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Conan the Barbarian
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Written by John Milius and Oliver Stone; directed by John Milius
Genre:   Sword and sorcery
Released:   1982
Review Date:   February 12, 2003
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

Conan the Barbarian is one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. It is part of the foundation of my nerd-related interests and beliefs, up there with Superman the Movie and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Through it, I got into Robert E. Howard books, then other sword 'n sorcery, then I played Dungeons and Dragons. From there things went horribly awry.

Lots of people like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator, as well they should. Plenty think Arnold's best role is in Terminator 2. But the coolest he ever was is here, when he could hardly speak English and his muscles were jacked to the moon. He brought Conan to life from the Marvel Comics, like Christopher Reeve did to Superman.

Conan is my favorite fantasy flick. The Lord of the Rings movies are in my top three, but they do not reveal the answer to the Riddle of Steel.

Fans of Robert E. Howard's Conan have conscientious objections to this movie. But that's OK. I think we can all agree on the awesomeness of that scene with the thundering soundtrack in which Conan practices with a giant sword.

The narration by Mako is top of the line. You don't find that anymore.

James Earl Jones has the voice of Vader, and talks about the drowning in the lakes of blood, which makes him a contender in a match with Schwarzenegger. His secret weapon is that sweet mullet.

A test of a movie's influence is how many slap-ass ripoffs it inspires. Because of Conan, Barbarian Queen, Deathstalker, and about a half zillion others were spat out. I was sure all a movie needed was bodybuilders, swords, and a sprinkling of nude women. Sadly this is not true. Conan the Destroyer and spin-off Red Sonja came nowhere close to the original.

This movie is one kicked ass after another. It's loud, visceral, cathartic, and fun. After you see it, you will feel like eating a steak and punching somebody in the mouth.

CONTEMPLATE THESE DVD DETAILS ON THE TREE OF WOE
I highly recommend watching a movie with a relative of someone who worked on it.

I watched the DVD extras with RevSF webmaster Shane Ivey and anime writer Kevin Pezzano. Kevin's uncle is Terry Leonard, a prolific movie stuntman and director whose credits include Raiders of the Lost Ark, Red Dawn, and Apocalypse Now.

The making-of extras are funny. One shows Max Von Sydow getting attacked and stabbed, but when he's supposed to bleed, this extra-loud "POW!" is heard. Presumably it explodes the that thing that contains the fake blood. It sounded like a gunshot. Maybe in the 1980s, they actually shot actors to make them bleed in movies.

The feature commentary is by John Milius, the director and co-writer, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. They get into the depiction of the characters, and the skills of the actors that played them. I like a commentary that includes people who know the most about a movie. I shall have no truck with cast or crew in commentaries who say, "Well, I guess what they were going for here was . . . ".

It sounds like Milius and Arnold are smoking cigars and drinking beer, because they get funnier throughout the movie.

Arnold talks smack about Kevin's uncle often. He says "That right there is the first time Terry got hurt doing a stunt. Except for all the other times."

Terry Leonard was married to Sandahl Bergman, who played the warrior woman Valeria, and Milius compliments Kevin's Aunt Valeria so much that it gets kind of weird. At least twice he calls her a "Valkyrie."

During the hot barbarian sex scene, Arnold said, regarding Kevin's aunt, "That was nice."

So we watched the movie, and Kevin saw his aunt naked. It seemed weird. But we muddled through.

This movie is a must-own, even if you don't know anybody who worked on it. Even Conan's spiteful god Crom would like it, but he would probably be a jerk about it.


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