Conan the Barbarian (John Milius, 1982, USA/Spain/Mexico)


               It is hard to conceive of John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian being made in today’s cultural climate, and that is perhaps its most endearing quality. The film’s relentless testosterone – a parade of blood, guts, and sex – makes Game of Thrones seem tame. While I only have a passing familiarity with the original stories by Robert E. Howard from which the Conan mythos was created, fans of these stories seem to agree that Milius’s film is a definitive adaptation. The film was also instrumental in launching the international career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who would go onto to define the decade as one of the biggest action stars in the world.
               Conan the Barbarian is the most highly regarded film in John Milius’s 8-film oeuvre, and for good reason. The incredibly excessive sets and designs alone make the film worth watching, and presaged the comic book films we are so accustomed to seeing in theaters today. What the film lacks in intelligence, it makes up for in entertainment value. Arnold is given almost no dialogue, but his charisma is evident onscreen. Sandahl Bergman as Valeria is also the perfect embodiment of the role. Other greats including James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow (RIP) bring great color to Conan.
               Overall, the film fails to cohere in a meaningful way, but individual set pieces stand out. Once Conan starts out his mission, it is evident what it is going to happen, so the drama of the film does not have much power. The mix of Arthurian, Mongolian, Norse, and Biblical imagery is rendered well and is both unique and striking. One of the best aspects of the film is the legendary score by Basil Poledouris, whose tremendous score is perhaps as recognized as the film itself. Overall, as an example of 80s cinematic testosterone excess, Conan is worth seeking out.

7/10

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