In the summer of 2012, I went on a nostalgic trip down memory lane and revisited one of my all-time favorite movies for our article series 1982: The Greatest Year. That movie was Conan the Barbarian, starring the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was but one of many bright gems in the golden crown that was the wondrous summer of 1982.
You can’t imagine the sheer shock and awe I experienced when it was recently revealed that Arnold wants to reprise his role as the Cimmerian warrior one last time in The Legend of Conan, which is currently aiming for a release sometime in the summer of 2014. I’m ecstatic and still in a state of disbelief even as I write this. I’ve been dreaming about and waiting for this movie since like…forever. I’ll cover what little details we have about the new movie as we go through the movies and TV series in chronological order.
Before we get into it, I do want to take a moment to make one thing clear before I proceed. I certainly want to pay great homage to the original character created by Robert E. Howard some 80 years ago. Since that time, Conan’s literary legacy has been well established in dozens of novels and by a multitude of writers. Now, with that being said, I also will be the first to admit that I have little to no knowledge of THAT Conan. Outside of collecting and reading the Marvel series when I was much younger, my knowledge and love of the character of Conan almost entirely comes from Arnold’s adaptation and interpretation of the character. From what I understand, some Howard purists hate Arnold’s version of Conan. That’s fine. Maybe they’re right. Me? With all due respect, I really don’t give a shit. I’m just fine being ignorant in this particular case. By all means, please, enjoy your literary Conan and I’ll enjoy my movie Conan. Now let’s get started![divider]
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
I’ve become quite the cinephile at this point in my life. I’ve seen the bulk of work by masters like Chaplin, Kubrick, Bergman, Ford, Kurosawa, Leone, etc.; I’ve seen the very greatest of films from the most celebrated filmmakers. I’ve also seen a lot of crap. I love the crap too. With that being said, the original Conan movie is still one of my absolute favorite films. It still holds a prominent and permanent place in my heart. I love everything about that fucking movie. It’s just the best. If you say bad things about it around me, and I’m sure I can’t beat you up (which I probably can’t), I’m going to cover my ears and shout garbled nonsense until you’re done and pretend it never happened. That’s just how it is.
Now, with the original being so great, it really set an impossibly high standard for the films and shows to follow – all of which would make vain attempts to capture the lightning in a bottle that Schwarzenegger, Milius, and Stone captured in that first movie. The story was epic. The fighting was savage. The writing and directing were superb. Last but not least, Arnold was…well…Arnold. Actually no…Arnold WAS Conan.
Since Conan the Barbarian was my first memory of seeing Arnold, (YES, I did see Conan before The Terminator and NO I did not see him playing the titular character – billed as Arnold Strong – in Hercules in New York) I have an extremely, if not impossible, time thinking of or seeing anyone else in that role. He’s as iconic to me as Harrison ford is to Han Solo or Indiana Jones or maybe how Robert Downey Jr. has become to Tony Stark/Iron Man nowadays, for you younger folk.
I wrote a very lengthy article about the original Conan the Barbarian which you can find and read here.[divider]
Conan the Destroyer (1984)
As I stated in my article about the first film, I’m almost positive that I saw Conan the Destroyer first. It was much easier for my young, sub-moronic, and naïvely simple mind to digest. I’m now in my early thirties, and little has changed.
Still, there’s not really much in the way of a story here. There’s no taste of sweet revenge, in its place is this putrid black liquorish covered urine cake that they jokingly call a story. There’s a treasure to be found, a beautiful princess to protect, and prophecy to fulfill. Yadda Yadda Yadda. This is a bad movie, any way you look at it. Despite the return of Arnold, Conan the Destroyer has very little going for it. He kind of phoned it in. Conan returns with his Atlantean sword but none of his dignity or purpose.
On the other hand, he has greatly improved on his sword-twirling skills, much to the enjoyment of the cast of characters. Watch.
Anyway, the sequel was, well, oozing with cheese. It took on a purposefully lighter “PG” tone. This doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, myself included. Gone were the opening subtitles with a quote from Nietzsche; instead we get the character of Malak, a simpering idiot jewel thief who seems to be doing a bad Peter Lorre impression. He comes across this way because that’s EXACTLY what he is. Y’see, he’s the comic relief of the movie.
The comic relief…in a Conan movie. This was a GREAT idea, one of the many that would give the movie a stench that lingers to this day, like hot vomit. This is a common mistake, in my opinion, that has really plagued movies over the years and sequels in particular. It’s a particular pet peeve of mine. They feel obligated to include a funny character for comic relief, in a series that should, for all intents and purposes, not be overly “funny.” It hardly ever works.
When the movie starts, Conan is just chumming around with Malak. No mention is ever given to Subotai or what happened to him. Essentially, we lose a great friend and skilled warrior and gain an incapable, foolhardy, and fumbling dweeb. It’s a great start.
