Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Conan the BarbarianA friend came over for the day and helped me with a project. I made homemade pizza for dinner and insisted we watch Conan the Barbarian. I think I probably got the better end of the friendship deal that day.

I kept saying, “It’s a classic—you have to watch it!”, and then proceeded to not remember a single scene from the film. I had mistaken Conan the Barbarian for Clash of the Titans. Where’s Medusa?! Ah nuts. It’s not that Conan isn’t an okay film (yeah okay, it’s not that great), it’s more that I wanted so much more from it. Like a fight scene with Medusa.

A youthful and swole Arnold Schwartzenegger (fresh from nearly a decade of Mr. Olympia wins) stars as title pre-historic Conan, whose family (dad eaten by dogs, mom beheaded with family sword) and people were killed by raiders and is subsequently forced to push what looks like a giant stone mill around in a circle for years. Like, literally years. A montage is shown of Conan grinding through the ages from small boy to the present-day power-thighs hero. The film takes place in a fictional period called the Hyborian Age. I’m sure all you Robert E. Howard geeks out there know of what I speak. I, however, am relying heavily on Wikipedia’s knowledge of these types of pulp comic books. I’m more of an Archie and Jughead fan myself (though truly only the Bob Montana years).

The bad guys who killed Conan’s family are led by prime bad guy Thulsa Doom, played by the magnificent and wonderfully wig-festooned James Earl Jones. Thulsa Doom is also the leader of a snake cult! (Spoiler: watching Thulsa transform into an actual snake is both creepy and captivating, especially as it takes place during a cult naked-times group orgy.)

Conan, having freed himself from slavery by becoming a winning pit-fighter, wanders around and makes some friends. Actually, only two friends—the first is thief and archer Subotai, and the second is a tough warrior-type lady named Valeria who becomes Conan’s lover. P.S. Conan’s righteous make-out moves consist of breast honking and man-handling. A considerable amount of 80’s movies are afflicted with gratuitous naked breast scenes. How do you tell if a movie has been made in the 1980s? Are there naked breasts? Are they gratuitous?

This movie has a lot of gratuitous scenes, not just of the naked-boob variety, however I did feel compelled to watch it through if only to see James Earl Jones scene-stealing “steel isn’t strong boy, flesh is stronger” speech. So taut, so hypnotic, so snake-y. I was also surprised that Arnold Schwartzenegger has so many speaking lines. Isn’t the joke about this movie is that he hardly says anything because of his thick Austrian accent? Not true, and his accent didn’t even seem that indecipherable to me. Sandahl Bergman‘s (Valeria) flat mid-western accent seemed a lot more fourth-wall breaking than Schwartzenegger’s well-pronounced lines (Wikipedia tells me he rehearsed his longest speeches more than forty times each).

And while I’m ambivalent about some of the action sequences (there’s a lot of running through the dessert) I do appreciate the efforts of the special effects team with both the giant sets and the optical effects, especially during the scene where Conan is brought back to life by spirits summoned by the ‘Wizard of the Mounds’. Hahaha! Wizard of the Mounds.

In the end Conan is just a guy trying to get through life. He’s like you and me, toiling at stone-grinding and trysting with the ladies. Sure, sometimes those ladies turn out to be witches but hey, you’ve got to take a chance on love. After all, life is short, especially so when your nemesis is a crazy snake-worshiping cult leader. It’s tough out there for a barbarian.

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