Thursday, August 21, 2008

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian; fantasy, USA, 1982; D: John Milius, S: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, James Earl Jones, Mako, Max von Sydow, Cassandra Gava
The Iron Age. A Cimmerian village is invaded by an evil warrior tribe led by Thulsa Doom. They kill the parents of a young boy, Conan, who is sent to slavery. As an adult, Conan gained muscles and was sold as a gladiator, until his master grants him freedom. During his travels, he meets thief Subotai and Valeria, falling in love with her. By accident, they are brought to King Osric who begs them to rescue his daughter who entered a religious cult led by Thulsa Doom. After huge losses, Conan is able to enter Thulsa's fortress and kill him, rescuing Osric's daughter.

After the debacle with "Flash Gordon's" movie version, Italian producer Dino De Laurentis once again decided to adapt a comic book to the big screens, and this time he didn't choose wrong - "Conan the Barbarian" grossed 38 million $ at the US box office and to make things more relevant, some critics who conducted a poll about the best movies of the 80s, even awarded it with 1st place. "Conan" really isn't such a trash as it seems: despite its cheap story, right-wing tendencies and pulp repertoire, director John Milius managed to add deeper layers and create almost a philosophical essay about life and loss. Thulsa Doom is a fascinating villain: he starts off trying to conquer territories by banal military invasions, by force and violence, but later on, in the second half of the film, switches to a different strategy, to a conquest of the mind, figuring that an ideology (in this case, his religious cult) is much more effective at controling a population. When Thulsa Doom kills his mother, the little Conan just takes a gentle look at his empty hand that held her just a second ago. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't make a lot of excellent films - just four to be exact - but this was his first and the first one that gave him a role where he could act in a solid way, by leaning more on gestures than on his (shaky) accent.

"Conan" is one of the very few films that deserve a better grade just for their enchanting dialogues - some lines in the story are pure poetry and wisdom in one, the script has really some of the best written sentences of the 80s. For instance, after Conan has been an insignificant slave all his life and starts to work as a gladiator, he gets praise of the audience for the first time in his life, and the narrator sums up beautifully the whole moment by just two words: "He mattered". When Valeria and Conan meet King Osric who offers them as many jewels as they want as long as they bring back his daughter from the evil Doom, they are confused, but he explains his sentiment to them: "There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes an empty prison cell... And all that is left is a father's love for his child". It's one of the most amazing things ever spoken, and it's really surprising so little people quote it or know of it. Or when Valeria says to Conan: "Kiss me. Let me breathe my last breath into your mouth" or when Doom tells him: "When I am gone, you will have never been. What would your world be, without me?" It's too bad that the middle part of the film is lethargic, profane and overstretched while some random scenes make no sense, yet "Conan" is a realistic version of sword and sorcery genre.


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