Scrapbook: Conan, Starburst Memories

In the latest GROGPOD we watch Conan The Barbarian (1982) in the GROGGLEBOX section. There’s an animated difference of opinion between Judge Blythy who finds the film interminably boring and Ed in his Shed who declares it to be “The Best Fantasy Film of the 80s.”

It’s fair to say that I am somewhere in the middle of these extremes, but I do still carry the scars of disappointment from the first viewing. My expectations had been built by Starburst, the long running ‘Magazine of television and cinema fantasy’, as they had featured the film with some eye-catching stills from the film prior to its release. At the time I was in a vortex of playing one RPG session after another with my friends and the images alone provided fuel and adventure hooks for my games.

“The pictures are great, until they start moving,” says Blythy in during the discussion, while Eddy says that it’s “perfect RPG fodder.” I think they’re both right. One the one hand the film has great Conanesque set-pieces, Schwarzenegger has not yet acquired the charisma and screen presence that he would bring to his later films in the decade. I thought he was a klutz. Conan is not a klutz. He’s a thief, a mercenary, a brigand, a pirate, an adventurer and a king, but never a klutz.

He looked the part and maybe, with hindsight, it was enough to enjoy the film.

The reviewers at the time were savage, even in Starburst, with Arnold getting the bulk of their ire; not one of them would admit that, in the words of Eddy, “he’s perfect for the role, he’s a five out of ten.”

From Pegasus, the Judge’s Guild RPG Magazine. Read the final paragraph on the page.

Author: Dirk

Host of The GROGNARD RPG Files podcast. Talking bobbins about Runequest, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, T&T, AD&D and others from back in the day and today.

8 thoughts on “Scrapbook: Conan, Starburst Memories”

  1. ‘Conan the Barbarian’ is a guilty pleasure. Yes, the dialogue is clunky, the acting is wooden, and the effects are laughable, but there are a few little gems here and there.

    And at least it’s not ‘The Sword And The Sorcerer’. May Crom forgive me, I actually paid money to see that back in the day.

  2. This film began my lifelong hatred of bad hacks based on nametags. They weren’t able to get the full rights so rather than creating, they just did a really bad ripoff of Kull. “If you are going to change everything, why are you using the title character at all?”

  3. I REALLY disliked the scene where Darth Vader “broke” Conan and had him rolling around on the floor bleating around his dead’s tribe. That wasn’t Conan. Conan never broke. (Anyway, no-one ever beat the Cimmerians.) That – and a couple of other things (Conan is portrayed as THICK – he isn’t) – completely spoilt the first film for me.

    The SECOND film, however, is a popcorn romp and much closer to the Conan of the stories. Arnie never gets the credit he deserves for totally remodelling his physique (for “the Destroyer”) so it looks better on film and more like the Conan illustrations – inventing the movie Superhero body in the process.

  4. I’m also with Ed on this one. The score alone is magnificent but there’s a lot to love about it on all levels.

  5. I can’t refute any of the criticisms of Arnie. He looked the part, he really did, but good lord, he couldn’t act. Like Eddie, though that doesn’t spoil what is otherwise a fantastic film for me. Is the photography flat? It’s never looked that way to me. One of the things I really like about the movie is that the world feels real. It’s smeared in sweat and grit – or mud and blood if you like – the clothing and weapons and armour all feel real and practical. The settings look like real places that you can visit in the forgotten corners of the world. If the ‘flat’ photography contributes toward that, then count me in. Equally Millius’ directing. He seems like he and I would be poles apart politically, but he takes the franchise and the setting seriously and that shows through. Too many directors and producers would make it as high camp.
    Is it slow? Possibly. The pace works fine for me. They do an origin story in the modern Conan movie and it’s interminably long and dull. Arnie’s is brutal and earthy. A village destroyed, the wheel of pain, pit-fighting and finally chased by wolves. Boring to some, inspiring and thrilling to me.
    The supporting characters, Subotai, Valeria and Akiro (Mako’s unnamed Wizard) whilst not really given any depth, have great visual interest and tell a story merely by their appearance.
    The set pieces are terrific. From the opening titles with Mako’s gutteral narration accompanied by primitive drums. The giant snake (is pretty damned good for 1982), King Osric (‘I salute you!’), the orgy and subsequent massacre, the Wizard healing the mortally wounded Conan with Valeria and Subotai fighting off the demons who’ve come for his soul, the tree of pain, the gathering at the temple and then there’s Thulsa Doom’s death. Modern films like to blow their bad guys up in the biggest explosion they can (in the case of Iron Man 3, three times!!). Here, as Eddie mentioned, Conan (in eye-for-an-eye revenge for his mother) hacks his head off with two brutal blows. The first one is decisive but gives Doom just long enough to realise his failure before he dies and it is sufficient.
    Top notch.
    The sequel whilst lighter and campier in tone also has its moments. it’s good fun, even if it makes no sense, but I guess the box office was abysmal because that was the end of it. I would dearly love for Milius and Arnie to do one more now with Conan the King. They could adapt The Phoenix on the Sword or The Hour of the Dragon. Arnie, with several decades of acting chops under his belt would be considerably better, I think.
    There was talk of it some years ago but nothing ever came of it, sadly.

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