Conan (1982) … Remembered
I remember Conan the Barbarian (1982) being one of the biggest cult hits among my friends long after it came out, but it was one of those off-limits movies, as the violence, nudity, and plot kept it hidden away. I think every movie lover goes through a phase where they’re discovering older flicks, and some movies are passed around by word of mouth. Arnold hadn’t done much on the big screen at the time of Conan, but this is one of those movies I was told to see. I didn’t regret it.
I can remember liking the visual style of this movie, which has made me come back to it through repeat viewings. The music by Basil Poledouris is highly rated by critics and one of the best scores ever. It certainly fits the movie well, that’s for sure. It is so memorable.
The movie itself is like the Conan comics and books come to life. It behaves like opening a history book, and has a similar structure. I think the old jungle tales and fantasy serials have things in common with this movie, but sword and sorcery didn’t explode until the 80s, which means it was everywhere and annoying the hell out of me. Some movies were okay, but for every good one, there were ten others that were crap. It didn’t stop there either, because there were endless amounts of books, magazines, and comics too.
Fantasy movies of the 80s could be their own genre. Conan the Barbarian typifies this style, but there is some good storytelling and the characters are not cardboard-thin, for the most part. The acting is just not the best in the world, but I don’t think that’s something I expected in this movie, to be honest. I did expect drama, which is what I got.
One of the more dramatic scenes is the death of Conan’s mother and his early life. The music is just perfect at this point in the film, and it only gets better. Afterward, Arnold himself really plays up the wild Barbarian, and goes to town. Later on, the tree of woe scene and the ending are both very memorable moments.
Of course, I like analyzing things to death, so there are themes for my older self to revisit in this movie. I don’t know what it is about big muscled bodybuilder guys everyone likes so much, but the bigger and tougher they are, the more we celebrate them. Guys like The Rock, Arnold, Stallone have success because of their look. Even guys like Batista from Guardians of the Galaxy live on checks cashed because of appearance. That’s what sells this movie, pretty much. It’s all over the posters, the ads, and the merchandise.
Thinking about the celebration of the superman, there is something to be said about a “barbarian” toppling civilization and the ruling faction. Maybe the ruling faction isn’t so civilized after all, or maybe the “barbarian” is more compassionate and honorable than at first glance. All of these things could be applied to Conan, but the allure of his strength is what keeps people watching. What I remember about the “barbarian” part of this barbarian movie is that I was rooting for Arnold to kick butt and take names. Pretty simple. The visual style and the music are just a bonus.
Conan’s barbaric nature makes him different than any other character in the movie. Arnold illustrates these differences because he’s different too, with a heavy accent and a cultured way about him. His character Conan has culture, and his people worship a different god. The battle of the Gods or the influence of the Gods on Earth is a big time theme in ancient literature, and Arnold’s quest evokes the Odyssey, at least a little bit. By portraying Conan as not a follower of any regular beliefs or customs, he starts to become an anti-hero. He’s not against religion per se, he just doesn’t care either way. He’d rather be trading swords than sit around praying. He’s a tough guy and tough guys are brash, even hard to manage, but that’s okay, because they’re honorable too.
Overall, this movie is essential sword and sorcery fantasy. It’s visual style and music keeps me coming back over and over for more repeat viewings and it has a pretty good narrative from beginning to end. It celebrates Conan in a huge way and puts him over as a big anti-hero, and a lot of it is pulled right from the source material, so you can’t get more authentic than that. As Conan, Arnold defined himself on the big screen, and I feel he does a good job, despite some lackluster dialogue delivery. In the end, the barbarian may be crude, but he has its moments.