Wednesday 14 August 2013

Movie Review: Conan The Destroyer (1984)

Less violent and more campy than its predecessor, Conan The Destroyer is a light-hearted romp through the land of swords and sorcery. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan leads a motley crew of characters on a quest for an ancient artifact that serves as an excuse for cheesy showdowns with assorted unconvincing evildoers.

Conan (Schwarzenegger) and his loyal friend Malak the Thief (Tracey Walter) are recruited by Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas) for a special mission. She wants Conan to escort her niece Princess Jhenna (Olivia D'Abo) on a dangerous quest to retrieve a magical horn that will awaken the evil god Dagoth. In return, Taramis promises to bring back to life Valeria, Conan's deceased soul mate. Taramis appoints her captain of the guard, the mammoth Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain), to keep an eye on the group, with instructions to kill Conan as soon as the horn is secured. Jhenna herself will be the sacrificial virgin once Dagoth is awakened.

Conan augments his team with the wizard Akiro (Mako) and the warrior Zula (Grace Jones). The group makes its way to the icy castle of the sorcerer Toth-Amon, who has to be defeated before Jhenna can retrieve a jewel key. With the innocent Princess beginning to fall for the charms of Conan, they move onto an ancient hidden temple where the horn is located. With the help of his friends, Conan has to overcome the brute strength of Bombaata and the treachery of Taramis, while saving Jhenna and preventing Dagoth from reawakening and plunging the world into darkness.

Eager to create an even bigger box-office success than the original, producer Dino De Laurentiis (through daughter Raffaella) aimed for a PG, rather than R, rating for the second movie instalment of the Conan legend. Director Richard Fleischer eliminated the sex, toned down the hacking of limbs, and injected plenty of magic and jokes, and a generally buoyant mood. Conan The Destroyer is Conan Lite, a movie almost aimed at children in its juvenile attitude and sense of wonderment.

Schwarzenegger is a bit more confident, more talkative, and as massively bulky as ever. For most of the movie, Fleischer did not bother to put any kind of shirt on his star, leaving the incomprehensible muscles to glisten in the Mexican sun. Schwarzenegger does not need to act as much as grimace on cue as he engages in one titanic battle after another, and his presence alone is what makes the movie tolerable.

With acting talent an option rather than a necessity amidst all the scenes of combat and magic, the secondary cast is made up of newcomers, teenagers and celebrities from other fields altogether. D'Abo was all of 15 when the film was made, and she grows into the role, evolving from mildly irritating to somewhat satisfactory. Basketball superstar Wilt Chamberlain made his only movie appearance in Conan The Destroyer, and his 7 foot 1 inch frame is an inspired physical presence to put up against Schwarzenegger. Singer Grace Jones had a more meaningful go at an acting career, and here she is perfect as a sour-faced thief and warrior woman, proficient with a spear that Conan calls a toothpick.

Tracey Walter as the scrappy sidekick and thief Malak gets all the humorous one-liners, some of which work, while Sarah Douglas comes off worst as Queen Taramis, as she appears on the verge of breaking out into hysterical laughter in all her scenes.

The action scenes are better when they feature old fashioned sword to sword combat, and begin to suffer when monsters, magic, and special effects are required, with some scenes barely rising above man-in-a-costume schtick.

Schwarzenegger would quickly realize that his ambitions exceeded what De Laurentiis could offer, and there would never be a third Conan movie with Arnold. Incredibly, The Destroyer, for all his might, would prove to be just a lowly stepping stone for a global superstar in the making.

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