Reviews: Conan The Barbarian 1982

Brilliant cheesy fun; but with a surprising amount of heart and brains.

If you just come to the first Conan film looking for a ripe slice of 80's fantasy adventure, the film certainly delivers. With a lush score and production design, hammy-but-effective charismatic performances from the entire cast, plenty of conventionally-attractive, oiled-up mostly-to-completely naked people of both genders running around, and some reasonably well-done battle scenes, it will scratch that itch for you, if feel a bit long. And the special effects are... well, of variable quality, but they're certainly not awful.

But what makes Conan a classic and beloved film, while the likes of Hawk the Slayer, the Deathstalker Series (God forbid!), or, to be frank, its own sequel are not, is artistry. Conan deals with weighty themes in a surprisingly effective and even subtle way. For instance, it paints a picture of a harsh universe, where the comfort of religion sometimes seems to be a lie, or worse, a mask for evil ambitions. Yet Valeria's funeral pyre and subsequent rescue of Conan seems to imply that there is some benign supernatural force working for his good. Best of all, the film tends to avoid overt statements, allowing the audience to come to its own conclusions about what it explores.

Further, many of the characters are remarkably complex. King Osric, for instance is a hammy old man no longer fit for adventures, and his inability to understand his daughter's desire for spiritual enlightenment says more about him than her. Yet, his genuine love for his daughter over the material things of the world still shines through.

Thulsa Doom may be a monster without a single redeeming trait, but that doesn't make him flat. He's clearly a character rather than an antagonistic but empty presence.

Even Conan is a deeper character than many detractors often see him. The film follows him from childhood to revenge, and we see how circumstances shape him. He is intelligent, thoughtful, and, surprisingly, rather respectful to women. And while his relationship with Valeria may come on a little fast, it actually does give the film a bit of an emotional core, and following up on it respectfully was one of the sequel's better creative decisions.

Including all deleted scenes, Conan still holds up remarkably,and I recommend it without reservation.