Sword & Sorcery Film Classics: Conan the Destroyer

So first you may be saying, “Film classic? Conan the Destroyer? Ha!”

Hear me out.

This isn’t going to be a glowing review of why Conan the Destroyer is the best movie ever made. Nor will it be a review trashing a movie that is maligned by most fans of fantasy cinema. It will be “balanced.” Meaning I will give both points and counterpoints to why I love/hate different aspects of this movie.

Come along with me on a journey. Not a journey to slay Dagoth, but a journey nonetheless.

Here are the top 5 reasons Conan the Destroyer (CtD) rules/sucks.

1. Point – Tons of Sword and Sorcery Action

Robert E. Howard wrote genre fiction, first and foremost. The pulps were intended to be fun adventures that readers could get lost in for a couple of hours and then move on. CtD, if nothing else, is action-packed. The movie starts off with Conan wrecking a dozen shaggy-cloaked, marauder types. From then on it’s action, action, action. Conan slices off heads, mirror fights a wizard, and tangles with both basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain and Andre the Giant (yes, Dagoth is legendary wrestler Andre the Giant, look it up.) If you’re looking for action, CtD delivers in spades.

Counterpoint – Action is Kind of Crap

The action is, um, not that great. It looks staged, choreographed, and clunky. An ape-faced wizard body slams Conan. I’m pretty sure there’s a drop kick also. I’m a big fan of wrestling, but any fantasy movie that involves body slamming or leg dropping, makes me wince with pain. It’s a lot of running into each other and swinging weapons without any finesse. It wouldn’t have hurt to do multiple shots for some of those takes.

2. Point – Big Party

I’m a fan of movies with big casts. Just something I like. “The Stand’ is probably one of my favorite movies ever and it has like 900 characters. Conan’s party consists of a thief (Malak), a raider (Zula), a wizard (Akiro), Princess Jehnna and her towering bodyguard (Bombaata). It gives a little something for everyone. You get some comic relief, some magic, and some head-bashing Grace Jones. Everyone wins.

Counterpoint – Where’s Conan?

Yes, Conan is the main character. Yes, he does most of the bad guy thrashing. But it seems as though Conan is just sort of a leader of a party and not a main character. He’s kind of just shoe-horned into this fantastically generic party. All they needed was a grumpy dwarf and they’d be set. Plus, I always imagined Conan as more of a loner character. Maybe that’s just my perception. He did have a small party in Conan the Barbarian consisting of Subotai and Valeria (who he often vacantly refers to in this movie) but the focus stayed on Conan. So to see him clomping all over the place with this gigantic party seems kind of silly.

3. Point – Comic Relief

Conan the Barbarian was a pretty sinister, dark movie. Conan the Destroyer is full-on 80s muscles, hair, warlocks and demons. I’m shocked someone wearing a chain mail bikini didn’t show up at some point. Malak provides some jokes now and again and seeing Grace Jones (portrayed as an ultimate bad-ass) screech when she sees a rat, is pretty funny. Plus, drunk Arnold is always fun. Especially when he runs into Bombaata Looney Tunes style and falls over.

Counterpoint – The 80s Were Cheesy

Yes, it’s true. I was a child of the 80s but boy, were they cheesy. Malak’s comic relief is more like so-bad-it’s-good. His jokes aren’t really that funny and no one even sells them, which makes them even less funny. Why is he even there? He only serves a purpose once and that’s to sneak under a door and flick a switch. The “cousin’s brother’s sister” joke was rather groan inducing. I’m sure all this might have been uproariously funny in the 80s, but the humor doesn’t age well. That being said, Malak is awesome.

4. Point – Light Fantasy Romp

CtD is light entertainment. It’s not too deep and is heavy on action and adventure, much like the pulps were. It’s fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and keeps the adrenaline flowing. I’m sure if Robert E. Howard saw both Conan films, he’d probably think the Destroyer was closer to what his vision was.

Counterpoint – Say it Ain’t So, Conan!

It’s as if they replaced the cool Conan of CtB and replaced him with a figure straight off a heavy metal poster. Like a really bad heavy metal band too. One that has songs like “Cheetah Sorcerer” or “Dragons Dwell Here” or “Tiamat has 49d12+588 Hit Dice.” While Conan in Howard’s stories often used his brain to get out of situations, this one stereotypes the barbarian character and narrows Conan’s reactions to “SMASH!” He grunts, groans, and looks ready to pop a vein, but never really measures up to the high expectations set by CtB. That Conan was sleek, panther-like, as Howard described him. This Conan is a lumbering muscle-head to the nth degree.

5. Point – It’s a Sword and Sorcery Movie

Sorry, but I’m just a big fan of sword and sorcery. I’ve rented DVDs that look absolutely horrible just because they have some dude fighting a wizard on the front of it. I wish they still made sword and sorcery movies, but it seems the tendency is either to do epic fantasy or romantic fantasy of some sort. If only there could be a re-birth of sword and sorcery in movies as there has been in writing recently. There are several great collections out including new sword and sorcery stories such as “Swords and Dark Magic.” I wouldn’t mind seeing a new Conan one.

Counterpoint – It’s a Sword and Sorcery Movie (Wait…Didn’t I Say That…?)

Let’s face it. Most movies with a beefy guy with a sword slashing off lizardmen’s heads probably isn’t the highest quality cinema. This movie may have inadvertently spawned a number of abysmal copy-cats as well. At least it’s not as horrible as the Conan TV show I saw. Now that’s really bad.

Overall, Conan the Destroyer didn’t leave an awful taste in my mouth, but didn’t exactly kindle a fire within me either. I recall watching this movie on TBS when I was a teenager and I remember it being 1,000 times more awesome than it was this time. However, I will always have fond memories of Grace Jones’s plastic looking forehead helmet, the wrestling match with the ape-wizard, and Conan ripping a horn from a giant demon’s head. I don’t care who you are, seeing Arnold tear a horn off a screeching demon is good cinema.

So what are your thoughts?

Is Conan the Destroyer awesome or awful?

Have you seen a movie recently that you thought was awesome when you first saw it, but now it triggers your gag reflex? Post below!

You can find Phil’s blog about Japan, writing, pro wrestling, and weird stuff at philipoverby1.blogspot.com.

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