John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian

Today I watched John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian (1982)

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John Milius is one of the rare Hollywood republicans and as such has faced much difficulty in making films. This is unfortunate because I think he makes consistently good and often great films.  Despite his politics he has worked on some really transgressive features including Jeremiah Johnson, Apocalypse Now and this film as well. In a world where Michael Bay can make his ill conceived themes a reality; we have room for the much more mature John Milius.

Conan the Barbarian is the first film adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s titular pulp icon with Arnold Schwarzenegger perfectly cast as our titular hero. His thick accent marks him as an outsider and his physical presence is that of a Norse god, feature which evoke a living Frank Frazetta painting. The plot is a basic quest for revenge; Conan’s clan was destroyed by Thulsa Doom who then enslaved him. A freed Conan teams up with a rag tag band of adventurers and exacts that revenge; basic stuff and full of Kitsche value.

If you look below the surface there is actually a philosophical side to the film, particularly when discussions of religion take place.  Conan goes on what is a tale of awakening as he develops his own personal ethos as the film progresses.  The film is subtle but this ideological journey really is the backbone of the film and informs more about the pacing and tone than the basic revenge story.

The art design is also great; it’s that old style of live action fantasy where everything is already a dusty old ruin. It has a real verisimilitude, the blood and grime so prevalent in this film brings the Hyborian age to life. The soundtrack by Basil Poledouris is also great, bombastic and fantastical.  Over all whether one agrees with Milius’ politics, this film still stands as admirable cheesy fantasy fare. It has its own philosophy that sets it above most other sword and sorcery flicks which puts it in the upper echelon of that subgenre. 5/5

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