Also joining in on the laugh were gifted thespians Grace Jones and Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain. Jones has the acting skills of a rock with the subtlety of a honey badger. She plays Zula. When we first see Zula, she is tied up and fending off a band of ruffians. Conan finds a kindred warrior spirit in her and decides to set her free. In hindsight, for viewers of the movie, this was a BAD choice on Conan’s part. She proceeds to do nothing but yell vicious man-screams, bare her teeth, and swing her bo staff around for the rest of the movie. She also lends her wisdom and impeccable dating advice to a young and impressionable young lady, as we see here.
Chamberlain stars as Bombaata, a bodyguard to Princess Jehnna (played by the lovely Olivia D’Abo a few years prior to playing Kevin and Wayne’s older sister Karen on The Wonder Years). His task was to protect Princess Jehnna and ensure her virginity…
Sorry, I couldn’t help it.
I suppose there is a bit of irony to be found in the fact that a man who claims to have bedded over 20,000 women was cast in the role of a character whose sworn oath is to protect the virginity of a beautiful young princess. This was Chamberlain’s one and only film acting role. Thank goodness for that.
Also in the movie is Sarah Douglas as the evil Queen Taramis, best known to us as General Zod’s right hand lesbian, Ursa from Superman II. She plays the clichéd part as well as can be asked for or expected in a movie of this caliber.
Creatively, the movie also didn’t impress. Original director and writer John Milius was not available to direct the sequel, and the producers, instead of waiting for Milius, chose to go with a different director. That director ended up being Richard Fleischer. Fleischer, to his credit, had a long and distinguished career. He directed such timeless hits as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Dr. Doolittle, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Soylent Green . Unfortunately, he was way past his prime and his style had become rather irrelevant by the time he made this film. To be fair, he also didn’t really have a gem of a script to work with, either.
For instance, this is a goof on a real scene in the movie, but ultimately isn’t that far from what really happened.
That’s right, Conan battles a man monster who has skin not unlike a kosher dill pickle.
Ultimately Conan the Destroyer failed on almost every level. It didn’t have the financial success or the critical acclaim that the original had; it truly paled in comparison. I genuinely enjoyed it when I was younger, but I find myself staying away from it these days because I’m positive I’d hate it even more than I already do. It’s just completely corny and goofy, and not even in a good way.
- Andre the Giant played the resurrected ‘Horned Giant’ character at the end of the movie, but was not credited because his face never appears on camera.
- Wilt Chamberlain is a really, really bad actor.
- Some scenes were filmed in the same locations at the same time as David Lynch’s Dune
- ENOUGH TALK!
Red Sonja (1985)
I know what you’re thinking “Hey mannnnnn…this isn’t a Conan movie”. Well, actually, it kind of’ is.
Basically, Red Sonja is She-Ra to Conan’s He-Man. This movie essentially just takes the plot of the original ‘Conan the Barbarian’, covers it with the stinky cheese of Conan the Destroyer, and replaces the lead role with a female.
Arnold was actually set to again reprise his role of Conan in this movie, but for some reason, he appears instead as a character created just for the movie named Kalidor. He’s basically just Conan wearing slightly better clothes and acting a little more civilized. No, really…that’s it. It’s almost like a bad superhero secret identity. This makes Clark Kent look like the best disguise ever by comparison.
Brigitte Nielsen is as bad as you would expect she would be. Her dialogue and acting is made of a harder wood than Arnold’s penis, which apparently Brigitte got quite familiar with while they were making this movie.
Conan, err…Kalidor…whatever…is just there as a love interest and adventuring companion for Red Sonja.
- The evil Queen Gedren was played by Sandahl Bergman. Fans may remember her as Valeria from the original Conan the Barbarian. She actually was originally cast as Red Sonja but turned the part down. Smart move, but I can’t help but think how much better the movie would’ve been, had she taken the part… Actually, never mind, it’d still suck.
- Arnold regularly states that this is one of his worst films he has ever made. He would joke with his children that if they didn’t behave, he would lock them in a room and force them to watch the movie ten times in a row.
- Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja share the same director: Richard Fleischer. A few years later he would direct Million Dollar Mystery. MAN, this guy was on fire.
Conan the Conqueror (Originally Scheduled for 1987)
Huh? This was to the third and final movie in the trilogy. Arnold was set to return, but his contractual obligations to legendary producer Dino Delaurentis had expired. Plus, he was a bit sick of the character after essentially playing him three times within a five year period. Also, Arnold’s star power, thanks to The Terminator, was beginning a steep climb upwards and he had landed higher profile and higher-paying gigs like The Running Man and Predator, to name a few.
Nonetheless, we were denied a third Conan movie, which left many fans with a sour and awful taste in their mouth. Years and years would go by…with the return of Arnold as Conan seeming more and more unlikely.
Conan the Conqueror, with a few tweaks, ultimately became Kull the Conqueror starring Kevin Sorbo, also a shitty movie.