CONAN THE BARBARIAN—-“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!”
Twenty-three million 1982 dollars worth of lopped heads, heaving bosoms and the ‘philosophy of Sung’. Whipped up by director John Milius in seeming deadly earnest— though his tongue must have been wickedly in cheek—this saga of the many gory adventures of a pre-Dark Ages warrior was taken straight and thoroughly trashed by critics, who couldn’t enjoy something goofy like this if they tried. Crowds reveled in the splashing red sauce and made it a big hit.
Milius rewrote most of Oliver Stone’s drug-binge fueled script, blending several of his own Khan-like (that’s Genghis, not Ricardo) threads of proto-manhood and a melange of thematic inspirations into an approximation of the peculiar Hyborian Age fantasy world of the original Robert E. Howard stories. Credit the damn-the-quiche Milius with audacity, as there was almost no way this was going to fly with the
less nutty more genteel. Perhaps he just wished to “hear the lamentations of their women”…
One questions the ultimate benefit to Man’s Progress of freeing bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger and his ego from the gym and unleashing him on acting, but if the garbled Austrian isn’t exactly Anthony Hopkins, he at least fits well pictorially within the confines of the role. Conan isn’t given to much talk, at any rate (too bad Dwayne Johnson wasn’t around, since he has the build and can actually deliver lines with more than two expressions).
James Earl Jones gets with the gig as ‘Thulsa Doom’, the bad-bad-bad guy, surfer Gerry Lopez and the always reliable Mako are effective as Conan’s pals. Max Von Sydow does a lusty cameo. “What daring! What outrageousness! What insolence! What arrogance!… I salute you.” In the ladies end of cave, a vivid impression is made by the super-sexy Sandahl Bergman, who swings a sword with best of them. Alas, this was the career high-point for the statuesque, hard-to-cast dancer. ‘We’ll always have Valeria….’
Neato sets, excellent photography (Duke Callaghan), numerous bloody scenes of ancient combat, fun costuming. Dandy special effects: a giant snake (met while trying to burgle the ‘Tower of Serpents’), demons, a sultry werewitch who bursts into flames during sex (tell me about it), and a steaming cauldron of cannibal soup (complete with hands). While the finale suffers because producers would not shell out the bucks Milius needed for a big battle climax, take solace that there is a scene where Arnold chews on a vulture. Drop redeeming social value at the staked palisade because this is gleefully absurd from one end to the other, so if you can’t stand the viscera, get out of Shadizar. “And he came to know the pleasures of women, when he was bred to the finest stock.”
Though there are a number of good bits, the movie never really tops its startling opening sequence of the raid on the village, which has power like a deep nightmarish cultural trace memory of mortal danger, emerging out of the endless primeval forest.
What really sells that segment, and much of the rest, is the attribute that is by far the films strongest, an element even those who gag at the mention of this flick would be hard to slight: the fabulous music score from the great Basil Poledouris. One of the best soundtracks of its era, it’s by turns lush, romantic, haunting and hypnotic and when it goes full bore to highlight action it’s in the excitement league with the notes prepped for the likes of How The West Was Won and The Wind And The Lion–if your blood isn’t roaring in your ears during these surging passages of musical Valhalla that Poledouris creates, then you’re already stone dead. Krom!
Despite cudgels from outraged critics, the film made $130,000,000 (skewering spot #13) and more than twice that since in video sales. Shot in Spain, running 129 minutes, with William Smith, Sven Ole-Thorsen, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gava (that hot-to-trot wolfwitch gal), Valerie Quennessen, Jorge Sanz and Nadiuska.*
*’Nadiuska’ was a busy model in Spanish sex comedies. Russian-Polish, born in Bavaria, Nadiuska was originally christened with the ‘Look Out, World!’ mantle of Roswicha Bertasha Smid Honcar. The soft-core porn and associated high-life got to her, and she renounced it. Sadly, after a period of homelessness and a diagnosis of schizophrenia, at last word she lives in a mental institution on Ciempozuelos, Madrid (Spain).