Well, you may all hate me for this but I again find myself distracted from the New 52 mainly because of today’s date. What’s so important about May 14th you may ask? Well, technically nothing, but it also happens to be the 30th year anniversary of the release of the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian. As you may or may not know, the film was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger early roles and based on the stories by Robert E. Howard. And seeing how today is the 30 year anniversary of the film’s release, I decided to take a look back at it and see how well it holds up today.
As I’m sure you all know, the story revolves around Conan as he adventures across Hyboria and seeks revenge against the cult who massacred his family, led by Thulsa Doom, played by James Earl Jones. But enough about that. What makes this film work or what breaks it?
Well for starters we have an incredibly likeable cast of heroes and an incredibly hate able cast of villains. Schwarzenegger isn’t the best actor in action genera by any means but he and the writers still manages to make this character incredibly likeable and by the time the film ends, you really care about him and his quest for revenge. The same can be said for the characters of Valeria and Subotai. Again, they aren’t particularly well acted but by the time the final act comes around you really care about them and what happens to them. We also have Mako who serves as the film’s narrator and plays the Wizard, (who they never actually name for some reason) and he is fantastic as both. His voice is extremely commanding and powerful as the narrator and like the rest of the heroes, he is extremely likeable. From a story telling standpoint, this film doesn’t have much to offer, but I really do like the way it examines the theme of revenge and how an obsession with it will ultimately give you nothing.
Like any Arnold film, the action is great, (despite some shoddy gore effects), particularly the climactic fight with Thulsa Doom’s private army. Again, this is amplified by the fact that we actually care about the characters and makes the battle all the more tense. The cinematography, lighting, and general directorial style all hold up and it’s clear that the people involved were giving it their all. What left the biggest impression for me personally was the score. I mean, good God! Whoever wrote this and put it together deserved an Oscar because it sounds fantastic and complements everything onscreen perfectly.
However, there are some major problems with this film and they do drag it down. For starters is the plot as it’s pretty weak and it seemed like the writers weren’t sure if they wanted it to be a revenge story or an adventure story. As a result you get a narrative that just isn’t very strong story and just seemed like a bunch of random events. Not to mention there are a lot of wired plot holes in the first quarter of the film. Like, what was up with wheel and how was Conan able to fight so well despite only pushing wheel all life with no combat training? The special effects and sound editing do not hold up well at all, and you’ll be hard pressed not to notice how fake a lot of the stuff is. While the dialog was good and the characters were likeable, the acting was really bad for the most part and a lot of what they said just didn’t seem natural when the actors said it. Even the best actors in the film, (James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow), gave very lazy performances and don’t help the film at all. Thrusa Doom was also a pretty underwhelming villain and it’s pretty obvious that he had no purpose in this film other than to be a villain for Conan to kill as he didn’t appear to have any major goals.
All around, these faults do drag this film down in a big way. The narrative is sloppy, the special effects are terribly outdated, and the acting is dreadful. But despite all of this, it is an incredibly enjoyable film. The action is great, the characters are incredibly likeable and the score is incredible and knows how to move the film at a good pace. I think that like a lot of other Arnold films it goes under the guilty pleasure category. Like the stories it technically isn’t what you would call “good” but it is more than worth ones time and I recommend that you see it at least once in your life.