J.D. Lafrance
Conan the Barbarian: Special Edition DVD Review

Conan the Barbarian: Special Edition

October 26, 2005

Director: John Milius,
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gava, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Valérie Quennessen, William Smith, Luis Barboo, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

Originally conceived in 1932 as a comic book character, Conan built his status and finally became a movie in 1982. But this is no comic book superhero movie – Conan does not have superpowers, he is just big and strong. Conan is the anti-hero, he does not make inspirational speeches, he has sex with various gorgeous women, he’s a thief, and he gets stoned and is all about his own personal goals. The anti-hero is the sort of thing that Hollywood was scared of with Daredevil, Punisher and Hellboy, but Conan was well before that time and has been left unscathed in all of his camel punching glory.

In a fictitious time that pre-dates history, known as the Hyborean Age, lives a man-mountain of muscle, who wields a broadsword and takes no crap from any man, woman or beast. As a child, Conan witnesses the destruction of his village by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), his father being savaged by armored rotwiellers and the decapitation of his mother. This brutal opening scene powers the story of strength and revenge, and sets up the gateway into an Adventure/Fantasy world of witches, demons and 34 foot long snakes.

With little Conan gown up into the shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he befriends a group of thieves and goes on a stealing spree through the local civilizations until coming across the symbol of Thulsa Doom’s snake cult. With revenge on his mind for the massacre of his people, Conan puts his strength and skills to the test as he kicks butt all the way to Thulsa Doom’s temple.

One of the amazing things about this film is the musical score. Replacing a lot of the dialogue and lengthy explanation babbling with horn-dominant orchestral themes, works so well against the beautiful locations and sets. Whether it is snow covered villages, massive temples or vast open deserts, it all looks like a primordial painting that easily lends itself to the vicious nature of the battle scenes. The fights are not slick, glossy and full of wire driven maneuvers or in slow motion like the action movies of today. Conan is a master swordsman and his violence is very raw, primitive and natural as he lays a good old fashion beating on his adversaries, usually resulting in a good dose of blood and missing limbs. On the odd occasion that there is dialogue it’s generally very poetically written and spoken. The audience might have to do some work to interpret it into something they can make sense of and use it to fill in the gaps left by those missing waffle scenes.

In the last 23 years Conan has hardly aged at all, with the exception of the odd special effect and atrocious wig, and the themes of the story are all still very recognisable in today’s society. That that does not kill you, can only make you stronger, is the line that opens the film and is something that every single person can identify with, and probably one of the main reasons for the continued admiration for the Conan story. Some of the effects look slightly dated, but none of the limb hacking looks naff or considered comic and it’s very refreshing to see a comic book-to-movie conversion that isn’t riddled with computer wizardry and tight rubbery suits.

Taking into account the dexterous merging of the cinematography, musical score and poetic conveyance of the script, Conan the Barbarian is a work of art with muscle bound violence and appropriate dashings of humour and sexiness.

Special Edition:

This Special Edition release is a two disc set and is unimpressive as it only holds one extra feature over the one disc special edition that’s already on release. However, this new feature is newly filmed stuff but only lasts twenty minutes, there is no Arnie and is nothing compared to the previously released ‘Unchained’ feature which is also on this disc. The commentary from Arnie and director John Milius is very friendly to the ears and open about the troubles, accidents and fun they had making the film, they even mention the original submitted script by Oliver Stone. Three deleted scenes, one of which is more of a blooper where Arnie loses his footing on a rock he is climbing and the chasing dogs’ catch-up. Also included are production notes and stills. Being the second special edition, the extras should have been more exciting.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 81%



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