Conan the Barbarian
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Gerry Lopez, Sandahl Bergman, Mako, Max Van Sydow
Directed By: John Milius
THE STORY:It seems only fitting that after watching a whole slew of Sword and Sorcery movies that I view this. after all, the popularity of this movie helped spawn a lot of the admittedly crappy Sword and Sorcery movies in the 80's. When this movie first went to the theaters I wanted to see it, but I was on a date with a fruitcake of a girl named Jackie...(boy could I tell you stories about her. She was a nice person, but she definitely had a lot loose screws) Jackie didn't want to see Conan because it was violent so instead she dragged me to see Leonard Part Six. Yes, I said Leonard Part Six. It was sheer torture.
It was well into my college years before I finally actually saw the movie and a few years after that that I dredged up the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories and read them. Of all the fictional characters that have been made into movies, this flick I think captures the character pretty well. Yeah, in the Howard books Conan is a little more bloodthirsty and dangerous, but overall, this movie does a good job.
In a time before recorded history, when magic and monsters were still around...and as the narrator tells us...before the oceans drank Atlantis...Conan lived. His father was a blacksmith of some kind forging weapons of steel and teaching the young Conan about the "Riddle of Steel". Then a band of marauders came to his tiny village and killed almost everyone. Led by the evil Thulsa Doom, these marauders slaughtered all of the adults and dragged the children away to be sold into slavery. Conan witnessed Thulsa Doom himself beheading his mother with his father's sword.
Young Conan was condemned to push the wheel of pain, a big....wheel, in some begotten desert. What it was for I don't know. I just know that after pushing it for years he grew from a small boy into Arnold Schwarzenegger. Eventually Conan was sold to another slaver that had him trained as a gladiator and then used him in various arenas. Conan became the best warrior to fight in the games. His master saw fit to educate him, but Conan lived for battle and accepted his role in life. Then one day, his master frees him. Conan begins to wander the world with one thought in his mind...to find the men that killed his people and get some payback. He meets and befriends Subotai, a skilled thief and archer and Valeria, a beautiful female thief. Together they perform a daring robbery in the temple of the Cult of Set. During this robbery Conan sees the symbol of the men that killed his people and realizes that the Cult's leader is Thulsa Doom! Though they get away with the loot by the hairs of their chinny chin chins, Conan burns with the desire for revenge. He gets an opportunity when the king of this city, an old man named Osric, has the thieves captured. King Osric is impressed with their daring. He himself doesn't like the Cult of Set and fears that they are becoming too powerful. Also, his own daughter has ran away to join the cult and become Thulsa Doom's consort. Osric gives Conan and his friends a butt load of jewels if they'll kidnap her back for him.
Valeria and Subotai both agree that they should take the money and scram, not wanting to risk fighting the powerful Thulsa Doom. But Conan is pretty adamant. Though he and Valeria have fallen in love his desire to kill Doom overrides that. He slips away from his friends in the night and alone attempts to infiltrate the Cult of Doom at their Headquarters located in a distant mountainside. Fortunately for Conan, he finds Akiro, a wizened sorcerer that lives in the area. I say fortunately because Conan's attempt at sneaking in the cult fails. After all, even though Conan had the wits to knock out one of the priests and steal his robes, a hulking giant of man looks out of place with the other priests who are nowhere near his size. Thulsa Doom has Conan crucified on the Tree of Woe, a single tree growing in the desert. Beaten and dying Conan fights to his last bit of strength when he kills a vulture pecking at him with his teeth. But Subotai and Valeria have been searching for him since he left and Subotai finds him in time. They take him to Akiro who tells Valeria he can summon his magic to save Conan's life, but the price will be high. Valeria tells him she'll pay any price so the wizard proceeds. Valeria and Subotai must fend off ghostly demons that night to keep Conan's soul intact and they succeed. (Akiro, frightened by the apparitions flees to his hut, which is kind of awkward...I mean, HE's the one that cast the spell! He's the magic guy! Hasn't he had any experience doing this before?)
Restored once more Conan tries plan B. Subotai and Valeria tell him they'll help, but they just want to get Osric's daughter back....they'll go after Thulsa Doom another day. The three of them sneak into the Cult's palace and discover their terrible secret. The Cult of Set are a Cult of cannibals. They eat other human beings. (shades of Soylent Green!) Valeria grabs Osric's daughter while Conan and Subotai fight off the guards. Two of them are Doom's right hand men...both Conan remembers from his childhood, since they were with Doom when his people were killed (I guess eating people does keep you young...or maybe its Doom's black magic) A vicious fight begins, and Conan is forced to withdraw with his friends. Thulsa Doom uses his magic to transform a snake into a deadly arrow and hits Valeria from a distance as they ride away from the palace. Valeria dies ( Her price for saving Conan from the demons) and now Conan has two reasons to kill Thulsa Doom. Knowing that Doom will come after him to retrieve the daughter of Osric and to get revenge, Conan and Subotai set traps and await him. When Doom and his men arrive, Conan, Subotai and Akiro fight them off slaughtering them with the traps and swords. Conan himself hacks Doom's top two henchmen to bits, and at one point when one of them has a clear shot to kill Conan he is stopped temporarily by the ghostly Valkyrie image of Valeria. (She told Conan that she loved him so much that she'd come back from the dead to fight at his side.)
Conan's battle is won completely yet though. That night he sneaks into the Cult's HQ and beheads Thulsa Doom in front of his followers. At first Doom almost talks him out of it....Conan's whole life has been a quest for vengeance. If he kills Thulsa doom what will be left for him? Admittedly that's a piss poor argument. If someone had killed my parents and it took me twenty years to track them down I sure wouldn't think "Hey, he's right....if I kill him I won't have anything left to do with my life.". I'd be thinking of that damn bigass wheel they made me push in the desert for years and screw it...dude, he nailed you a tree!
