Second Union

Second Union

FRANCHISE REWIND: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Conan the Destroyer, 1984 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) MCA/Universal

“Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, sword in hand. It is I, his chronicler, who knows well his saga. Now, let me tell you of the days of high adventure.”

While John Milius was in New Mexico making a war movie about teenagers fighting communists, Dino De Laurentiis was hastily making arrangements for a quickie sequel to his modest hit, Conan the Barbarian. The sequel was only slightly cheaper than the original (and it made much less money at the box office), but it did bring back Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role just before his movie star-making turn as the titular Terminator.

This was one of the last movies to be rated PG for violence. There is some graphic violence, but the movie’s tone is less dark and less bloody than its predecessor, possibly because De Laurentiis (and daughter Raffaella) thought the R-rating affected ticket sales. Conan the Destroyer is correctly marketed for kids, but the decrease in violence and killing did seem to bring about an increase in dialogue, and I did point out in my earlier review that in these early movies, Arnold was best seen and not heard. This would be a great set-up for a TV show. Conan walks the Earth and gets into adventures.

Conan and his friend, Malak (Mako) are hired by the Queen of Shadizar (Sarah Douglas) to find the “Heart of Ahriman” so they can locate the Horn of Dagoth, and they have to keep her niece, Princess Leia…I mean, Jehnna (Olivia d’Abo), safe from sexual encounters…ahem. Being a virgin is a struggle in itself, but Jehnna has to remain a virgin so that she (ahem) can restore the horn, as it were. I don’t get it. It sounds needlessly sexy for a PG-rated 1980s adventure-fantasy film.

There’s also some strange humor as if the writers (Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Stanley Mann—not an Oliver Stone among them!) thought they should be funny to cut the tension and keep people’s minds off the violence. In addition, the studio sets make the movie look a lot cheaper than the previous film. The lighting sources are way off. While we see candles and torches guiding our heroes, it’s more than obvious they’re being lit by key track lights. As a result, the movie looks like a television show from the early ’70s.

The three new additions to the cast, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, and Tracey Walter (you may remember him as the Joker’s henchman, Bob, in Tim Burton’s Batman) are the best thing about the movie with their back-and-forth banter. This is still a fun movie, but it’s not as ambitious as the first movie, and less willing to take chances. Director Richard Fleischer had previously directed Soylent Green, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Doctor Dolittle, Fantastic Voyage, Barabbas, and The Vikings. After Conan the Destroyer, he would direct Red Sonja (another Robert E. Howard creation) and Million Dollar Mystery. Conan the Barbarian was rebooted (and quickly forgotten) in 2011 with Jason Momoa in the lead role.

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