Universal // 1984 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // August 8th, 2011
Jehnna: "I suppose nothing hurts you."
Conan: "Only pain."
Conan, the savage and powerful barbarian, decides to go on a "romp."
While visiting the grave of his dead wife, Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is approached by Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, Superman). She offers to bring his wife back to life if Conan goes on a quest for her: he must escort the virginal Princess Jehnna (Olivia d'Abo, The Wonder Years) and her bodyguard, Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain, basketball player), across the land to retrieve a special gem.
Conan assembles a traveling squad consisting of Malak (Tracey Walter, City Slickers), the bumbling thief; Akiro (Mako, Conan the Barbarian), the super wizard; and Zula (Grace Jones, A View to a Kill), the crazed, stick-wielding warrior. Together, this band of adventurers travels through barren desserts, mystical castles, underground caverns, and moderately convincing matte paintings.
The success of John Milius's Conan the Barbarian was a double-edged broadsword. It launched the career of one of Hollywood's biggest muscles, but also inspired a ton of lesser imitators. Naturally, it also begat a sequel: the light-hearted, under-budgeted, missed opportunity known as Conan the Destroyer.
Imagine sitting in your friend's basement, about to reluctantly partake in a lengthy game of Dungeons & Dragons. The big problem is that your friend, the dungeon master in charge of making up the quest, is wholly unimaginative and kind of stupid. But he did just watch the first Conan movie, so he has some good ideas. That's the module for Conan the Destroyer. The serious, R-rated tone of the first film is swapped out for slapstick gags, a family friendly plot, and enough cheap special effects to make you think Roger Corman produced it.
Arnold does what he can (and by that, I mean he packed on like 10 more pounds of muscle), but is beholden to a script that turned him into a caricature. He's making goofy faces, he can't count past three, and he has to contend with the ultra-annoying sidekick, Malak -- who makes Rob Schneider look like Humphrey Bogart. Arnold even gets drunk around a campfire with Wilt Chamberlain, which is fairly embarrassing for both of them.
Destroyer is pretty much a letdown across the board. Arnold's ensemble cast is both stereotypical and also fairly bland. Chamberlain is especially a problem: he looks the part, but he can't act a lick. I would say that he redeems himself in a climactic fight scene with Conan, but most of the action is too stiff and poorly framed to be anything more than serviceable. Director Richard Fleischer has made some pretty good films over the years (Soylent Green, Tora! Tora! Tora!), but his direction isn't very confident here. He creates an inconsistent tone for the film that wobbles between serious, decapitating action and cross-eyed, bonking comedy.
Seeing Conan the Destroyer on Blu-ray doesn't help. If anything, the high definition transfer hurts the film as all of its cheap and awful special effects are laid bare. Once magical Hollywood tricks like green-screen backgrounds and matte paintings are painfully obvious now. Even worse is Conan's fight with the mirror sorcerer, whose rubber mask and bare human chest are hysterically embarrassing. The 1080p transfer itself is adequate if a little inconsistent. There's minimal grain and fairly rich coloration, but some scenes (probably because of how they were originally shot) are washed out or hazy. The DTS-HD Master audio track is on par with the video transfer. The film's score is unremarkable, but it's balanced nicely with the dialogue and sound effects. Short of all that Blu-ray stuff that I assume no one uses ("pocketBlu?" "BD Live?" "D-Box?"), the disc just has a trailer.
Conan the Destroyer had some potential and an ensemble cast that probably looked decent on paper. But after watching it on Blu-ray, I'm pretty sure I'd rather be in a basement playing D&D with a kid devoid of imagination. At least the special effects would be better.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG