John Milius’s primitive, mythic epos, “Conan the Barbarian” is the action-adventure that catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger to movie stardom after being an internationally famous body-builder.
The pulp hero created by Robert E. Howard (who committed suicide in 1936) in the 1930s, was at the height of his cultural visibility in the 1980s, when the “Swords and Sorcery” movie genre resurfaced with such films as “Krull,” “Willow,” “Kull the Conqueror.” In addition to paperback books about Conan’s adventures, there were several “new” comic books, including “Conan the Barbarian,” “King Conan,” and “The Savage Sword of Conan.”
Schwarzenegger, in an iconic part, later appeared in James Cameron’s “The Terminator,” which cemented his movie stardom. Stiff and leaden, Schwarzenegger is suitably cast as a comic hero, whose interpretation of the primitive role is in congruence with Milius’s jingoistic conception.
The story (co-written by John Milius and Oliver Stone) is overly simplistic and the dialogue ludicrous. But the movie is enjoyable, largely due to Schwarzenegger’s campy performance and the acting of two serious players: James Earl Jones as the wizard Thulsa Doom and Max Von Sydow as the grizzled King Osrik, even if by today standards, some of that movie’s visual imagery are crude and cheesy (remember the sequence with a giant snake? Or Conan’s having sex with a topless woman in a cage?).
“Conan the Barbarian” goes for immediate, visceral impact, which is proper for a picture that spills guts, dismembers heads, and have bodies thrashed by sea monsters.
“Conan the Barbarian” inspired numerous video games, and I will not be surprised if the new picture creates new video games to be embraced by muscle-driven guys who believe that size matters. After all, let’s not forget that before Schwarzenegger became a bona fide movie star, he was a body-builder