Release Date: April 2nd, 1982 (Sweden)
Directed by: John Milius
Written by: John Milius, Oliver Stone
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Gerry Lopez, Mako, William Smith, Max von Sydow
Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Edward R. Pressman Productions, Universal Pictures, 129 Minutes
“Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to Hell with you!” – Conan
Conan the Barbarian is a hard movie to top in the sword and sorcery sub-genre of fantasy. It really set the standard in 1982 and it also spawned innumerable ripoff films, mostly from Europe and mostly schlock. A few wannabe Conan pictures were good but there’s too many to address when I’m here to specifically review this film.
This is also the superior Conan film, as its sequel didn’t live up to this one and its remake, decades later, was lacking the lightning in a bottle that made this film special.
When I was a young boy, I looked up to this film. I looked up to Conan and his struggle and his fight to seek out justice for himself and eventually, the world he lived in. In 2018, this would be considered a film that exudes “toxic masculinity” while being dismissed as shit by third wave feminists and male apologists. Sorry, but Conan, even fueled by revenge, was a flawed hero that went on to be a king, against all odds, and continually vanquished the evil in his world. In fact, this film got me into reading Conan comics, as well as the original stories by Robert E. Howard.
Conan the Barbarian is a balls out, unapologetic action film about one badass dude that’s not just going to take the bullshit of tyrants.
Now the film, like its title character, has its flaws. But compared to other big action movies of the time, those flaws aren’t as bad and not as apparent.
The acting is what you would expect from a Schwarzenegger film, the direction is much better than average and the special effects are actually great for a 1982 film that didn’t have a massive budget.
The thing that really makes this film more superb than it would have otherwise been is the score by Basil Poledouris. Conan the Barbarian has one of the coolest and most powerful themes in film history. It isn’t just the title theme that’s great though, it’s the music throughout the entire picture. It just sets the mood and pacing right. It accentuates the action and subtly gives life to the slower bits.
My only real complaint about the film is it does feel drawn out too long. They could have fine tuned it, whittled it down by 15 minutes and it probably would have moved at a brisker, more energetic pace. There are a lot of action sequences and there are a few moments where you feel like you’ve reached the big finale, only for the film to stretch on more. But don’t get me wrong, all the action bits are damn solid.
The opening sequence of this film is powerful, beautiful and breathtaking. It is the best shot and best paced sequence in the entire movie but it really draws you in and makes you want to go on this long journey with the hero. James Earl Jones, no matter how many times I have seen this scene, is still absolutely chilling.
Conan the Barbarian is a film that couldn’t be made in quite the same way that it was in 1982 with Hollywood politics being what they are.
Although, I could be wrong about that, as the new Conan the Barbarian comic by Marvel surprised me in how badass and brutal its recent first issue was. But maybe that’s only because it speaks to a particular audience that Marvel knows they’d lose if they messed with the formula.
Pairs well with: Conan the Destroyer, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.