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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Conan The Barbarian


Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max Von Sydow and Sandahl Bergman
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 11 July 2011

Born of violence and brutality the young Conan is sold into slavery after snake worshiping warriors overrun and obliterate his village in search of the mystery behind the creation of steel. Grown to impressive manhood, Conan gains his freedom and goes looking for the men who had killed his parents. Gathering together with a band of successful thieves and vagabonds, the group is given a mission to rescue his daughter from the clutches of a local ageless warlock who Conan discovers is the self-same snake worshiper...

Conan The Barbarian (1982 - 2 hr, 10 min, 10 sec) is a sword and sorcery epic, adapted from the original novel by Robert E. Howard and directed by John Milius, who co-wrote the script with Oliver Stone. The films score by Basil Poledouris is still considered today as an exemplary example of classical music as film score. The film won two awards and was nominated for a further seven.

The film was produced by the great and now sadly late Dino De Laurentiis who produced more than one hundred and fifty films during his career, films which touched every genre. Dino De Laurentiis was the ultimate film fan and as such he enthusiastically approached each film, no matter how large or small.

Before you watch Conan, if you have not already had this pleasure, you have to remember that there are many types of films. Some explore the existential angst of man’s place in the meaningless of creation (don’t bring first dates to those) and you have films which have oiled down muscle men, barely clad babes and a lot of uber-violence set to a rousing orchestral score, in other words a pure piece of entertainment, anyone expecting Conan to be the first type of film is likely to be very disappointed.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born to play certain role well, roles which required the minimum of speech and the maximum of muscle. In both Conan and The Terminator Schwarzenegger is more a force of nature than he is a man, unstoppable and distinctly missing in morals. That is not to say that Conan does not have his own Hyborian Age code of conduct, if killing your enemies, destroying their towns and raping their women, all in Crom's name. The mythical Hyborian age is brutal and only the swift or brutal are likely to survive.

For what could have been a bit of old schlock, Conan actually can boast a witty script, mostly played straight, some great actors James Earl Jones (Thulsa Doom) who even does an early version of "I am your father" for Conan, Max von Sydow (King Osric) and of course Arnie. Production values are high and although Milius had just finished his stint on Apocalypse Now, there is little of that film's ambience found her. What can’t be disguised is the paper thin script, which really can be condensed into a single paragraph. But, like I said, if you’re looking for the meaning of life this is probably not the film for you.

It is an English peculiarity that all the versions of the film which have been shown have been cut. No! I hear you cry, the censors cut the nudity and general sexual shenanigans - nope - well they must have cut some of those scenes which contained over the top violence, but once again no. In its most complete form the censor objected to some scenes of horses being killed, so a win for the sex and violence lobby I feel.

So, what we have here is the cut UK Theatrical version, presented with a 5.1 DTS-HD audio track as well as nine other European 5.1 tracks, plus subtitles in twenty-six languages. The film has aged fairly well except for an amount of grain which would have been in the original.

The extras include a commentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger and director John Milius which was nominated for an award. It’s a good natured piece with some interesting tit bits about the film.

You get a bunch of deleted scenes (5 min, 27 sec) which is a mixture of bland and interesting. Art of Steel: Sword Makers and Masters (14 min, 37 sec) is a look at how real swords are made from beginning to end. The piece also looks at modern sword masters. Conan: From the Vault (10 min, 17 sec) has some newly discovered interviews, which haven’t been seen in the last thirty years. The originals were shot in 1982 and include Arnie, Milius, James Earl Jones and Sandahl Bergman.

Conan Unchained (53 min, 11 sec) is the main extra, a nearly hour long documentary about making the film, with contributions from cast and crew, and showcases the movie from initial idea to finished film. In quality it’s an above average piece. Conan: The Rise of a Fantasy Legend (18 min, 24 sec) looks at Conan’s origins in the mind of Howard.

Special Effects: Split Screen Video (1 min, 37 sec) is a small comparison of Conan’s revival, from the dead, with and without the effects. The Conan Archives (11 min, 46 sec) has no explanation or narration, but looks to be production art for the film. Lastly, if you not exhausted there are two original theatrical trailer for the film.

Love it or loath it Conan is a great romp.


Charles Packer

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