Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Conan the Destroyer: A Re-Appraisal

My Conan Week post for today isn't quite ready for public consumption yet, so this is a on-topic re-post originally from last year. This week's theme might stretch into the weekend...

Several months ago, I had the chance to watch Conan the Destroyer again for the first time in quite a while. For years this film had the reputation of being "The D&D Movie". The title fits -- a motley group of adventurers are brought together for an epic journey...under false pretenses and with a stinging betrayal.

I know, I know, it's not Shakespeare. It's not even proper Howard, but it's fun. And it's all we had in 1984.

Even though it's less about Howard's Conan than even the first movie, there are still many things to like about it. Roy Thomas's involvement with the original story lead to the comic-book feel of the movie, even if he was disappointed with the final product. I'm not sure what to make of Richard Fleischer's work on the movie. He directed such great films as Tora! Tora! Tora!, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Soylent Green. I think more of the blame should go to the script.

One of my biggest disappointments with the movie is the score. Surprisingly, because the composer, Basil Poledouris, created one of the all-time best motion picture scores for the first Conan film. Some of those same cues are reused here, and the new music is rather pedestrian.

Despite its flaws as a whole, there are so many things to like about the movie. During this last viewing, I made some notes on the bits that I love, and the classic fantasy tropes that are used through the film:
  • A thief counting his coins
  • Soldiers "sneaking" up on our hero
  • A leaping backstab
  • Conan punches-out a horse, Mongo-style
  • A sorceress-queen who hires our hero for a quest
  • A fortress-city on a mountain
  • Evil-looking warlocks reading golden tablets
  • "Dagoth, the Dreaming God"
  • The Scrolls of Skelos
  • A prophecy of a virgin sacrifice
  • The threat of death/treachery
  • Rows of giant statues
  • The Queen's Guard following behind
  • Cannibal tribesmen
  • Decapitations
  • Gladiator pit fights
  • A crystal castle on a misty mountain lake
  • A wizard transforms into a bird of smoke
  • An impenetrable door with the only entrance being underwater
  • An enormous spiral stone staircase (this and the underwater entrance are my favorite scenes in the movie)
  • A hall of mirrors
  • "Out!!"
  • A sword fight on horseback
  • An ancient tomb in the desert (this entire sequence is another great scene)
  • Akiro nonchalantly lighting a torch with magic
  • Zula afraid of...a rat
  • Some really brutal swordplay against hordes of bad guys
  • A magical wizard duel
  • A secret entrance to the city behind a waterfall (my second favorite scene)
  • An arcane magical ritual
  • Sneaking in to stop the ritual
  • A giant Cthulhu Mythos beast (designed by Carlo Rambaldi, who won Oscars for E.T, Alien, and King Kong)
  • Conan tearing the magic artifact horn out of the monster's head and throwing it away with a priceless superstitious look
  • The new queen handing out rewards to the group

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