Conan The Barbarian (15)
Directed by: John Milius
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow
Running time: 129mins
It’s been 30 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger burst onto our cinema screens with Conan the Barbarian. Based on stories by Robert E. Howard, the film was directed by John Milius with a script credit for Oliver Stone.
Over the years this particular film has been pushed to the background when people have talked Arnie’s movie output. However, after watching it for the first time in years this past week, I have to say I was pretty impressed.
Conan the Barbarian is about a young boy’s quest to avenge his parents’ deaths.
We see how Conan witnesses the murder of his mother and father, and destruction of his village, by a band of warriors led by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). From here, young Conan is taken into slavery but grows into a fierce warrior and is then released by his master after becoming a master gladiator.
He eventually joins up with Subotai (Gerry Lopez), a thief and archer, and his soon to be lover Valeria (Sandahl Bergman). All three then go on a quest to save the daughter of King Oseric (Max von Sydow) from Doom.
What struck me when watching this film again was the lack of dialogue and almost constant orchestral score which is loud and expressive. Much like Terminator a few years after, Arnold doesn’t have much to say, however his physical presence on screen is undeniable. When he does speak you can tell this is his first big movie break (forgetting Pumping Iron and Hercules) as his lines are spoken in a clunky fashion with his Austrian accent very much coming to the fore.
As for the music, it is inspiring. Basil Poledouris, the man who would go on and score RoboCop and Starship Troopers, was brought on board and after principal photography was completed, when Milius sent him two copies of the edited film. One was without music, and the other had its scenes set to works by Richard Wagner, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Prokofiev, to illustrate the emotional overtones Milius wanted.
Watching the completed film you can tell how important the latter was because at times the score soars to some wonderful heights and conveys differing moods at all the right places.Another aspect which surprised me was the violence on screen. It is at times bloody and brutal. We have decapitations and blood splattered battles which is accentuated by the music. This is no holds barred and pretty graphic.
While Schwarzenegger, Lopez and Bergman are clearly learning in what is pretty much their first major movie production – dialogue at times seems forced and uncomfortable – the supporting cast of Jones and von Sidow elevate things from average to good.
All in all, Conan the Barbarian is a better than average film and was probably the best fantasy film involving swords and sorcery until Lord of the Rings came along. While it looks very much dated alongside Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, if you watch it with this in mind I think you’ll enjoy it, flaws and all.