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DVD Shopping Bag: Conan: Barbarian or Destroyer?
Our tie-in discussion of the week
By Robert Trate
August 02, 2011
Conan the Destroyer or the Barbarian?
© Universal Pictures/Bob Trate
“Let me tell you of the days of high adventure…” the Wizard/ Narrator (Mako) from Conan the Barbarian (1982). It was a time when anything and everything ran on cable television. When the likes of Conan the Barbarian truly did rule… the airwaves. Yet, for whatever reason, my own backyard adventures kept the likes of Conan the Barbarian from me. Oddly enough the adventures of Conan the Destroyer (1984) was the one that caught my attention. The reason probably being the following: the Barbarian is rated R and the Destroyer is rated PG. Mix that in with when it ran on cable (probably during the day) and a shorter run time than the Barbarian - the Destroyer probably found its way into most of our homes.
I decided that since the Destroyer is my favorite, and I never saw the Barbarian from start to finish it was time to do so. Time to give John Milius’ classic the full screening, in glorious 1080p, it deserved. That and I really have no interest in the remake.
To get this straight first and foremost I have only read a few Conan comics in my day. Most if not all of these comics came from Dark Horse (see review). So I am far from an expert on whether or not Milius’ adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s character is faithful. I was simply looking for a great adventure perhaps even a high adventure.
This is the origin story of Conan. How he became the man, the thief, the conqueror and the barbarian. The first half moves at an incredible pace and never feels as if it is dragging. The villain is quickly set up and is the catalyst for how Conan came to be. Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) longs for steal and Conan’s people make it. He annihilates everyone but the children and sells them into slavery. Conan (played first by Jorge Sanz) works, grows strong and lets his hatred keep him alive. Eventually Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the only slave child left and is sold into the gladiator games. It is a long process for Conan becoming the warrior we all know. Milius works the montage well with enough action and character development that we never feel cheated.
Conan meets a warrior woman, Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) and the two become lovers. With all their thieving and schemes they garner the attention of King Osric (Max von Sadow). The King sends them on a quest to save his daughter from Thulsa Doom and Conan finds his revenge. There are tons of great effects, albeit dated, and the Basil Poledouris’ score is as strong as the barbarian. The second half of this film however, just drags. It lacks a powerful final confrontation between Conan and Thulsa Doom and this cheapens Jones incredible performance. By the end I felt as if I went on a long adventure not a high one. I longed for that high adventure and the Destroyer Blu-ray now sits there waiting.
This was not all for not. I found several things that did make it a fun if not a long ride. As I mentioned before Basil Poledouris’ score is packed with enough muscle to take down Conan. The score perfectly suites each and every scene in the film and at one-point Poledouris keeps the three thieves at a calm pace when all the audience wants to do is charge in blindly. The power of the film score is never more prevalent than it is here.
Another treat was Sandahl Bergman’s Valeria. She is the reason Conan goes on his quest in the Destroyer but her fate in Barbarian removed her from the sequel. Yes, we get Conan the loner in the sequel; the loner with a cast of misfit warriors, but their relationship in Barbarian carried the second half of the film. This relationship fell on Bergman’s shoulder as she does all the talking. Conan says only five words to her the whole film. It is a shame she was not cast as the lead in Red Sonja (1985) where instead she played the villain.
The third and final thing I came to appreciate about Conan the Barbarian is how gritty and raw it was. Films from this era often look like studio films with sets, great lighting and catering trucks just out of frame. Conan the Destroyer looks exactly like this. Milius created a world that felt like Cimmeria, a feat in 1982 that stands the test of time.
Again this is a fun adventure/ origin story for the character Conan. Though very long in tooth at times it does have its moments. For repeat viewings I will always take the Destroyer though. Yes, that does mean I am picking Grace Jones over James Earl Jones. That film is the perfect blend of sword and sorcery featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger ever created. It truly is a high adventure featuring an evil queen, a cute sexy princess, and one crazy ass Grace Jones.
