Conan the Destroyer Directed by Richard Fleisher, Screenplay story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. Screenplay aborted by Stanley Mann.
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Conan the Destroyer is exactly that. It destroyed the promise of what could have been a brilliant franchise.
When the original Conan the Barbarian was originally proposed, Screenwriter Oliver Stone had a grand vision of 12 movies that would span the life of Conan, from his days in Cimmeria to his eventual rise as King of Aquilonia. This project would have spanned the length of Arnold Schwarzeneggers career as well. So what happened?
This movie. That is what happened.
The Plot and I use the term loosely.
Conan is hired by Queen Tamaris (Sara Douglas) to complete a quest. If Conan complies, she will return his love, Valeria, to life.
Conan is to take Princess Jehnna (Olivia Dabo) on a quest to locate the Horn of Dagoth, the Dreaming God. He takes the Princess and her bodyguard, Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain in his one and only movie role) along with Malak (Tracey Walter) a whiny little thief, Akiro the Wizard (Mako) and a new friend picked up along the way, Zula, (Grace Jones). Together, they must obtain a diamond only Jehnna can touch, and use it as a key to open the vault where the horn of Dagoth lies.
There are plots and schemes, betrayals and ambushes. Rival factions vie for the prize, and through it all, Conan proceeds with the inevitable force of an avalanche.
Ultimately, of course, Conan wins, evil looses, and nothing is really changed. (In that way, it is like many Conan novels.)
So why did this movie fail so miserably? First, lets define something. Did the movie fail? As a swords and sorcery movie? No. It is entertaining enough. One of the twins friends loved this movie; he would discuss it with me as long as I cared to let him. I asked him how he liked it compared to the first one. He said he had never seen that one, so I loaned him the tape. He came back awestruck. And I realized he may have been the only person in the world to judge this movie on its own merit, not as it relates to Conan the Barbarian. Did the movie fail with the critics? Oh yes. They had all seen the first and were pleasantly surprised. Now, they turned on this failed second attempt with all the bitterness of disappointed fan boys.
So what was different? Well, first, they replaced the director. John Milius is more of a writer than a director, and Fleisher has some impressive credits, including the Classic, Soylent Green and Fantastic Voyage. That should have been a good choice, right?
And they replaced the writing team. Oliver Stone (not yet a name to conjure with back then) gets a great deal of the credit, with his masterful screenplay. And since he and Milius worked together on the screenplay, Milius probably had a very clear idea exactly what had been envisioned, and as a screenwriter who also directs, he probably stayed very true to the vision.
For the Sequel, they replaced Oliver Stone (I can only assume he had previous commitments) Now, the story authors were Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. Roy was one of the original Conan Comic book authors; Gerry created Firestorm and the Punisher. Right there is one of the major shifts; from the works of Robert E. Howard as inspiration, to the Comic books.
There are many elements in this second story that feel comic bookish, some of the humor
Conan getting drunk and mixing up his words, Conan traveling with an ensemble, (five to seven is the magic number of characters for a comic book. Here we have six.) Zula the fierce Amazon being afraid of rats, Conan not killing the whiny malingering idiot Malak
.all these are things that grew out of the comics, not out of the Howard works. Conan is not a nice guy. He is a free spirit, and noble in his own way, but he is not NICE. He does not suffer fools. That was part of the appeal to Howard as he wrote the pieces. Also, this is a movie without a big villain. Queen Taramis is a puppet master, and a flunky. She serves Dagoth, who does not appear except as a statue until the very end.
But lets not lay the blame on these titans of the Comics industry just yet. They wrote the story. They did not write the screenplay. That was Stanley Mann, someone who should have known better. He was just off writing the screenplay for Stephen Kings The Firestarter, so you know he is not a hack. But Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway were so disgusted with the screenplay that they wrote the story as a graphic novel, The Horn of Azoth, with artist Mike Docherty. So I think we are closing in on the area where the blame lies.
Now, lets discuss the production values. Conan the Barbarian was filmed in the Almeda region of Spain. Conan the Destroyer was filmed in Juarez, Mexico. It did a time share with the filming of Dune for the desert scenes. Everything about this movie looked like they took the production values and let Roger Corman set the budget. The worst is the scene where Conan fights the Apelike creature in Thoth-Amons castle. From the famous story, Thieves in the House, the ape was immortalized by a painting by Frank Frazetta. (Hence, the ape in a red cape) They got the idea from good material, but then ruined it in execution. The Ape is a rubber mask, and not a good one. The facial expression never changes. I do better Halloween costumes than this!
There is just a cheap knock off feel to the entire production. The first was dark and dangerous and brooding. This one is lighter and less fulfilling.
Now, lets talk acting. I would like to give out a few Kudos. Grace Jones and Mako handled their characters as well as they could with the lines they were given. The same can be said of Arnold, accent not withstanding. He was not a great actor at this point, but adequate to the job of a stoic barbarian. And I am in favor of any role that has the man with no shirt for the entire movie.
Now, we are in a three way tie to see who sucked the worst in this movie; Tracey Walter as Malak, the retarded thief, Wilt Chamberlain, as the gruff protector of the virgin sacrifice, or Olivia Dabo as the vacuous Princess Jehnna. There are some who say she was just there for T and A. I could not disagree more. She also has phenomenal eyes.
I have to say Malak was written as comic relief. He wasnt funny, and there was no relief, but I think Walters probably did exactly what was asked of him, so we will blame Stanley Mann, and let the actor off the hook.
Bombaata was Wilt Chamberlains only movie role. There is a reason. The man can not act. It was so bad, Im going to lay this one off on Director Fleisher for not firing him.
And that leaves Olivia Dabo. Olivia won the Razzie for Worst New Star for this role. She deserved it.
A movie can withstand one bad performance. It can not survive when three of the six person ensemble are painful to watch. If I had had my way, Gerry Lopez would have reprised his role as Subotai, Clancy Brown would have played Bombaata and Molly Ringwold or at least Ally Sheedy would have played Jehnna.
And here is the one that just really ticks me off. The entire movie is predicated on the assumption that Conan is doing all of this to win Valeria back from the grave. How many people who have read the Robert E. Howard stories believe that Conan would ever dishonor the memory of the fallen by having truck with Necromancy? It is a betrayal of the character.
So the blame is sprinkled liberally and evenly though out the production. I really blame the greedy Hollywood executives that rushed to ride the high of the first movie, and did not do this one right.
Conan, King of the Screen.
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer
Conan in Comics:
Conan and the Songs of the Dead.
Conan and the Midnight God
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