1984: The Greatest Year II – CONAN THE DESTROYER

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Welcome to 1984: The Greatest Year Part II – Electric Boogaloo, the Geek League of America’s 30th anniversary tribute to the iconic geek culture films of 1984. This series of in-depth, analytical, fun, and nostalgic essays on the year that brought us instant classics like Ghostbusters, The Terminator, Gremlins, and others serves as a sequel to our 1982: The Greatest Year articles. Like 1982, 1984 was a game-changing year for genre cinema, loaded with popcorn blockbusters, cult hits, and genre-defining masterpieces. Join Jeff and other members of the Geek League of America for a fond, and sometimes funny, look back at this monumental year in nerd culture history.

(Ed. Note – This article was previously published as a portion of a larger Conan retrospective titled The Crom Chronicles – A History Of Conan On Screen)

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As I stated in my article about Conan The Barbarian, 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…

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

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.

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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.

FUN FACTS:

    • 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!

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About Author

Shawn Carter

Shawn Carter is Jeff’s younger brother. Together they spent their childhoods watching schlocky movies on HBO, reading schlocky comic books, and playing schlocky video games. These days Shawn still enjoys schlocky geek culture entertainment, but also has an appreciation for the classic westerns of John Ford and Sergio Leone, as well as the masterworks of Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.