Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Article 4317 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-25-2013
Directed by John Milius
Featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow
Country: USA
What it is: Sword and sorcery

A slave trained in the art of war and freed from slavery embarks on a quest to seek vengeance against the evil sorcerer who killed his family.

To my mind, Arnold Schwarzenegger was not an actor of really great range, but during the eighties, I think he was very shrewd in the way that he was able to pick out parts that played to his strengths; he is certainly an ideal choice for the title character. James Earl Jones steals the movie as the villain, Thulsa Doom, and Max von Sydow has a memorable cameo as an old king desperate to recover his daughter from a snake cult. There are also a number of moments here that deliver on the kind of action and spectacle that you’d expect and hope for from this type of story. Nevertheless, I think the movie has a few problems. It’s overlong (the action really drags in the half hour after Conan is freed), overproduced (some of the spectacle seems unnecessary), and, what surprises me most, too civilized; there are times where I feel it’s trying to be lyrical and philosophical rather than barbaric. Personally, I feel the rousing symphonic soundtrack is a mistake, especially when they use it in scenes that would benefit from a much sparer sound; the scene where Conan and friends abduct the daughter from the temple is one that comes to mind. Still, this may be the best sword and sorcery movie I’ve seen, but I’ve not seen a whole lot of competition at this point.

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