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Conan the Barbarian

"Conan the Barbarian" on DVD

Collector’s Edition

Conan the Barbarian was a labor of love from director John Milius and and co-writer Oliver Stone and, though the film seems a tad ponderous and pretentious, the fondness for the subject shines through brightly.

“Conan” was also Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first major star vehicle and, though he speaks only a few lines (Conan being the strong, silent type), his screen presence is obvious.

As a young boy, Conan witnesses the sacking of this village and the murder of his parents (the death of his mother is a very powerful shot, yet tastefully done) by the evil Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his forces. He’s carted off to a life of slavery and eventually, thanks to Conan being a big, hulking, muscular brute (though later we learn has also has a brain, too), he’s trained as a gladiator and becomes a champion at the “sport.”

Freed one day, circumstances bring him together with Subotai the Mongol (Jerry Lopez) and Valeria, Queen of Thieves (Sandahl Bergman) and, eventually, a magician/healer (Mako, who also narrates the film). Subotai and Valeria join Conan’s quest for vengeance, a quest that broadens to include a “rescue mission” when they’re charged by King Osric (Max von Sydow) to reclaim his daughter from the cult-like clutches of Sulfa Doom.

This sword and sorcery epic is far more sword than sorcery, which certainly cuts back on the special effects budget. The “Hyborean Age” in which Conan is set was a violent time and director Milius has focused on it at the expense of the more mystical aspects.

That’s okay, and to be fair there is enough magic in the air to keep one relatively satisfied.

The Collector’s edition DVD looks and sounds great, though the audio is only in Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural. The widescreen picture is wonderful, however and, though the DVD isn’t a THX-certified release, the picture quality is such that it might as well have been.

This “Collector’s Edition,” as with most of them, has lots of extras to keep Conan fans sitting with rapt attention, their remote controls at the ready.

The film itself has been extended by a few minutes, and you get bonus items like a documentary (“Conan Unchained, the Making of Conan”) as well as feature commentary with director Milius and star Schwarzenegger. There are also deleted scenes, a section on the film’s special effects, “The Conan Archives,” and of course theatrical trailer. There’s also a decent liner essay inside the box.

“Conan the Destroyer” was a more entertaining film than this, the original Conan epic (this film is more of an “origin” story whereas the sequel doesn’t have to build that background and can get straight into the havoc), but “Conan the Barbarian” is a decent sword and sorcery epic – and it’s kind of neat to see the you Arnold Schwarzenegger again, back in the days when his movie career was just beginning.

Conan the Barbarian, from Universal Home Video
129 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Caviola, Gerry Lopez, Mako
Produced by Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella de Laurentiis
Written by John Milius and Oliver Stone, Directed by John Milius


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Updated May 13, 2006