This is the film that put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map. He was already a very famous bodybuilder, but this was his first time headlining a Hollywood film. What a way to announce yourself! Conan the Barbarian is a gritty fantastical adventure that made Arnold a star and set him on his way to Terminator, Predator and True Lies. There is something about Arnold in this film, he has barely any lines of dialogue (the producers were apparently concerned about his Austrian accent and grasp of the English language), but Arnold owns the screen. He is charismatic and powerful, exactly how you would expect a savage barbarian warrior would be.
Schwarzenegger stars as the titular Conan. At a young age, his parents are murdered in front of him by the evil Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Conan winds up in a life of slavery, but fights his way out to freedom when he is old enough and strong enough to do so. He sets out to kill Thulsa Doom and avenge his parents. He fights dangerous villains in this fantasy land where magic and sorcery exist. Along the way he meets an archer (Gerry Lopez) and a thief, Valeria (Sandahl Bergman), who assist Conan in his quest to destroy Thulsa Doom.
This film is brutal and gory and still holds up over 30 years later. Schwarzenegger is great as Conan and even though he has minimal dialogue, there is enough in his performance to show the charm and leading man charisma we would eventually see later on in the 80s and 90s. I prefer some of his other films, but this is a great introduction to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is very clear from this film, he was always going on to do bigger and better things.
Surprisingly I quite like this movie. It’s not one I’d want to watch all the time, but it’s fun on occasion. Again, you may not agree with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal choices or political beliefs, but I think most would agree that he does have genuine acting talent. This movie really put him on the map as an action star. It’s silly and kitschy at times, but it led to much better action movies (Terminator, True Lies). Everybody’s got to start somewhere, right?
I definitely developed an appreciation for Conan by reading Arnie’s autobiography. If I had watched it for the first time before knowing the behind the scenes stories I would have easily written it off as stupid fantasy. But a lot of work went into creating this movie, and it was entertaining to read Schwarzenegger reminiscing about its filming. I personally respect director John Millius’ decision use practical sets and effects wherever possible. Often the special effects used in older movies causes them to age rapidly and look laughable. There a little of that here, but luckily they are few and far between. Arnold’s acting is rough, but his natural charisma shows through. He’s obviously better in later movies. However, for his first real outing his performance is pretty good, especially considering that English is his second language. He also did most of his own stunts, which I always like.
Now for the bad. As I said, there are some laughable special effects used here, but thankfully not too many. The voiceover narration by Conan’s buddy The Wizard is immediately annoying. The story is a fairly standard fantasy adventure, with a few plot points that either make little sense or are not well enough explained. There’s also the standard random female nudity, but to be fair most of the cast is pretty scantily clad. The final scene is more narration that alludes to a sequel, which I find a bit presumptuous. This was a big gamble to make, so a second wouldn’t have been a forgone conclusion.
Still, Conan is entertaining enough. It’s not my exact cup of tea, but I’m also not its exact target audience. There are enough cool fight scenes and odd touches of humor to make it enjoyable. If you don’t go into it with high expectations you won’t be disappointed.