Conan the Barbarian - Special Edition

(Region 2 DVD)


Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, et al.
Director: John Milius
Edition Details:
Region 2 encoding (Europe, Middle East & Japan only), Widescreen, PAL

Ah, the early 'Eighties. Hollywood doesn't do violence and sex like they did back then. Take as example The Road Warrior. Or John Carpenter's The Thing. Or any teenage sex comedy back then. Notice how today's movies seldomly have any sex or violence in them anymore? It's as if the kids of today are only interested in special effects and Keanu Reeves kicking butt. No, I don't know what's wrong with today's youth either . . .

Take the original 1982 Conan the Barbarian. Rumour had it back then that Mattell made a shitload of action Conan figures to tie in with the movie back then, but backed off when they saw how violent and bloodthirsty the movie was. So they converted the dolls into He-Man (remember this TV show?) figurines instead . . .

Anyway, this Conan movie shouldn't be confused with its sequel, the campy Conan the Destroyer or any of the other Sword & Sorcery spin-offs through the years such as Kull, Red Sonya and The Scorpion King. Conan the Barbarian is pretty violent. It starts off with a scene in which a village is destroyed and we watch a man being ripped to shreds by armored rottweilers. Yup, you read that right. In the director's commentary, director John Milius says he likes starting a movie off with a bang and there's nothing like a small village being razed and pillaged. Later on there are some scenes of cannibalism and we glimpse human corpses hanging from the roof like something out of a Francis Bacon painting. No wonder one critic called the movie "Star Wars remade by a psychopath"!

However, it's one of those love it or hate it movies. I loved seeing it again after having seen it at the drive-in so many years ago - can it really be 20 years? It's a barbarian pic with pretensions - how many Dungeons & Dragons-style flicks have a quote by late 19th century existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and a score that sounds deliberately like Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky?

What discerns this movie from similar movies of its ilk, is how the director went to incredible lentghs to make everything seem seem as if it might actually work. Most of the costumes and buildings are in fact taken from various historical epochs and the movie seems like a historical epic at times. The violence is fittingly gory and over-the-top with blood spewing like geysers. Like the Porky movies back then, it is littered with topless women and/or women in skimpy outfits.

THE DISC: Man, this movie looks a lot different than I remember it! I always remember Conan the Barbarian as a dark affair in which the colors are muted and muddy, and the night scenes underlit. Here the movie looks bright: the image is crispy and clear; during some scenes I felt tempted to adjust the Brightness on my TV! For a movie this old the image is incredible - I don't think the movie even looked this good with its cinema release back then! The print used has some minor scratches and grain at the beginning, but they are really minor.

There's an interesting documentary featuring all the stars even Arnie, who had his first stitches on the very first day of filming when some dogs doubling as wolves actually gaffed him. The deleted scenes and some other material (stills, production designs) are presented rather sloppily - the deleted scenes could have done with a voice-over explaining why they weren't used for instance. The director's commentary features both the director and Arnie (!), and is quite funny at times.

WORTH IT? Apparently this is the second time that this movie has been released on DVD and this is definitely the version to check out if you want to buy it.

RECOMMENDATION: If you plan on not buying it, then this disc is definitely worth watching. Unlike its sequel, the movie takes its material seriously and never descends into comic-style camp. Even if the story is limited because of the genre it belongs to, its production designs (by Ron Cobb) and the symphonic score by Basil (RoboCop) Pouledouris are excellent. And there's the sex and violence . . .



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