Monday, September 14, 2009

“His horn is his life! Tear out the horn!”

1984 brought Conan, and Arnold, back to the big screen. The success of the movie made a sequel inevitable, but with a different director, writing team, tone and a PG rating as opposed to R, the follow up didn’t really go for a similar feel to the original. The end result was Conan the Destroyer, an altogether lighter film in the franchise that isn’t nearly as fondly remembered as the first one.

Our hero is summoned before a powerful queen to perform a task for her. He is to escort a princess on a coming-of-age quest to recover (steal) an ancient artifact. In return, he is promised that his (spoilers, yo) lost love will be restored to life. A party of adventurers ventures forth on an ADVENTURE! and there are of course, betrayals.

Conan: Still the main character, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the muscle-bound Hyborian Hero. True to the title, he destroys quite a few things, is still a thief and adventurer, but the film has a much less bleak attitude toward his character. Still, they reconnect to the first movie by having his entire motivation for the quest his desire to bring back the woman he loved. It’s a nice touch, and you get to see Conan in much more of a leadership position as he tells people what to do. He’s still very much a badass, punching out the SAME CAMEL from the first movie, and he gets to do a little comedy when we see Drunk Conan. “The promise I was kingdomed” indeed. I don’t know why, but I found Drunk Conan hilarious. Still the biggest badass in the film.

Malak: Tracey Walter plays Conan’s thieving sidekick this time around, and the character is a weak link in the movie. Subotai in the first one was a competent, fairly badass archer/thief in his own right. Malak, well, Malak’s there for straight up comic relief. He’s not strong, not brave, not wise, and not at all dexterous, so its really a question of why he’s around.

The Wizard/Akiro: Mako plays the only other returning character. Despite being on screen more in this one, he doesn’t say as much, though when he does the enjoyably hammy acting continues.

Princess Jehnna: A very young Olvia D’Abo, who’s done a lot of voice work, is the princess who’s job it is to go on a quest so that she can find a powerful artifact that will help resurrect the sleeping god Dagoth. She’s also to be sacrificed if she successfully returns, but that’s not part of the flyer she’s been given. She’s a princess, and has all of the standard cliché fantasy movie baggage that goes along with it, like being snooty and outraged when her authority is undermined, but she’s also a young girl on the cusp of puberty and is starting to think about stuff like “why do I have to be a virgin.” She kind of develops a crush on Conan, which gets a little awkward since she’s very, very, very jailbait in this movie.

Bombaata: Basketball legend Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain plays the evil Queen’s captain and the bodyguard of the princess. He’s sent on the quest to both make sure Jehnna makes it back alive so she can be sacrificed, but also that she stays a virgin. He’s a competent, big, warrior with a silly morning star that has a blade sticking out in addition to the spikes, and is pretty clearly trying to screw Conan over at every opportunity.

Zula: Grace Jones plays an Amazonian warrior/bandit woman that Conan frees on a trip into a town. Zula is just batshit insane in this movie. Frequently screaming her head off at enemies during/before a fight, there’s one point where she basically tilts (as in jousting) at Bombaata because he said “no” to her request to see Conan. He whittles her spear down to a nub and then she flying tackles him to the ground. The one part of the character that I don’t get is why she has a little fox tail thingy attached to her thong? Its never explained, never mentioned, and the only time its even pointed out is during a very brief musical tag when she comes up out of the water when they’re infiltrating a tower.

Queen Taramis: Sarah Douglas plays the evil queen devoted to bringing Dagoth back to life. She uses magic and trickery to convince Conan that she’s going to resurrect his lost love if he helps her out, but of course it’s a lie. Because she’s evil. Sexy evil.

Toth-Amon/Man Ape: Pat Roach (who was, among other things, the bald German mechanic in Raiders of the Lost Ark) plays the wizard from whom a jewel (the something something of Ahriman). He traps Conan in a room full of glass mirrors (fine so far) then has a bunch of red-cloaked images step out of the mirrors then walk around him, slowly merging into one figure (which is pretty cool) and then…lifts the cloak to reveal a really, really, really bad costume. There’s a fight scene, which has a bunch of wrestling moves thrown at Conan (which isn’t bad per se) but the costume is…I can’t even really describe how silly it looks.

Dagoth: According to IMDB, the guy in the rubber suit was none other than Andre the Giant. You would think this was awesome, but, well, when they finally do awaken Dagoth, he starts throwing a fit and killing dudes and lightning crashes in the sky, but the costume…just doesn’t look right for a Conan villain. It looks more suited to one of the kaiju that fight Godzilla, tearing up a cardboard Tokyo.

Richard Fleischer was a hell of a prolific director from the 50s-80s, making films like the classic Tora! Tora! Tora!, Soylent Green, Doctor Doolittle, and, uh, Mandingo. And he’s certainly a competent director here. Scenes are interesting to look at, sets are nicely done, lighting is rather good and the fight scenes are great (rubber suit sections notwithstanding). It does lack the mood of the first movie though.

I’ve already discussed the not very impressive monster costumes, but in general the special effects are fine. There’s one part where a sorcerer turns into a smoky, misty dragon and flies over a lake to kidnap Jehnna. Its an animation, but you know what, I liked that scene.

Again, Robert E. Howard gets credit due for the original idea and hey, guess what? Marvel writers Roy Thomas & Gerry Conway teamed up again to tackle a barbarian movie script, but then a guy named Stanley Mann gets the full “screenplay” credit, so I’m assuming he came after and made changes to the original script. Dialog is usually pretty fun, the pace moves quite nicely, and the writers go a little more into the whole “grrr, magic bad” thing that Conan himself has going, but it doesn’t really have that underlying tension that the first movie had that made it feel epic.

Basil Poledouris returned for the score of this film and the rest of the paragraph may get a little confusing. The score for the Destroyer is overall not quite as iconic as the first film’s (but by no means terrible). However, the “Riders of Taramis” piece is, individually, my favorite piece in the franchise, and is very, very, very awesome.

Conan the Destroyer is not as glorious as the first one. Hell, I can even see why some people hate it. I, however, don’t hate it, because every now and then, the movie does deliver a great idea, camera trick funny line that makes it fun. For some reason, Drunk Conan made this movie for me. If you’re like me and have access to the “Franchise Edition” of Conan, then you might as well watch it. Its as easy as turning the disc over.

And for giggles, does anybody else remember this show? I hope so, since Conan fighting a guy who looks identical to Serpentor should just be a product of my fevered mind.

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