- Movie Rating -

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

| May 14, 1982

When Conan the Barbarian was over, I was smiling.  I think perhaps it had something to do with my expectations.  Going in, I expected a dusty, outdoor exercise in Renaissance Fair renderings, lots of sword fights, lots of chunks of threatening dialogue, lots of beef from the men and breast from the women.  Well, yeah, that’s here, but the filmmakers have gone to another extreme.  Somebody wanted this to be a good movie. It was charming, it was funny, it was exciting and I walked out smiling.

Arnold Schwarzenegger embellishes the role of Conan with so much heart and so much dedication to that we never sense that we are watching an actor.  He’s so into this role that we actually feel that this must be a man from the primitive past.  We even forgive his Austrian accent, which surprisingly doesn’t become a distraction.

If you know anything about Conan from Robert E. Howard’s endless book series or from the comic book (where I was introduced), then you know that his destiny is not comfort and joy.  His mother and father were murdered by the evil Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones).  He is tortured as a child until he has a mental breakdown.  His only recourse is to train his body and build his muscles until he looks like The Michelin Man.  Set out into the world as an adult he finds a lover, Valeria the Queen of Thieves (Sandahl Bergman) and a best friend, Sabutai the Mongol (Gerry Lopez)

What is notable here is that the actors cast have extra physical dimensions.  They are not just out of central casting.  Arnold, of course, is a former Mr. Universe.  Bergman was a Broadway dancer.  Lopez is a noted Hawaiian surfer.  And James Earl Jones has that presence, largely carried by his voice.  They are all outsized, all bigger than they should be and they all perfectly fit this material.

Yet, what surprised me was how much joy this movie takes with this story.  Yes, it’s a revenge story about how Conan and Valeria and Sabutai want to exact revenge on the evil Thulsa Doom, but it is done with such energy, such humor and such life that I was actually interested even when they raid Doom’s compound where an orgy is taking place.

I can see how this might have been just a dusty old sword and jerkins epic, all sword and no brain, but director John Milius apparently wanted to elevate this material above the average.  He wanted to make a good movie.  I walked away smiling, and I think that may have been the reaction he wanted.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Action