Revisiting 1982 – Conan the Barbarian

It is time for the seventh entry in my year-long series in which I revisit some of the most classic films to be released 30 years ago in the year 1982 (the year of my birth).

For the second month in a row, the film I will be discussing will be film I saw at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of their summer series on the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.  This time it is the film that made Schwarzenegger a known name – Conan the Barbarian. As always, there may be SPOILERS in this discussion.

Let’s begin.

This film was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first major film roles and along with The Terminator, released two years later, it helped to make Schwarzenegger one of the biggest action stars of the 1980s and 1990s.

This was my first time seeing the film and I constantly observed two things – the film was cheesy as hell and horribly dated (which only made it more cheesy).  That said, the campy tone only helped to add to the fun of the film.

One thing I noted was that there was barely any dialogue for the first act of the movie and that Schwarzenegger gave a mostly silent performance for the first half hour or so.  There was narration throughout by the character of The Wizard, who is one of the many characters in the film that seemed to perpetrate Asian stereotypes.  Speaking of stereotypes, this is definitely not a feminist movie, since most of the women in the film (including the lead Valeria) are objectified in some way and often end up in bed with Conan.

The film has a somewhat basic revenge story with Conan wanting to find the man who killed his parents.  This man is the character of Thulsa Doom, played by James Earl Jones.  He is definitely one of the least prominent villains I have seen in a film, with most of the dirty work being handed to one of his two main henchmen.  Doom appears briefly in the film’s prologue and doesn’t appear again for nearly an hour.  It’s also a shame that a man with such a powerful voice as James Earl Jones only has two major dialogue scenes.  At least he has more to do than Max Von Sydow, who makes what is essentially a cameo that sets the plot into motion.

Another observation I have about the film is that most of the major battle scenes don’t happen until late in the film.  It’s almost humourous watching now-outdated battle scenes that show people getting essentially knocked over with the sword prop, with the occasional blood spurt.  Some of the better gore effects are saved until the end of the film when one of Thulsa Doom’s henchmen get impaled in a track or when Doom himself is finally decapitated by Conan.

There is a more fantastical element to the film that it only really skimmed on.  At one point Conan fights with a giant snake and there is even a moment when Thulsa Doom inexplicably transforms into a python.  After Conan is injured and left for dead, there is a ceremony performed by The Wizard, which results in these (clearly animated) red spirits to show up and try to claim Conan.  Finally, in the most head scratching moment, Valeria returns from the dead during the final battle to help out Conan.

I will finish off my discussion with a video of the most humourous moment in the film – Conan Punching a Camel:

Next month we move back into the science fiction realm as I will be checking out the original TRON.

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).