladiatorial battles. Eventually he is set free and sets out on a quest to seek revenge for his parent's murder. Along the way he becomes friends with Subotai (Gerry Lopez) an archer, a wizard (Mako) and the beautiful Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) a cunning thief and together they set out to not only seek revenge but also rescue Princess Yasmina (Valérie Quennessen), daughter of King Osric (Max von Sydow - Escape to Victory) who has been taken by Thulsa Doom and his Snake Cult.
Not being a fan of the whole "Dungeons & Dragons" scene it's probably little surprise that I have never read any of the novels or comic books which "Conan the Barbarian" is based upon. But what I do know it that director and writer John Milius took elements from various stories and combined them into this one big story. Now that story takes us on a journey from where as young child Conan became a slave after watching his parents murdered through to his search for revenge. Along the way we watch how Conan became this gladiator style warrior, made a few friends such as Valeria and Subotai and gets into a few scrapes. But the trouble is that I just couldn't get into it despite it having several subplots to back up the overall tale of revenge. And it boils down to the fact that I've never been into the whole sorcery, mystical warrior and monster thing where as I am sure those who enjoy these works of fiction will love this evolving story.
Despite my struggle with the story I have to say that the overall production is brilliant. The world which Milius creates for Conan to journey through is stunning with some absolutely amazing locations and some brilliant cinematography which captures their vastness. And it's not just the expanding backdrops which impress as the inside of buildings and huge towers are all visually brilliant. Plus accompanying this is an almost operatic soundtrack which gives it a grandiose feel especially during the moments of action. And if that wasn't enough the costumes, the swords, the mythical monsters are all impressive as well making "Conan the Barbarian" a movie which will entertain visually even if the storyline doesn't.
Now whilst "Conan the Barbarian" has its action scenes it almost feels like it's short on them. I was expecting "Conan the Barbarian" to be filled with big action scenes, especially as it features Arnold Schwarzenegger and it does start off with a very impressive action sequence. But then after that it feels like Milius is focussing on building up the story and the action ends up taking a back seat. I am sure some will enjoy the focus on the story but for me I wanted more ferocity and more action.
Of course "Conan the Barbarian" is known for the movie which turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a star or at least brought him to the attention of many. And you have to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger is perfect for the role of Conan mainly because it doesn't require him to do much more than flex those huge biceps. He does have dialogue but it is limited and doesn't call on him to find emotion rather than bark it out, but it works and Arnold Schwarzenegger makes "Conan the Barbarian" the movie that it is.
And to be honest whilst Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't have much dialogue he is in fact the best thing about it as Sandahl Bergman as Valeria and Gerry Lopez as Subotai look good but struggle with more dialogue. As for the actual serious actors who turn up such as James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom and Max von Sydow as King Osric well they are under used which for them is probably a good thing. Again I am sure those who are into the whole sorcery and swords thing will enjoy their performances as these fictional characters but I just didn't get it and found watching James Earl Jones in a wig just off putting.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Conan the Barbarian" didn't engage me with the storyline I can't but help be impressed by the production. The costumes, locations and soundtrack are all stunning and whilst for me there wasn't enough I did enjoy the action. As such for me "Conan the Barbarian" is a movie for those who enjoy the whole "Dungeons & Dragons" thing but for those who don't will struggle with the story.