This is the place to discuss the new, big-budget, CGI-filled, 3-D Conan film starring Jason Momoa— but our flashback Saturday Review examines the 1982 breakout hit featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Conan the Barbarian

Available from Amazon.com

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by John Milius
Written by John Milius, Oliver Stone, and Edward Summer, from stories by Robert E. Howard.

Cast

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan
James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom
Max von Sydow as King Osric
Sandahl Bergman as Valeria
Ben Davidson as Rexor
Cassandra Gava as the Witch
Gerry Lopez as Subotai
Mako as the Wizard
Valérie Quennessen as the Princess

Full Cast and Crew information is here.

Premise:

In a distant, mythic past1, the definitive twentieth-century Sword and Sorcery hero sets out after a powerful sorcerer

High Points:

The filmmakers may have strayed in some respects from Robert E. Howard’s original stories, but they took the material on something like its own terms. Strong actors deliver Howardlike dialogue with conviction, stunning, operatic music accompanies the action, and the production values remain fairly high throughout. The resulting film holds up remarkably well– if the audience meets it on its own terms.

Low Points:

The story seems disjointed in places, and the scene with the witch seems to have been added to guarantee the R rating.

The characters have their own integrity, but they are hardly deep.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 It’s an adaptation, but it came out at a time when sandal epics and sword and sorcery had become rare movie fare. It’s also a very loose adaptation, true to the spirit of Howard’s character (thanks in part to their willingness to accept an R rating), but featuring many elements (including the villain) taken from his non-Conan stories, and the screenwriters’ own heads.

Effects: 4/6 For the time, the effects are good. The healing sequence is the sort of thing that would be knocked off by some CGI people today; Conan achieved impressive results without that technology.

Story: 4/6 Slow-moving, initially, and filled with some odd sidetrips, this nevertheless holds up. Certainly, this works better than most films in its specific genre.

Acting: 5/6 They knew what they were doing here. Schwarzenegger, who had previously appeared in the documentary Pumping Iron and the dubbed disaster Hercules Goes Bananas (better-known as Hercules in New York, but the “bananas” title gives you a better idea of what to expect) receives as little dialogue as they could get away with, given that he’s the lead, and the rest of the parts go to strong actors, both established and unfamiliar. People expected good work from James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow, and they do well with their overly serious, oft-hyperbolic lines. The big surprise was Sandahl Bergman, whose performance as Valeria could well be the inspiration for Xena. She also did her own stunts.

Production: 5/6 Conan has a remarkable original score. The film also makes effective use of locations.

Emotional Response: 4/6 How close can you bring your mind to the level of an overly-serious thirteen-year-old boy?

Overall: 5/6

In total, Conan the Barbarian receives 30/42.

Consequences

Ah-nold became famous and went on to star in a string of hits, many in the fantasy and SF genres. He then had a political career.

The film received a bigger-budgeted sequel, an uneven and campy romp with some highly unusual casting. It did not meet box-office expectations, and the proposed Third Film of the Trilogy was never completed.

Many, many generally bad Sword and Sorcery epics followed.

And, of course, a big-budget 2011 remake. How’d the Bureau find that?

Note

1. Sword and Sorcery stories take place in a nebulous period between the Rise of homo sapiens and the Fall of Rome.