Conan the Barbarian (1982) – John Milius

DK Canada’s highly enjoyable Monsters in the Movies brings me another classic film for my viewing pleasure. This one, I’ve wanted to rewatch for awhile, but couldn’t find the time. Happily, it showed up in the chapter, Devil’s Work, under evil wizards.

Arnold Schwarzenegger brings Robert E. Howard’s iconic creation, Conan the Barbarian to life in this adaptation by John Milius, who also had his hand in the script which was initially penned by Oliver Stone.

Sharing top billing with Schwarzenegger is another icon, James Earl Jones, who plays the villainous Thulsa Doom, and is more than he initially appears. He is the leader of a snake cult, who, early in the film, attacks and wipes out Conan’s people, before, as a young boy, he ends up chained to the Wheel of Pain, before setting out on a quest for revenge.

He is raised brutally to be a pit fighter, until, he garners his freedom, and finds himself in a realm of high adventure, with some companions at his side.

Joining him on this quest is Sandahl Bergman as Valeria, Gerry Lopez as Subotai, and Mako as the Wizard. They find themselves on a quest set by King Osric (Max Von Sydow) to rescue his daughter from Doom’s snake cult. And this provides Conan with the perfect opportunity for revenge.

It’s a towering, gritty movie, with bloody and violent set pieces that pay homage to the source material wonderfully, and despite the abilities of the leading cast, the real star of the film is a driving orchestral score, with some beautiful themes by Basil Poledouris.

There isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film, and the music is as much a character as Conan or Doom, and the film works wonderfully because of it. There is an epic feel to it, while still being as gritty and bloody as you would hope a Conan film would be.

Its interesting to note that Schwarzenegger had to do most of his stunts himself as there were no stunt doubles that could match his physique, so almost all of it is him.

The fights are brutal, and the characters seem right at home in this world, which is believably brought to life with some great location work, and some fantastic sets. Milius was intent on creating a whole world, and it definitely is up there on the screen.

It’s cool to see Jones onscreen, being both menacing and charming as the cult leader, and his gravitas helps ground the film. His sense of movement and delivery brings Doom to life in a way that you know this character is a dangerous threat as soon as he appears on screen.

There are some great moments to the film, but it is the score that is most memorable, sending us riding alongside Conan into the realm of high adventure. And while it wasn’t for everyone, those who knew and loved the character, were satisfied, and anticipated another.

More sword and sorcery next time, as I dig into the sequel, Conan the Destroyer, also featured in DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies. Pick up a copy today and find something monstrous to watch.

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