With Doom dead, his followers lose heart and disband. Conan then sets the Cult's palace afire and returns Osric's daughter.
This movie had a great tone to it. Unlike Conan: The Destroyer it was gritty and serious. Conan has never been the kind of character that thinks his way out of problems. He's a barbarian for Christ's Sake. Wile Conan has always been honorable and keeps his word, he's also been unrelenting in battle and ready to "cleave your skull to the teeth!". Having recently rewatched Conan the Destroyer and seeing Dungeons and Dragons, Conan the Destroyer was more of a D&D type movie, where Conan the Barbarian was plain old blood and hacking sword fight fantasy.
This was Arnold's breakthrough film, and though many people dismiss him as an actor I admire him. After all Schwarzenegger worked hard to be a body builder and he managed to become a major star in the US and the world and remember....he didn't speak English when he began his career. That's a feat in anyone's book. I've spent more than six years in Germany in the last ten and I can barely say "Ein beer bitte" correctly. (One beer please) As for Conan...he's a fascinating character to read about and this movie was meant to be part of a trilogy. I guess that idea got hosed since after the second one there has to date, not been another. It would be interesting if they rounded it out with a final one patterned after "Conan the Usurper" by his creator, Robert E. Howard, where Conan finally becomes king of Aquilonia. No one is getting any younger, so Arnold, hurry up and do it!
Thulsa Doom was played by James Earl Jones. Valeria was the lithe and beautiful Sandahl Bergman. King Osric by Max Van Sydow. Akiro was the umistakable Mako. Gerry Lopez was Subotai.
Best Lines:"To crush your enemies...to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of the women!"- Conan when he was asked what is best in life! One of my old soldiers used to say this a lot. I'd ask him, "Private, what is good in life?" and he'd quote Conan...then we'd fall over laughing. I miss that guy.
"Would I sell Haga to a slayer such as you?"- A shopkeeper to Subotai and Conan, trying to convince them that his stygian Black Lotus is authentic. The same soldier I mentioned above used to say that if I asked him if he was lying to me. Heck, most times he probably was, but that line used to crack me up enough that he got away with it.
"Dinner for wolves."- Subotai's answer when Conan asks why he is chained up in the wild.
"Let him Contemplate this on the Tree of Woe!"- Thulsa Doom before crucifying Conan. I paraphrased that to a guy I gave extra duty to once and he laughed so hard he forgot he was in trouble.
"Crom! I've never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad.Why we fought, or why we died. No. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important. Valor pleases you, Crom, so grant me one request. Grant me revenge. And if you do not listen, then the hell with you!"- Conan prays to his deity, Crom, before he faces Doom's soldiers. Note that he asks for revenge, not victory....he doesn't exactly think he'll win this fight.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?:
1.)What's up with this Wheel of Pain? It seems silly to kidnap children for slave labor and then have them do nothing but push a useless wheel. In the commentaries on the DVD the crew surmise that it was a mill of some kind. Milling what? Its in the middle of the desert! Isn't it useless to have a mill miles away from anyone that can make use of it? I can't remember if it was in the original stories or what its use was. If YOU know, let the Inferno know!
2.)Except for setting up his meeting with Subotai, what was the point of Conan meeting the witch woman? (Well, to throw in a sex scene I guess, but then, we see Conan and Valeria making the humpty hump later on also) And what did she turn into? A vampire? A werewolf? I don't get it. It was cool though.
3.) Once again I see a deleted scene on a DVD that should have been in the theatrical release! While preparing for Thulsa Doom, Conan tells Subotai about a memory of his home, childhood and father. He laments that twenty years have passed since that memory and I quote "20 years of pitiless combat! No rest! No sleep like other men!". Why was that cut out? It gives Conan another dimension to his character! It shows that even though he is a barbarian killing machine that he also has feelings....and Subotai's response helps shape his character...by showing the audience that he considers Conan his good friend. The whole thing is like, what, maybe 120 seconds? Why delete it in the first place?
4.) One thing of interest is that Robert E. Howard was kind of nuts. In the commentaries on the DVD its told that he began writing Conan because at night Conan would appear in his home and stand behind him with a battleaxe commanding him to write. Uh...sure....but I'll admit if a giant barbarian came in here and told me write I'd be typing War and Peace by dawn.
5.) What the hell did Rexor feed that snake to get it so big? Good Gravy I thought my cat was overfed!
NUDITY AND SEX:Conan has sex with the witch and Valeria. Titties are to be seen.
HUH?:I could never be a barbarian. I have several swords in my collection. (About seven, actually.) Now keep in mind that these swords are stainless steel and meant for decoration only...they ain't sharp, really. But I have one long sword that's particularly heavy and needs two hands to wield. There's no way I could use this thing in a battle even it was sharp! After a few swings I'd be exhausted! Hell, the pommel itself must weigh six or seven pounds without the blade. Guys back then must have had to really be strong to fight a long battle with those things. (It does look cool though) I'm glad they invented guns or I'd probably be stuck pushing that silly wheel of pain.
Why did Conan drop his sword after killing Doom? I just can't imagine Conan purposely disarming himself.
Those towers of set are pretty phallic.
THE FINAL JUDGMENT:At least this movie was made before special effects went into the computer age. That means a lot, because there's no CGI or crazy cityscapes in the flick. If you like sword fighting movies and heroes that aren't perfect then you'll probably like this movie. The Inferno beckons you to High Adventure...