Time: 129 mins.
SYNOPSIS: A barbarian trained in the arts of war joins with thieves in a quest to solve the riddle of steel and find the sorcerer responsible for the genocide of his people.
BOTTOM LINE: Since this is Arnold's first foray onto the big screen, my expectations were that it would be totally awful, but it left me pleasantly surprised. I don't normally go in for swords and sorcery epics, yet this one actually captured and kept my attention. The plot has a well-developed mythology that gives the film depth despite it's simplicity. First-rate art direction creates a true sense of a different place and time. The acting is over-the-top at all times, but that mostly works for this robust tale.
Arnold is perfectly cast as Conan, a character who attempts to overcome the horrors of his childhood by exacting vengeance on the vicious lunatic Thusa Doom, who ripped it away from him. His physical bulk and lack of verbosity (he barely knew English) help make Conan seem extremly dangerous and unpredictable, which I guess is why he's such a hit with the ladies. James Earl Jones clearly revels in his role as Doom, giving the film a complex, charismatic and intelligent villian you want to die, but will be sad to see go. Sandahl Bergman almost steals the show as the ass-kicking thief Valeria, who wins Conan's heart while fighting by his side.
After a powerful opening, the plot sort of meanders a bit until Conan sets out on his quest for revenge, but picks up speed once he discovers the identity of Doom and attempts to infiltrate his immensely loyal cult. The lack of dialogue is a bit disturbing, but Milius makes up for this deficiency with powerful visuals and an evocative score. The almost constant narration, though initially annoying, actually helps fill out the story and gives the film more weight than it deserves.
The action, while extremely bloody, is never very realistic, which detracts from its' intensity and makes it go down easier. The fight choreography provides a high body count, but not much expertise, since you can see the extras exploding their own blood packs as they fall under Arnold's sword. Literally poor execution that takes you out of the moment and makes the production lose some of its emotional power and visual luster.
In the end, the film relies on Arnold to be successful and in his own way, he pulls off his debut. You can't take your eyes off him, sometimes for good reasons others for bad, but you're unable to turn away and that's saying something. Though I'm sure they didn't shoot in sequence, he seems to get better as the film goes along. If anything it's the script's simplicity and lack of dialogue that causes much of the film's problems. Having seen many of Arnold's films, CONAN is actually one of the best mergers of his impressive physique to a character. This experience was enjoyable enough to make me interested in the sequel. I won't actively seek it out, but I will give it a chance.