So yeah, turns out I have never actually seen 1982’s Conan the Barbarian. Strangely enough I saw the remake from a few years back but never the original. I bought the blu ray of it more so for the legendary Schwarzenegger commentary but then it hit me that holy shit I have never actually seen this movie before. Well that is unacceptable and there hasn’t been a Schwarzenegger movie covered here yet so the commentary was put on hold until the movie had been watched.
Conan is a barbarian who sees his parents get killed in front of him as a child by James Earl Jones with a Spock mullet and two guys who look like members of Spinal Tap. He then spends the next couple of decades as a slave who does nothing but push a wheel in a circle for reasons I’m not sure of so I’ll assume it has something to do with grain. By the end he is the only slave left alive pushing the wheel which makes me feel bad for the guard on duty as now his only responsibility is to come here and watch this one guy push a wheel for hours. It’s a pretty shitty existence but it does turn him into Arnold Schwarzenegger when he grows up which is a pretty good prize at least. From there we watch as he sets out on his quest for revenge which leads to him making some friends, stabbing some dudes and boning some demons.
It’s not hard to see why this movie served as the launching pad for Schwarzenegger’s success. Sure the role only requires sporadic speaking but the lines spoken are some of the most famous in Arnold’s very quotable history. Most everybody knows what is best in life and the speech Arnold gives to their god right before his final fight. Damn does that dude ever have a presence and it was clear right from the beginning here. Yes its quite silly when he is clearly doing ADR and just yelling out Arnold grunts and yells (picture the sounds he makes at the end of Total Recall when exposed to the air on Mars) but he is perfect for this role, even if yes he sometimes looks awkward wielding a sword.
The rest of the cast is I guess fine but they can’t come close to matching the sheer force of glistening muscle that is Schwarzenegger. Valeria, the girl he meets, teams up with and I guess falls in love with, seems to only say “You want to live forever” continuously, even if the question doesn’t necessarily fit the situation. James Earl Jones is a decent villain, though he’s not really in the movie a whole lot and I defy you to find anyone with that haircut to be overly threatening. Though those of us with James Earl Jones eye fetishizes will find a lot to love here as I would say at least 5-10% of the movie is spent showing them as he gets his hypnosis on.
The two words that best describe Conan the Barbarian for me are “methodically paced”. Many scenes go on for quite some time as we watch our characters skulk around areas for minutes at a time, with no dialogue for long stretches though the score for this movie is great so that certainly helps. This movie is never in a hurry to get where it needs to go which is both a good and bad thing. I like that scenes are given a chance to breathe, a nice change of pace from the rapid fire modern editing I refuse to stop harping about. However it does lead to some scenes that go on for a weeee bit too long. The final sequence doesn’t amount to much more than Conan entering a palace, stabbing a guy and leaving but it takes more than 10 minutes I think to get from point A to point B. It’s certainly not boring, I’m not saying that, but…ok in some stretches maybe it does get a little boring.
Thankfully there’s a lot of fun shit to balance those rare moments of tedium. This movie doesn’t shy away from the red stuff as many a person (and snake) is stabbed and beheaded. I feel I need to start taking notes when I watch these movies as I definitely remember several things I wanted to highlight that have now slipped my mind. However one part I certainly didn’t forgot was when James Earl Jones is overseeing an orgy and then suddenly morphs into a giant snake and slithers away. As far as I can tell, there was no strategic advantage to doing this. Sure he manages to escape before Conan and his pals can find him but he easily could have accomplished this in human form as well. Nobody even sees him do it. Sure the transformation effects are pretty cool but man, what a random decision. Best I can figure it is he was thinking “This is a boring ass orgy. Fuck it, snake time.” He never turns into a snake ever again either, which I feel is a waste as I know I would be doing that shit all the time if I had the means.
Oh and although I haven’t watched too much of it yet, the commentary track with the director and Schwarzenegger does seem worthy of its reputation. Schwarzenegger just seems excited to be alive, getting psyched up about everything happening on screen and making observations like “Here’s the making of the sword” when the sword is being made or “Here’s the hypnotizing that he does, look at her she’s totally hypnotized” when James Earl Jones is hypnotizing a woman who is totally hypnotized. Ridiculously inane comments plus Schwarzenegger’s accent = comedy gold my friend!
Conan the Barbarian is a fun movie for sure, especially considering I’m not usually one for the fantasy genre. It’s certainly not going to make its way into my top Schwarzenegger (for the record I have copied and pasted his name every single time, I don’t have 2 minutes to devote to each one) films but it was an entertaining one that occasionally meandered a bit too much. But anything with two giant ass snakes can’t be too bad. Except the Anaconda movies. And anything with MegaSnake. Actually this may be the only good movie ever to feature two giant snakes.