Monday, May 14, 2007

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Conan the Barbarian

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

The movie opens in Conan’s village with his father teaching him important life lessons such as the riddle of steel. Conan then witnesses his entire village’s slaughter at the hands of Thulsa Doom and his soldiers. His father is mauled by dogs and his mother decapitated. Conan is enslaved, left to work turning the wheel of pain in the middle of nowhere. He grows strong and is purchased to compete in gladiator competitions. Conan is undefeated in these pit fights and is elevated to the point where he becomes educated and taught swordplay. His owner sets him free whereupon Conan befriends Subotai, an archer and thief. In trying to track down Thulsa Doom, they encounter Valeria, a female warrior, who joins up with them and begins a physical relationship with Conan. They are sent by King Osric to rescue his daughter who has fallen in with Doom’s cult. Valeria and Subotai choose to take the money and run, leaving Conan to go after the princess on his own. Thulsa Doom’s guards capture Conan and he is beaten and left for dead on the Tree of Woe. Subotai and Valeria are able to nurse Conan back to health and agree to help him. They infiltrate Doom’s lair, discovering not only that they are engaged in orgies and cannibalism – at the same time – but that Doom has the ability to turn into a snake when he feels like it. However, in their escape, Thulsa Doom is able to kill Valeria with a snake/arrow thing. Subotai and Conan face Doom’s men in an extremely violent battle in the desert where they are holding the princess. They defeat everyone except for Doom who rides away at the end of the fracas. Conan returns to Doom’s temple and decapitates him using the remaining half of his father’s sword. He burns the temple to the ground and seeks his fortune elsewhere.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Conan has a few really poignant ones. His character is a driven one, and his comments reflect that. “Conan! What is best in life?” “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!”
“The gods are pleased with you. They are going to watch the battle.” “Are they going to help?” “No.” “Then tell them to stay the hell out of the way.”
“Is this, uh, your robe? A priest’s robe?” “Yes. It’s all I have.” “Good. It’s all you’ll ever need.”
Plus another classic which we’ll get to soon. 7

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: This is not the kind of film where Arnold is going to be throwing zingers around. It takes itself very seriously, and that’s really the only way to play it. Otherwise we’d end up with something like Conan the Destroyer or worse. There are the lines above, and while he is educated (eventually), Conan is a man of few words. In fact, his main companion in the movie, Valeria, is only addressed by him verbally on one occasion. 2

“I’ll be back.”: Pre-terminator, so this is n/a

Smarmy Villain: James Earl Jones portrays Thulsa Doom as pure evil. It is said that he is supposedly a thousand years old, and this may be true. But we can be certain that he is arrogant, selfish, and power-hungry. He lives to sing his own praises and trample all who stand in his way. He can mesmerize foes with merely his gaze. You get the feeling that he would love to have Conan join his side, but he understands too well how Conan feels about him. He has the best lines in the movie because his character is such a force of nature. 10“They shall all drown in lakes of blood. Now they will know why they are afraid of the dark. Now they will learn why the fear the night.”
Rough and Tumble Henchman: We actually get two of them here. The main henchman is Rexor, played by former Oakland Raider Ben Davidson. I’m somewhat terrified of his mustache, let alone the rest of him. He’s 6’8”, tough and ruthless. Plus, he still fights using Conan’s father’s sword. That’s badass. More on the second henchman later. 10
Diminutive Sidekick: Professional surfer Gerry Lopez plays Subotai. I have no idea how tall he actually is, but if I had to guess, I’d say “not very.” 7

Rejected hot love interest: While being educated during his enslavement, Conan is also “bred to the finest stock.” I suppose rejection is not an option in those cases because he did not have the opportunity to continue a relationship. Upon first being granted freedom, Conan encounters a witch played by Cassandra Gava whom he promptly beds. However, she starts to have a bizarre reaction to his, um, lovemaking so he promptly tosses her into a fire. I think it’s fair to call that a rejection. I tried to find some extra information regarding Cassandra, but all I could find was that her nickname is “Shmooziac.” 9
Not nearly hot enough love interest: Sandahl Bergman plays Valeria. She is somewhat striking and athletic, but beauty-wise is not on par with the other women Conan beds. However, after being bred to the finest stock for a considerable period of time, I’m willing to believe that at this point he is looking beyond physical beauty and building a more meaningful relationship with a person sharing common interests. The only other thing I’ve ever seen Sandahl in was a horrendous Donny Most vehicle called “Stewardess School.” These are the kinds of movies you end up renting in junior high, people… 7
Arnold yelling: Conan’s first lines of the movie occur in a pit fight when he is viciously attacked by his opponent. His reaction is to say "Aaaarhrahaallalharhrhararhahrha" for about five straight minutes. There are many various other hollers throughout the film, notably in the final battle scene. 9

