Summer Of The 80’s: Conan The Barbarian

Summer of the 80’s is a new weekly column that will run from now until the end of August in which I watch a movie released during the summer movie season of the 1980’s that I’ve never seen before.  Every Friday, I’ll write about an 80’s movie that came out on the same day, or near the same day, that correlates with the post here on the site.  So follow me as I travel back in time to discover my lost summer at the movies.

About the movie

Conan the Barbarian was released on May 14, 1982 by Universal Pictures.  It was directed by John Milius, who went on to direct Red Dawn, and was written by Oliver Stone and Milius.  It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Max Von Sydow and James Earl Jones.  It’s budget was estimated at $20 million and it opened to $9.6 million opening weekend in the U.S. before going on to gross nearly $69 million worldwide.

Tagline

He conquered an empire with his sword.  She conquered HIM with her bare hands.

My thoughts

Being a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’m even perplexed as to how I’ve missed out on Conan the Barbarian for so long.  While this film wasn’t Arnold’s first movie, it is the one that turned him into a Hollywood star and launched the career that we all know of today.  Oddly enough, I almost think that his role as Conan may be one of his better and more understated performances.  I wouldn’t call Arnold an actor of depth, he can be really cheesy (in a good way) or just really fit the part, like with Conan or the Terminator.  John Milius did a great job directing Arnold to be more stoic and just let his on-screen presence lend itself to the character of Conan.  There are very few times in the movie that Arnold actually speaks and I have to say, I like that Conan doesn’t have to say much and reveals himself through his actions.

While Arnold may not speak a lot during the movie, the rest of the cast don’t have all that much more to say as the film is surprisingly lite on dialogue for the most part.  There are definitely scenes that are dialogue intensive, like with Max Von Sydow’s character, who I’d almost bet has more things to say in his small part than all the combined roles in the movie.  However, the fact that the movie has long moments where nothing is being said is actually an element of the film that I really enjoyed.  It almost felt like a silent sword and sandal adventure fantasy and was kind of refreshing to see something like that.

The greatest element of Conan the Barbarian is absolutely Basil Poledouris’ score.  It single-handedly brings so much texture and gravitas to the film and is just stunningly beautiful to listen to.  Combined with John Milius’ great direction and Arnold’s presence, I think the movie could have had no dialogue whatsoever and it would still be a rousing good time.  It’d be impossible for me to judge, as I’ve not heard all of his work, but I feel like I could probably say that this is the best score of Poledouris’ long career.  If someone knows of something he’s done that is better, let me know, I’d want to hear it.

So with my quest for seeing 80’s movies I’ve not yet seen, I hold out the hope that some of the films provide some great 80’s cheese or moments that I feel couldn’t happen, or that you just don’t see,  in today’s films.  While Conan the Barbarian takes place in a different era than the 80’s, it did provide me with some pretty fun moments.  I was rather happy when a drunk Conan, or at least I think he was drunk, punches a camel in the face and knocks it out!  Oh, man, that was brilliantly random and provided a good laugh.  There was also a fun, kind of weird, but badass moment where Conan has been tied up and a vulture is trying to peck at him, so he does what every human being naturally thinks of.. grabs ahold of the vulture’s neck with his teeth, tearing it up until it is dead.  There is also a bit of animation in the film, since CG wasn’t really a tool of the trade back then, and I have to say that while it stands out (because it’s animation in a live-action film) it actually was pretty cool.  There were some animated demons that were trying to steal Conan’s body or soul and Valeria and Subotai had to wrestle them off him.  I thought the effect worked rather nicely.  Then of course, there’s the demon chick that Conan beds where he literally “pumps” information out of her before she reveals her demony face and he quickly throws her in the fire.  The very definition of a one-night stand, in fantasy world of course.. right?

Overall, Conan the Barbarian is a great popcorn adventure film that holds up pretty well against today’s standards and showcases Arnold’s star power.  It’s a great example of a sword and sandal epic that could only have been done in the days before CG took over.  If you haven’t seen the film, hop aboard this barbarian train and give the film a go.  I’m curious about watching Conan the Destroyer, though not because I hope for a quality sequel (I’ve heard it’s pretty terrible) but because I’m hoping it appeals to the part of me that loves bad movies.  Conan the Barbarian, however, supercedes its sequel’s reputation and provides quality fun, plus you get to see James Earl Jones sport a wicked haircut.

Trivia

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman ended up doing their own stunts due to the fact that body doubles could not be found.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had to cut down on his workout regimen since his arm and chest muscles were so big that he couldn’t properly wield a sword.

The runes on Conan’s father’s sword are translated as.. “Suffer no guilt, ye who wield this in the name of Crom.”

In an interview, John Milius said that the dogs that were used in the film were very unfriendly and dangerous.  He even went as far to say, “When you had the dogs chasing Arnold Schwarzenegger and he’s running, he’s actually running for his life because he knew those dogs were very dangerous and they even attacked their trainer”.

Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone were considered for the lead role.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that during the crucifixion scene, they used a live vulture to peck at his wounds.  Then for the close up, they used a real dead vulture they found for him to actually bite into its throat.  After they cut, they immediately had Arnold rinse his mouth out to avoid disease.

Although Conan and Valeria are shown together frequently throughout the movie, he only speaks five words to her in the entire film, which are all in the first 30 seconds after they meet: “You’re not a guard”, and “No”.

by Ben McBride

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4 Comments on “Summer Of The 80’s: Conan The Barbarian”

  1. NICK May 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    This has been in my Netflix queue forever! Odd that I haven’t seen it yet! Great idea for a blog series!

  2. Ben McBride May 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    I haven’t seen the remake myself, I remain a little cautious of it but maybe I’ll have to check it out sometime.

  3. Richard W Scott May 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    I must have seen this in a theater, but it’s been so long, I don’t recall for sure. I have seen it several times on the smaller screen, and enjoyed it quite a bit.

    I just recently saw the remake (rented, not on the big screen), and was impressed with it, as well.

  4. saymber May 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    This is one of our favorite Arnold movies also along with the Terminator series.

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