Written by CaptainAmeriDave
For this entry, I decided to try something a little different. I hadn’t actually seen Conan the Barbarian before this review, but it popped up on one of my feeds and I decided it would make a good edition to this list. So, I’m coming to this particular movie with very fresh eyes and very little bias. We’ll see where that takes us…
In the land of Cimmeria, a young boy named Conan lives with his Mother and Father. His Father, a blacksmith, forges a great sword. Conan is a happy young boy until one day his village is raided by an evil snake cult. Their leader, Thulsa Doom, is an enigmatic sorcerer who has the power to mesmerize his enemies by putting them in a trance. As the cult decimates the village, Conan’s Father is killed by dogs and his Mother is beheaded by Thulsa Doom himself after he entrances her and uses his Father’s sword to kill her. Conan and all the young boys are sold into slavery to work hard lives of labor.
As Conan grows into a man, his strength finds no equal. He is eventually forced to fight as a gladiator where he develops a taste for battle. His ferocious strength and fighting skills earn him a powerful reputation. This affords the warrior many luxuries and he is able to learn to read and write. Conan is eventually freed and begins to wander the world. He encounters a witch that prophecies him becoming a king and befriends a fellow warrior named Subotai.
Conan and Subotai team up to seek revenge on the snake cult that murdered his family. While attacking a temple, they make another ally in Valeria, a beautiful warrior woman. After destroying the temple and looting it, the trio fall prey to the lures of wealth and toil away their time. While the friends are idle with their time, it is here that Conan and Valeria fall in love. Caught unawares during this time the three are captured by King Osric and offered untold riches if they can rescue his daughter from Thulsa Doom and his snake cult. Conan’s friends refuse, but Conan either for revenge or penance decides to take up the cause, and leaves on his own.
Conan makes a valiant attempt to complete the task on his own, but he is no match for the full force of the evil cult by himself. It’s up to his friends to rescue him from certain doom. Conan will then need the full force of his friends if he can hope to defeat the evil snake cult and end Thulsa Doom’s evil reign.
What’s Good About It…and What’s Not
Wow. This movie’s a bit of a hot mess for me. It has to be one of the best produced fantasy movies of it’s time (if not the best), but it also has some glaring issues that are hard to ignore. Let’s start with the good. The cinematography is beautiful when we’re shown the scenery and some of the grander set pieces, but it can also feel a little cheap in some of the quieter scenes.
The music is exceptional and does a lot of the heavy lifting in world building this movie. It’s truly epic and really sends you to a different place and time while also driving a lot of tension. I really can’t say enough about this soundtrack.
The costumes are also wonderful. Even Arnold’s minuscule costume really invokes the character and feels appropriate for the time period. There’s a simplicity in a lot of the choices that makes sense and helps convince the audience that the characters are making decisions that may not be wholly different from their own choices.
Now to touch on some of the lows, the plot is ok. It’s a pretty standard revenge/hero’s journey plot that except for a couple of small choices along the way really don’t feel like huge diversions from a set formula.
Some of the snake monster puppets used are very awkward. I would have much preferred the Harryhausen monsters used in so many other fantasy movies in years before. It just kind of takes me out of it.
And now for my biggest issue with this film, the character of Conan as portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. His look and presence are fantastic. The fight scenes are pretty good. But what is with the fact that he never talks?! Being the titular character, he hardly speaks over the course of the movie. I realize this probably wasn’t his fault, and I really don’t feel like his accent was that hard to understand at this point. The lines that he had in the film seemed fine to me and I seriously doubt it would’ve hurt anyone’s impression of the movie. I had heard there was some issue and they didn’t want him to talk that much, but come on. I tried looking it up and he had like 16 or 17 lines in the two hour plus movie.
It seems like they used the narration to fill in a lot of what could have been the content of Conan’s lines. I enjoyed Mako’s narration in moving the plot forward. It actually added to the fantasy feel, but honestly, there were times where the movie felt like one huge extended prologue. I mean Conan was so glaringly not speaking in certain scenes that it felt like the other characters were just acting around him. It felt bizarre and left me unsure with how to feel about this movie.
There were many exceptional aspects to this movie. As far as the low points, if it was just a few things, I’d probably overlook them, but like I said some decisions here were bizarre.
All in all the quality here seemed to hit both high and low, which is odd. Typically, a fantasy movie is pretty consistent throughout whether good or bad. But this film seemed to achieve peaks of high fantasy while also dipping into a valley of some basic tropes and odd choices. I can’t help but feel like this movie was made by some people who had a lot of experience in fantasy but not as much in filmmaking or maybe that statement should be flipped around. Either way I get a strong sense of dichotomy that left me a bit disappointed and unsure about recommending it. I know this movie has a strong cult following. So, did I miss something or is it not for everyone? Feel free to share your thoughts. But to end on a positive note, the soundtrack is beautiful.
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