In this installment of Action Movie Mondays, I’ll be covering the entire Conan saga from Conan the Barbarian to Conan the Destroyer and including Red Sonja. What’s that you say? Red Sonja isn’t a Conan movie? Fun fact number one: you’re an idiot. Fun fact number two: this film was intended to feature Conan, but they did not have the rights to his name so while “Kalidor” may wear slightly more clothing than Conan, he is clearly the same character. We’ll speak of this more later.
Film: Conan the Barbarian
Character: Conan the Barbarian
Favorite Line: “Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.”
Number of Beers I drank while watching this: 0
Number of Beers needed to enjoy this: Absolutely 0, but I feel like several may enhance the righteous rage and feelings of power this movie induces so I would highly recommend that you have no less than six Molson XXXs in future viewings
This is the origin story of one of the most kickass characters in film. The movie opens with a quote from Nietzsche that’s pretty deep considering the shallow waters of Swords and Sorcery we’re about to wade into. The movie begins with the worst blue screen of all time featuring a Viking blacksmith talking to his son about the God of Steel, Crom, who I have also decided to adopt as my own personal deity. If you have access to the Director’s Commentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger, I would definitely recommend giving it a listen as in this very first scene of the movie, you already get some gems. John Milius is clearly stoned and Arnold makes fun of the kid portraying him relentlessly for looking like he’s wearing lipstick. The commentary only gets better from there and it makes this film infinitely more enjoyable.
So anyway, James Earl Jones and his band of raiders come along and destroy Conan’s entire village for….reasons? They don’t seem to take anything, they kill literally everyone, and just kind of leave. The only survivor is Conan, a mercy the raiders will someday live to regret.
Excuse us, do you have any bowls we might borrow? Our hair is quite difficult to maintain.
Conan spends untold years pushing the least efficient mill imaginable and becoming quite jacked in the process. Eventually, in what has to be one of the most common Dungeons and Dragons character origin stories of all time, Conan is forced to become a pit fighter/gladiator. He becomes a brutal killer, looking like a cross between Shao Kahn and the gimp from Pulp Fiction. He is schooled in all forms of martial art and taught to read and write, which is not important to the story in any way, but good for him. Reading is important.
At some point, his master tires of Conan’s winning and overall badassery and frees him from his captivity because if you truly love someone, set them free. It is at this point that the true adventure begins. I won’t go into all of his adventures in detail as I think bullet points would suffice. He slaughters an entire pack of wolves (and dresses in their furs), has sex with a witch and throws her into a fire (and haven’t we all had that one night stand we immediately regret?), meets an interesting cast of characters, punches out camels, kills snakes, and eventually gets his revenge on James Earl Jones.
Yes, this is a thing that happens
The plot of this movie is basically a D&D campaign. I imagine it was written by two teenage boys who alternated between masturbating to Frank Frazetta paintings and typing the script. I like to imagine John Milius DMing a gaming session with the actors and then immediately shooting the results of their rolls. The movie feels like everything you imagine a D&D session to be, including the long breaks to travel between locations where nothing much happens at all interspersed with gory, over the top violence, bloodlust, and treasure hunting. Conan the Barbarian is a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite what the commentary from John Milius would have you believe.
And Schwarzenegger? What a difference 13 years makes! Although still not a great actor by any stretch of the imagination, he can at least speak somewhat intelligible English at this point. He is probably at his most jacked for the Conan movies, having won the Mr. Olympia contest in 1980. Of the 13 Mr. Olympia contests between Hercules in New York and the release of Conan the Barbarian, Arnold won 7 of them. This is an amazing feat for anyone, let alone someone who was simultaneously trying to become a successful actor. The best is still yet to come for him acting-wise, but he is clearly at his most physically intimidating status in this film.
Contract Negotiations were Tense
Film: Conan the Destroyer
Character: Conan the Destroyer
Favorite Line: Most of his dialogue is quippy responses in this weird script. In the very first scene, his rogue friend character Malak says “But we didn’t steal everything” to which Conan says “We didn’t have time.” In a movie bereft of cool dialogue, I guess this is the best I’m going to get.
