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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - September, 2011

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"Conan the Barbarian/Conan the Destroyer" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

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Synopsis

In Conan the Barbarian, the young Conan is taken prisoner by the forces of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and forced into a life of slave labor.  Surviving the “Wheel of Pain,” Conan grows into a truly impressive specimen (now played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) and is thrown into gladiatorial combat by his masters.  After a string of victories, Conan is set free and goes off in search of revenge for the death of his family.  In his travels, Conan meets up with the thieves Subotai (Gerry Lopez) and Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) who then head off to kill Thulsa Doom and end of the influence of the snake cult that is taking over the world.

Conan the Destroyer opens with Conan still living the life of a thief.  He is recruited by Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas) to escort her niece, Princess Jehnna (Olivia D’Abo), in a quest to find the Horn of Dagoth.  In payment for his services, Queen Taramis promises to resurrect Valeria, the woman Conan once loved but was killed by Thulsa Doom.  With the help of Jehnna’s bodyguard Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain), the wizard Akiro (Mako), the thief Malak (Tracey Walter) and Zula (Grace Jones), Conan heads off in search of the mystic treasure that will prove to be far more deadly than any ordinary trinket.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 1982/1984, Color, Rated R/PG, 2 Hr 9 min/1 Hr 42 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gaviola, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Tracey Walter, Olivia D'Abo, and Sarah Douglas
  • Directed by John Milius/Richard Fleischer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: No

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Commentary

While Arnold Schwarzenegger had already compiled an impressive run of body-building championships and some small movie roles, Conan the Barbarian turned him into a household name.  While his acting capabilities were still pretty weak, his massive physical presence was simply perfect for the role of Conan.  While the plot of Conan the Barbarian is not exactly Oscar-worthy, the movie rolls along quickly and the action is superb.  Sets and costumes are very realistic and the soundtrack is simply wonderful.  Watching this film with a more critical eye, I did notice some pretty abrupt cuts from scene to scene, which almost made the movie feel a bit disjointed at times.  Fortunately, this doesn’t impact the overall feel of the movie, which is still a whole lot of fun.

Conan the Destroyerwas made shortly after “Barbarian” to cash in on the immense success of the first film.  However, I wish that they could have brought back Subutai from the first film as the terribly annoying Malak character was just a poor excuse for a companion.   On the plus side, Schwarzenegger’s swordplay was significantly more polished in “Destroyer.”  I always thought his moves in “Barbarian” were way too sluggish to prove effective in real combat and hurt the authenticity of the action sequences.  The lack of a strong central villain also hurts “Destroyer.”  Not surprisingly, I think “Barbarian” is the better film.  “Barbarian” just feels a bit better fleshed out to me, with better acting (or should we say minimal acting) and a tighter plot.

Technical

Conan the Barbarian was released in 1982 and the film is certainly showing its age.  Film grain is significant and actually hurts sharpness in my opinion.  Look at some of the blue skies in the film and you’ll see what I mean.  There is also noticeable dust, dirt, and scratches in the print, but they aren’t too distracting and lend a bit of nostalgia to the viewing experience.  Black levels and shadow detail are all over the map, with many of the darker scenes making due with a washed out grey instead of black background.  Colors are decent, if a wee bit washed out.  However, this is definitely the best that “Barbarian” has ever looked and I applaud Universal for not trying to digitally reduce picture noise (DNR) or apply any noticeable edge enhancement to the film.  Without a major effort restoring the source, this is probably the best we’ll ever see “Barbarian” look.   “Destroyer” is a noticeable step up in overall picture quality.  Colors are more vibrant, black levels are deeper and more stable, and overall sharpness is improved over “Barbarian.”  Film grain is still present, but is not as “in your face” as it is on “Barbarian.”  Again, it doesn’t look like any additional processing was applied to the source, which keeps everything looking nice and natural.  Overall picture ratings of 3.5 for “Barbarian” and a 4.0 for “Destroyer.”

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on “Barbarian” is surprisingly good for something created from an original mono source.  There isn’t much action in the surround or LFE channels, but the front soundstage is solid.  The excellent musical score sounded better than I’ve ever heard it before and dialogue is easy to understand.   Days after viewing the film, I found myself humming a few of the key musical themes at random times throughout the day – that’s how good the score is.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on “Destroyer” did not sound as good to my ears.  Basically, the entire soundtrack just seemed a bit flat in comparison.  The music and sound effects lacked punch and there was almost no use of the surround or LFE channels.  Overall, the sound was a bit thin and harsh to my ears and lacked the richness of the “Barbarian” soundtrack.  Overall audio ratings of 4.0 for “Barbarian” and 3.0 for “Destroyer.”

Extras

Conan the Barbarian has a pretty good batch of bonus features including deleted scenes, “Conan Unchained” – a making of featurette, some information on the special effects used in the film, some archive shots/footage from the film, and a feature commentary.  The disc is also D-Box motion enabled.  “Conan the Destroyer” has little to offer in the bonus category, just the original theatrical trailer and D-Box motion enabling.  I’ll give “Barbarian” a 3 and “Destroyer” a 0.5 for bonus content.