Top 5 Picks of the Week:
1. Better off Dead [Blu-ray]
2. Conan the Destroyer [Blu-ray]
3. Coming to America / Trading Places (Two-Pack) [Blu-ray]
4. The Name of the Rose [Blu-ray]
5. Magnificent Seven [Blu-ray]
ACTION / ADVENTURE / KUNG FU/ THRILLERS / WESTERNS
Braveheart / Gladiator (Two-Pack) [Blu-ray] Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Cold Weather Starring Cris Lankenau
Copycat [Blu-ray] Starring Harry Jr. Connick, Dermot Mulroney, William McNamara
Defiance / Enemy At The Gates (Two-Pack) [Blu-ray] Starring Jude Law, Ed Harris, Joseph Fiennes and Bob Hoskins
Fistful of Dollars [Blu-ray] Starring Clint Eastwood, Wolfgang Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp
For a Few Dollars More [Blu-ray] Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Luigi Pistilli
Godfather / Godfather: Part II (Two-Pack) [Blu-ray] Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton
Jackie Chan is the Prisoner Starring Jackie Chan, Andy Lau and Yu Wang
Italian Job / Shooter (Two-Pack) [Blu-ray] Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michael Peña, Rhona Mitra
Magnificent Seven [Blu-ray] Starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson
The Name of the Rose [Blu-ray] Starring Sean Connery and F. Murray Abraham
Outside the Law [Blu-ray] Starring Jamel Debbouze and Roschdy Zem
Return of Magnificent Seven [Blu-ray] Starring Yul Brynner, Robert Fuller, Julian Mateos and Warren Oates
Sleepers [Blu-ray] Starring Brad Pitt, Robert Deniro, Billy Crudup and Brad Renfro
Streetwalkin' [Roger Corman's Cult Classics] Starring Melissa Leo, Dale Midkiff, Julie Newmar and Antonio Fargas
To Walk With Lions Starring Richard Harris and Ian Bannen
Zen: Vendetta Cabal Ratking Starring Rufus Sewell
Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking [Blu-ray]
Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts Season One (Limited Edition) DVD/Blu-ray Combo Starring Greg Ayers, Alexis Tipton and Brina Palencia
Casshern Sins: Complete Series (DVD/Blu-ray Combo) Starring Eric Vale, Trina Nishimura, Jerry Russell and Paul Slavens
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part 5 [Blu-ray] Starring Maxey Whitehead, Vic Mignona, Caitlin Glass
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part 5
Maid Sama Collection 2
Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan Suzumiya & Nyoron 2
Revolutionary Girl Utena, Set 2: The Black Rose Saga L.E.
Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Season 2 S.A.V.E. Starring Carrie Savage, Monica Rial and Vic Mignona
Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Season 2 S.A.V.E. [Blu-ray]
Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: The Return of Heatblast
My Dog Tulip Starring Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave
RioStarring Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway
Rio (Blu-ray/ DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Marvel Knights: Iron Man & Spider Woman [Blu-ray] Starring Tony Stark and Spider Woman
The Super Hero Squad Show: The Infinity Gauntlet Vol. 1 Starring Tom Kenny, Steve Blum and Gerald Adler
COMEDY AND LOVE Mania Style
Better Off Dead [Blu-ray] Starring John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Demian Slade
Coming to America / Trading Places (Two-Pack) [Blu-ray] Starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche
The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story Starring David Faustino and Andrew Divoff
Evidence of a Haunting Starring Scott Evans and Robert Alford
Exit 33 Starring Kane Hodder, Antoinette Nikprelaj and Jerry Reid
The Final Destination [Blu-ray 3D]
Julie Darling Starring Anthony Franciosa
The Pit and the Pendulum (+ Digital Copy) Starring Lance Henriksen, Stephen Lee, William J. Norris
Stake Land [Blu-ray] Starring Connor Paolo, Nick Damici and Kelly McGillis
Stake Land 2 Disc Special Edition
Strigoi: The Undead Starring Constantin Barbulescu, Camelia Maxim
Vs the Dead Starring Dave Montour, Brett Hawley and Peter Bridges
Yellow Brick Road Starring Cassidy Freeman, Anessa Ramsey and Lee Wilkof
SCIENCE FICTION / FANTASY
Conan the Barbarian [Blu-ray] Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones and Ben Davidson
Conan the Destroyer [Blu-ray] Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako
Penitent Man Starring Lance Henriksen, Lathrop Walker, Andrew Keegan
Quarantine 2: Terminal Starring Mercedes Masöhn, Josh Cooke, Mattie Liptak
Spy Kids [Blu-ray + Digital Copy] Starring Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams [Blu-ray + Digital Copy] Starring Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino
Spy Kids 3: Game Over [Blu-ray + Digital Copy] Starring Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino
Eastbound & Down: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray] Starring Danny McBride, Katy Mixon, John Hawkes and Andrew Daly
Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season Starring Danny McBride, Katy Mixon, John Hawkes and Andrew Daly
Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season [Blu-ray]
United States of Tara: Third Season Starring Toni Collette, John Corbett, Rosemarie DeWitt
MST3K Vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI [Deluxe Edition] Starring Joel Hodgson
Robert Trate writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Robert also participates in a pod cast that reviews movies, comics and celebrates all things geek. Check it out at You’ve Got Geek on You.com. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings and criticisms.