Number of Beers I drank while watching: Unfortunately, 0
Number of Beers required for enjoyment: A sizable count
If Conan the Barbarian was a good session of Dungeons and Dragons, Conan the Destroyer is a lame session that you had to keep PG because your mom made you let your little brother play. After the success of E.T., the studio decided that family friendly movies were more profitable and they decided to take Conan and try to make it a fun adventure for the whole family so they included childish scenes like this:
I’m not saying they were wrong, but….they were wrong. And stupid. This movie turned Schwarzenegger off to an entire genre of films. Had he not already agreed to be in Red Sonja, this would have been his last fantasy film. He completely lost interest in making Conan the Conqueror (a film that would go on to become epic shitfest Kull the Conqueror). He vowed to never make another non-contemporary movie after the experience of making Conan the Destroyer, and it’s hard to disagree with his sentiment.
Look, half of Conan the Barbarian was traveling around and being boring, but the other half was all tits and swords and awesomeness. Now change that second half to horrible slapstick comedy, nonsensical “witty” dialogue, and stupidity and you’ll have Conan the Destroyer. They literally took the half of the equation that was working and decided to nix it in favor of shit that I’m assuming was supposed to sell toys. Making family friendly movies is fine, but it makes literally no sense for a character whose entire basis is fighting, fucking, and stealing shit.
It might sound like this movie was utterly horrible, but there were still some high points and Destroyer might be a more entertaining film than Barbarian overall. Conan punches out another camel, there is still a lot of gratuitous violence and gore, and it’s still got a decent action/adventure feel to it, but one still has to wonder how much better this movie could have been if Richard Fleischer and Arnold Schwarzenegger had been able to stick to the original script from Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway instead of the bullshit the studio made them make. Further, one has to wonder how many more awesome Arnold Schwarzenegger fantasy movies we would have gotten if the studio had just stuck with what was working.
Film: Red Sonja
Favorite line: “If you only yield to a conqueror, then prepared to be conquered, little Sonja”
Beers I drank while watching this: 0
Beers required for enjoyment: Preferably, many more
Before I start to talk about this movie, I want to talk about my fun theory. We know the real reason that Arnold doesn’t play Conan in this film is because the studio didn’t have the rights to use the characters name, but I have an alternate theory: Kalidor states at some point in the film that he is the king of a land whose name I can’t remember and don’t care about. It’s directly stated by the narrator of both Conan movies that that he would eventually become a king. Kalidor is future Conan. So why isn’t he using his real name? Obviously, Conan is on the prowl for some strange. His pure animal desires cannot possibly be sated by a single female so he must journey far to a temple inhabited solely by women. When he finds them all murdered, he tracks down the only other woman in the entire world and makes it his entire mission to “sheathe his sword” in her. As a King, he can’t really use his real name lest it get back to his Queen, so he makes up some bullshit name for the purposes of plausible deniability, but he maintains his title because chicks dig power. In short, Conan is a genius.
This movie is essentially a female-led version of Conan starring Brigitte Nielsen in the title role, complete with vengeance quest, a cast of quirky characters (including a young Ernie Reyes Jr. and some dude from Brooklyn), and ridiculous swordplay. Red Sonja’s family is murdered by an evil witch and she is raped and left for dead. She doesn’t die, becomes a swordmaster, and seeks revenge on the evil Wizardess.
Red Sonja has trouble doing basically anything that doesn’t involve swinging a sword around or doing gymnastics at odd times. Thankfully, Conandor shows up at some point to mansplain everything to her and fix all of her problems, which should be pretty offensive but somehow isn’t because Red Sonja is a terrible character made more terrible by Brigitte Nielsen’s awkward performance. It’s truly shameful because this is definitely at the peak of Brigitte Nielsen’s hotness and there’s not much hotter to nerds than a smoking hot chick swinging a sword, but the character’s sheer incompetence paired with Nielsen’s wooden performance along with what is essentially a watered down version of the plot from Conan the Barbarian make this nearly unwatchable.
Some good did come from this movie, though. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen had an affair on set. You can basically see them eyefucking the shit out of each other the whole movie, and can you imagine what that seduction must have sounded like?
Kalinan: WAHGFFHGHHG I WANT TO PUT MY PENIS IN YOUR VAGINA WAHGIHDHGG
Sonja: Yes, your penis in my vagina I would like to be having please.
Also, do yourself a favor and do a Google Image search for “Red Sonja Cosplay”. You’re welcome! Tune in next week for a very special Action Movie Project update where I will devote an entire post to one of my favorite movies ever and the reason I refuse to wear underpants: Commando!