The Summer of '84: Conan the Destroyer -

The Summer of '84

Mania Grade: C-

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  • Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Sarah Douglas and Olivia D'Abo
  • Written by: Stanley Mann
  • Directed by: richard Fleischer
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '84: Conan the Destroyer

"Enough talk!"

By Rob Vaux     June 30, 2014

Conan the Destroyer
© Universal Pictures/Robert Trate

 The original Conan the Barbarian displayed a fiendish paradox. It was geared towards adolescent boys, but the crux of its appeal – gratuitous violence and lots of boobies – barred those self-same boys from entering the theater. In an era where Netflix didn’t exist and video rentals were only starting to become popular, that presented quite a challenge. The solution, filmmakers reasoned, was to deliver a series of PG knock-offs that delivered the same basic formula only with the scary grown-up edges filed off. The siren song proved so tempting that even Conan himself submitted to it. Hence, Conan the Destroyer: a kinder, gentler swords-and-sorcery epic deemed safe for the core audiences while still delivering an approximation of those old thrills.

There’s only one problem. Those old thrills were kind of the purpose of the enterprise. The whole reason the target audience wanted to see the original Conan the Barbarian so badly was because of the forbidden fruit it dangled so tantalizingly in front of their eyes. Take away that fruit – or worst, deliver some safer, blander version of it – and the magic drains away. It’s like listening to George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” with the cursing bleeped out. You fundamentally miss the point.

So it is for Conan the Destroyer, despite Arnold Schwarzenegger’s swaggering return to the role that made him famous and a bevy of supporting performers seemingly made for this kind of thing. Grace Jones as a wildcat Amazon? Wilt Chamberlain carrying a spiked mace? Sarah Douglas dusting off her Superman II routine for a curtain call? Bring it on! Sadly, the story – which sends Conan on a complicated quest to help a princess fulfill her destiny – seems pulled out of a third-rate Dungeons & Dragons session rather than the we-go-to-11 mind of creator Robert E. Howard. Fight monster. Avoid trap. Figure out puzzle. Fight another monster. Collect treasure. Go home. Realize you’ve been betrayed by the angry queen who set it all up, and kill the queen’s Lovecraftian frog god by letting Schwarzenegger bellow at it. 2,000 XP for everyone and somebody can marry the princess if they want. The end.

The storyline suffers in part because it’s lazy and doesn’t understand why the first film rocked so hard. It loses the savagery: the killed-or-be killed primitivism that made Conan the Barbarian such a hoot. Instead, we get a bigger budget, more elaborate effects and decidedly fewer opportunities to give a shit. Schwarzenegger flexes his pecs, but he feels less like a bad-ass anti-hero than a loveable mug who colors outside the lines a little bit. In other words, like any other low-rent good guy instead of the cheese-tastic pulp icon he needs to be. And where Arnold goes, the whole film follows.

Director Richard Fleischer puts some flash on the surface. The sets look good and the various obstacles Conan and his buddies overcome carry some pizzazz to them. If you need something pretty on the TV in the background while you vacuum the floor, you could do a lot worse. And that again seems to violate the purpose of the exercise. We never feel like we’re in an ancient land where death stalks the unwary and only the strongest survive. Fleischer, a Hollywood veteran with over 40 years of credits to his name, simply plays it too safe for the material. We’re left watching some interesting faces wander through gussied up soundstages in search of something memorable. Fleischer repeated the trick a year later with the disastrous Red Sonja, proving that all of the experience in the world can’t help you if you fundamentally don’t understand your story.

Conan the Destroyer ultimately paid the price, turning a small profit but failing to match the surprise success of its predecessor. That and Red Sonja shut the franchise down for 30 years, while its star moved on to better things (including the role of his career just a few months later). Serious rumors about its resurrection continue today, though Schwarzenegger has publicly stated that it needs “that Milius quality” before he’ll sign on. Sounds like the big guy learned his lesson on this one, and who are we to argue with him? Adolescent power fantasies work better when you take the gloves off, something everybody seems to have figured out except Conan the Destroyer. Chalk it up to a well-meaning mistake and move on. This summer had too many good movies to waste any more of our time.


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VioLatorr 6/30/2014 9:45:30 AM

 This film was awesome.

VTGamehendge 6/30/2014 9:59:17 AM

Yeah, I loved it as a kid.  Haven't watched it in a long time though.  I have the double movie set on DVD.  Might have to blow the dust off it.

monkeyfoot 6/30/2014 10:32:08 AM

After the seriousness and depth of the first Conan movie this one was a great dissappointment for me. This one was so light and silly. It felt kind of cheap to me similar to the many low budget fantasy movies that were coming out at that time. The only consolation was the incredible cuteness/hotness of Olivia D'Abo.

ElBaz13 6/30/2014 10:57:46 AM

agree Monkeyfoot.

It was totally cheaper than the first and the forced so many Arnold one-liners. It was also a PG-13 movie so less violence and boobs than the first.

Classic example of franchises starting off R rated than becoming PG sequels and then (groan) cartoons.

Rambo, Police Academy, Robocop and Conan.


jppintar326 6/30/2014 2:03:42 PM

Haven't watched this one in a while.  The first one does still hold up because of the genuine sense of danger.  The second one is watchable but rather forgettable.

Walker 6/30/2014 2:43:16 PM

While this is supposed to be the more family-friendly Conan, the sexualization of a very underage Olivia D'abo (she was something like 14 at the time) is more objectionable than anything that happened in the first film.

boxker 6/30/2014 3:31:30 PM

I saw this before the first Conan, well at least a mjaority of it. I'd seen parts of it but my parents wouldn't let me watch it. In anycase, I loved it. Even then I knew it wasn't as intense but it was still fun. My sister's cousin's brother was one of my favorite parts and Olivia d'abo was another. I didn't know she was that young. although she was still older than me.

No, it wasn't as good as the first one but it was still better than movies like Sword and the Scorcer.

ztigr 6/30/2014 4:37:28 PM

 Still better than the last Conan.  I walked out on that piece of crap.  I loved the first Conan.  This one was okay as a kid.  I thought the mirror room was kind of neat.  


Iridan 7/1/2014 8:06:51 AM

 I agree with those who think this one was silly. That is my main beef with it rather than the PG rating. Wilt sucked and the thief was lame.

While the first definetly had a more hard edge, it also had more of a story. Conan could not let the revenge go which cost him his love. So was the revenge worth it? The first one rocks, while the second one... I agree with the C minus, but for different reasons.


Muenster 7/1/2014 8:18:49 AM

C'mon... How many times were we ever gonna see Wilt Chamberlain and Arnold Scharzenegger have a sword fight to the death?

... And Grace Jones kickin all kinds of ass as well?

It was a fun movie with an easy to follow story that came together far better than most of the crap made today.

In fact, compared to Transformers 4, Conan the Destroyer is nearly high art.

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