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Conan The Destroyer (1984)

I’m a huge fan of Robert E. Howard and his Conan tales—which is precisely why this film was so disappointing. The first film, "Conan The Barbarian", was operatic, brutal, and unique. It was a masterpiece! But this movie, a watered-down attempt to make a talkative, family-friendly Conan, suffers the doom of all movies that defy the theme of their source material—they confuse casual fans and piss off hard core fans, leaving the movie with no fans, and no more sequels, no more franchise, no more money. Smart move, studio suits. But, but, but, they’ve got Big Arnold in the same costume, so it is Conan, right? Wrong. Let me, in a not-so-family-friendly manner, explain why.

Like D&D itself, there is plenty of source material to draw from with which to create a movie based on Conan. Instead they just made up some shit. And this stuff doesn’t give Conan the chance to be himself. He cracks jokes. He does good deeds. No sale. Conan only did what others considered virtue by coincidence. The prevailing theme in Howard’s original stories is that the barbarian has a better understanding of honor, decency and other civilized traits than the rulers of civilization with whom he is often at odds. A contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft, Howard fused his brutal, sexist stories with so much intelligence and dignity that it forced one to question the clearly drawn lines of right and wrong, society and anarchy, so much that the barbarian’s ways seemed much more appealing than those of organized, "safe" society. In short, Conan needs to be in his element, but here, he’s just walking from one Hollywood set to another (some of which were also used for "Dune", filmed at the same time).

Now, like Conan, let’s wander around a bit. First, you have the adventuring party set up like a bad D&D game—they get together for no really believable reason. Then, it’s on to the bad bluescreen when they row out to the isle of the crystal palace. Then, they make the same mistake as the D&D movie would later indulge, that of having the hero do everything while the party stays trapped outside, watching like glorified red shirts. If you’re not going to use the rest of the party for anything, why have ‘em? That 15 minutes of screen time used for silly introductions could have seen Conan raping a few more women or chopping the ears off an evil Mickey Mouse and stealing his chain-mail underwear. They’re rusted-red, after all, and Conan needs those to disguise the fact that, when swimming in ice water, his skin somehow turns red as well, not unlike if you’re in a hot tub on a movie set. The steam rising from the ice water seems a bit suspect too. But nothing makes you suspicious more than Mako’s constipation conjuration. This wizard, who once moved you with mere words, now seems like he has to grunt out a twenty footer just to get the spell components necessary to begin the real casting. This is no fault of Mako, but truly a case where both script and director gave him literally nothing to work with, a shame for such a fine actor as he.

Just like this movie gave Conan nothing to work with. He couldn’t really kill a lot of people, he couldn’t drink to debauchery or piss blood onto the camera. The musical score seems to be like a bad dream Conan keeps trying to forget, whereas in the original film you not only watched it, but listened to it. And, worst of all, since when was Conan a "destroyer"? What the fuck is that title all about? Of all the titles, why "destroyer"? Why not "Conan The Pirate", or "Conan The Conqueror", or "Conan The King"? He was all of these things at various times in his life. After the original film nicely set up where he came from (though he was never a slave), this movie should have been titled "Conan The Cimmerian", and told of his adventures throughout the Hyborian Age Europe.


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