Arnold in a loincloth! Conan The Barbarian!
May 2, 2008 (Updated Nov 11, 2009)
by Mark Vaughan
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:This is one of those rare movies it would be hard to improve.
The Bottom Line: This movie is a classic, and one of my personal favorites. A movie that is almost worthy of Robert E. Howard's Hero.
Conan the Barbarian (1982) Directed by John Milius Screenplay by Oliver Stone, From the Novels and Short Stories of Robert E. Howard.
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“Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And unto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!”
Thus begins Conan the Barbarian, possibly the best pure swords and sorcery movie ever made.
Conan was born into a tribe in Cimmeria, a cold, harsh, unforgiving land. His god, Crom, is like the land, cold, harsh, and unforgiving. Conan’s father taught him the greatest of Crom’s wisdom.
Connaldar: “Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky. But Crom is your god, Crom and he lives in the earth. Once, giants lived in the Earth, Conan. And in the darkness of chaos, they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered. And the Earth shook. Fire and wind struck down these giants, and they threw their bodies into the waters, but in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel and left it on the battlefield. We who found it are just men. Not gods. Not giants. Just men. The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one - no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. (He points to the sword in his hand.) This you can trust.”
As harsh as his life was, it got worse. Raiders came, slaughtering his people, and collecting their weapons. They were marked by a symbol: A black sun rising over a serpent, two headed, facing itself over the sunrise.
Conan was sold into slavery, and put to work as a mill engine; he and many other children were chained to a great mill wheel. Years passed, the children got fewer, Conan got stronger, and at last, he was all that remained. Hugely muscled (and now played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) Conan is sold to a fighting pit. There, he learns the art of mayhem.
“He did not care any more... life and death... the same. Only that the crowd would be there to greet him with howls of lust and fury. He began to realize his sense of worth... he mattered. In time, his victories could not easily be counted... he was taken to the east, a great prize, where the war masters would teach him the deepest secrets. Language and writing were also made available, the poetry of Khitai, the philosophy of Sung; and he also came to know the pleasures of women, when he was bred to the finest stock. But, always, there remained the discipline of steel.” The Wizard.
They continued his education into the arts of war:
Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?
Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.
Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women.
So now Conan is prepared for his life of high adventure: he beds a witch, frees a thief, Subotai (Gerry Lopez), and finds his way to….
Subotai: Shadizar! The biggest den of iniquity and vice in the world!
Conan: Let’s waste no time!
Life in the big city is expensive, and Conan is noted for poor impulse control, and soon, he and Subotai are in need of fundage. They decide to rob a temple of Set, the Serpent Cult. There they meet Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) another thief. Together, they loot the temple, stealing a priceless Ruby, the Eye of the Serpent. Conan gets another treasure, a Jade pendant in the shape of the Serpents and Sun; the same symbol that flew above the raiders that destroyed his village and killed his parents.
Valeria and Conan fall in love, and with the new clue, Conan has hope of his revenge.
And he has a patron: King Osric (Max von Sydow). Osric’s daughter has been drawn into the cult of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Osric wants the “heroes” to retriever her. There is a speech in here that is extremely reminiscent of a passage from a King Kull story:
King Osric: There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father's love for his child.
So now Conan is bound to penetrate a cult, locate the princess, kidnap her, and try to discover the link between Thulsa Doom and the death of his parents.
Piece of cake.
This movie is a quilt of images and concepts stolen from many Conan stories. The name Valeria is from the story “Red Nails”, the entire scene of robbing the Temple of Set is a straight lift from “The Tower of the Elephant”, Conan being crucified, and using his teeth to kill the vulture is from “A Witch Shall Be Born” and finally, the concept of Valeria coming back from the dead to save her lover was actually Belite from the excellent tale, “Queen of the Black Coast.”
Other sources were also liberally looted. For instance, the Mongols who trained Conan in the pits and in the arts of war were inspired by the real Mongols. The speech of what is best in life was adapted from Genghis Khan’s life, Subotai is named after Subedei, on of the Khan’s generals, and Connaldar’s death by dogs’ mirrors Genghis’ fear of dogs.
And this is perfectly acceptable, even appropriate. Robert E. Howard was a voracious reader, a mental packrat, and he wove history, literature and fable together into the Hyborean Age.
The cinematography is wonderful. This movie was filmed in the Almeria region of Spain, which gives it a wonderful look and feel, not overly used. The costuming is wonderful, and was worn throughout rehearsal as well as shooting, to give it that “lived in” read “smelly” look. The sets are great, detailed and dirty. Together, these things make the Hyborean age comes to life.
The Score has to be mentioned. It has become iconic, and is frequently used in other works. Basil Poledouris wrote this wonderful piece of work. You probably know a lot of his other stuff as well, Red Dawn, Robocop, Starship Troopers, Flesh and Blood, and Les Miserables. Vibrant and dynamic, it builds a dark energy that swells and wanes, setting the mood, and moving it along.
Conan is legend; the premiere figure in a genre he helped create, Swords and Sorcery. Conan is the ultimate bad@$$. Every man wants to be him, every woman (and not a few men) wants to be with him. He is a totally free spirit, untamable, unstoppable, and answerable to no one. Who does not love that?
Finding an actor that could actually pull off the role was always the big stumbling block. A very few men on the planet have the physical attributes to pull off the role. Of those, very few have any acting ability.
But Arnold had a few acting credits under his belt, and the studio decided to take a chance. And the role was perfect for him. Conan could reasonably be expected to have an accent. And Laconic? Arnold can do laconic. In fact, he speaks exactly five words to the love of his life: "You're not a guard", and "No".
This movie is almost perfect. It is certainly the height of its genre. And it definitely made Arnold’s career. So sit back, relax, and let me tell you a tale of High Adventure.
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
Dark Horse Graphic Novels.
0.) Conan: Born on the Battlefield
1.) Conan: The Frost Giant's Daughter
2.) Conan: The God in the Bowl
3.) Conan: The Tower of the Elephant
4.) Conan: The Hall of the Dead
5.) Conan: Rogues in the House
6.) Conan: The Hand of Nergal
7.) Conan: Cimmeria
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