By Ray Schwetz
Conan the Barbarian
Universal. Commentary, trailer, featurette, deleted scenes.
1982 was a good year for films. "Blade Runner," "John Carpenter's The Thing", "E.T.," and "Conan." Not too shabby.
"Conan the Barbarian," an adaption of Robert E. Howard's pulp novels and short stories, made an international star out of Arnold Schwarzenegger and ushered in many other sword and sorcery themed films like "Gor," "Yor," and my personal favorites, Albert Pyun's "The Sword and the Sorceror" starring a pre-"Houston" Lee Horsley and Don Coscarelli's "The Beastmaster" starring "V" miniseries star Marc Singer and a naked pre-blonde Tanya Roberts. Most people I talk to either love or hate "Conan," the film. I fall in with the "love it" camp.
As a rabid Marvel Zombie, I engulfed every issue of the "Conan the Barbarian" comic, as well as "Red Sonja" (think scantily clad, fiery redheaded female version of Conan) and "The Savage Sword of Conan" magazine. This was the only way I knew Robert E. Howard's creation at the time. I have since "discovered" the many Conan stories he wrote (with famed fantasy writer L. Sprague DeCamp) via hard to find paperback versions and the excellent "Essential Conan" available through the Sci-Fi Bookclub (it's a real bitch being a hobbie junkie, ain't it?) I highly recommend checking these out.
Anyway, getting back to business, Universal's new DVD edition of "Conan the Barbarian" is sure to please the film's fans. For those not in the know (shame on you), the film covers Conan's rise from slave to free man and master thief.
He is hired by King Oric (Max Von Sydow) to save his daughter from the villainous snake cult leader Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones with a silly hairdo). Coincidentally, he is the man responsible for the death of Conan's parents and the rest of his Cimmerian village. Along the way, Conan meets Subotai (Gerry Lopez), a wizard (Mako), and falls in love with Valeria (Sandahl Bergman).
Oliver Stone's screenplay expertly conveys Robert E. Howard's macho tone and John Milius is the perfect choice as director for the film. Milius equals macho. Thanks to his direction, and Basil Poledouris' thunderous score, the action scenes are quite rousing.
This DVD presents, for the first time, scenes from the international version of Conan, integrated within the film. The most dramatic change is an extended ending, hinting at a more personal relationship developing between Conan and the princess he rescues. The footage extends the film's running time by roughly ten minutes.
Universal's new special edition DVD is defintiely an improvement over their previous laserdisc and DVD editions. The bare bones DVD sucked. The picture was grainy and there were pixels aplenty. The video for this new DVD is accurately framed at an approximate 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The picture is very sharp and the colors, as compared to the previous releases, are substantially richer. The are minor artifacts, but nothing notable.
This is the best "Conan" has ever looked. The sound is the same as the prior DVD, Dolby digital mono. This is the only drawback of this disc. After hearing Universal's excellent 5.1 remaster of the "Jaws" DVD, I am quite disappointed with their decision not to do the same for "Conan." Oh well. The mono soundtrack is passable.
The commentary with Ahnold (misspelling intentional) and John Milius is hilarious. I'm a big fan of Arnold and hearing him reminisce about shooting the film is wonderful. He starts off the commentary with a crack about Richard Simmons that will have you rolling in your armchair. Milius is more informative. There are a few dry spots, but this is defintitely one of the best commentaries I've ever heard.
The featurette "Conan: Unchained" is an excellent document to the making of the film. It includes interviews with most of the primary cast, as well as screenwriter Stone and director Milius. It is a must see for "Conan" fans. There's also a stills gallery, deleted scenes (showing the death of Max Von Sydow's character), two trailers, and a special effects test.
Universal does "Conan the Barbarian" justice. This is what fans have been waiting for. Sure the sound should have been 5.1, but the featurette, commentary, and gorgeously remastered picture make up for it. Highly recommended.