Arnold cursing: The movie is set in a time before modern cursewords, but just before the final battle is to begin, Conan says this: "Crom, I've never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one - not even you will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought or how we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important. Valor pleases you Crom, so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!” 6

Arnold crazyface: I have to claim some bias in this instance. This is probably my all-time favorite Arnold crazyface. Technically we have seen crazier here at Schwarzenegger Sunday, but this particular one fits the storyline so well. He sees Rexor charging at him on horseback, wielding Conan’s father’s sword and he just goes berserk. Vengeance, murder, and hate are in his eyes here. 10
Superfluous Explosions: We get a little fire near the end, but this is n/a

Director: John Milius did not work with Arnold again, but they seem to have great admiration for one another. Milius is an interesting character and his commentary track is hilarious because he takes the movie so seriously. Like he thinks it’s real or something. However, the most notable thing is that the Coen brothers partially based Walter Sobchak on him. If you can get your hands on any current footage of him (the featurette on the DVD, for instance), the resemblance is clear.
Franco Columbu: Very early in the film, Franco shows up on the scene. Nice wig! 8
Sven Ole-Thorsen: In his first on-screen role, Sven plays Thulsa Doom’s other main henchman, Thorgrim. He appears throughout the film, brandishing a gigantic hammer which he uses to bop people on the head. Plus, his character is also capable of raising gigantic snakes. 10
Shirtless Arnold: Nearly every scene in the movie has him shirtless. And when he’s crucified on the tree of woe, he ends up in just a loincloth. 10

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: Rexor is sliced up pretty good, and particularly screwed over because Valeria actually comes back from the dead to give him a whack. However, Thorgrim gets it even worse when he is impaled on a booby trap Conan set up prior to the battle scene. 8
Even more severely brutal killing of villain: Conan is able to sneak back into Doom’s temple, approaching undetected from behind him during a sermon. Doom tries his staring hypnosis thing, but Conan is able to shake it off and chop Doom’s head off using three successive whacks with the sword. Blood sprays everywhere. Conan then tosses the head down the steps of the temple and it rolls for minutes. 9

Plausibly implausible plot: There are ghosts, witches, snake-humans, snake-arrows, and all manner of physical brutalities in this film. They wanted it to take place in a “time before history”, and I think that they got that right. There are a few action sequences where the blood packets are a little too obvious, and perhaps that big snake was state of the art at the time, but it looks a bit hokey now. The overall plot is probably unfeasible, but we never question it. The only thing I don’t get is how his biceps would get big while turning the wheel of pain? Seems like he’s always pushing it forward. The biggest stretch is probably the character of Thulsa Doom. He’s the most fantastical thing in the movie, but Jones does such a wonderful job playing him, we don’t question it for a second. 7

Ambiguous ending: Things are pretty neatly wrapped up. All we get is our narrator telling us that “in time, Conan became a king by his own hand. And this story shall also be told.” So we are curious about the how and why in that statement, but since we were already told what will happen, perhaps it’s not ambiguous either. n/a
This is such a finely crafted film, going through our standard SS categories does not do it justice. There are so many aspects of this film worth noting. The score is absolutely fantastic. It is on par with Mahler or Holst and each piece fits its scene perfectly. You will hear this music in many trailers for other movies and various TV spots. The sets they came up with are also fantastic. Check out these two: Milius never made another film on par with this one, and it’s a shame that the only sequel they made was the abysmal Conan the Destroyer. Really, that movie is terrible. Don’t ever watch it. But this one is amazing. I honestly feel it’s truly underrated and deserves more attention and recognition. It’s incredibly violent, and the plot moves very quickly, but the characters, story, and attention to detail are unbeatable.

All the Schwarzenegger Sundays:

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