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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Rosie
Rosie
2 years ago

Any movie I get to see Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing, in great form & running around in a loin cloth is a movie I’m going to watch over & over again.

CJB3
CJB3
7 years ago

What surprises me is that with the wealth of material that Howard wrote, it wasn’t utilized  in either movie. There were obtuse references ( the tower of Set I am sure was influenced by The Tower of the Elephant, the crucifixion adapted from A witch Shall Be born, and Valeria’s return at the end from Queen of the Black Coast) Other than names ( and Thulsa Doom is actually a kull antagonist. Maybe as you suggest, the feeling was just get something out there to excite the fans. I personally thought the second film was way too campy, 80’s nonwithstanding.  Good article, grats.

Cyrusman183
Cyrusman183
8 years ago

To me, the movie was a blast from my high school years. I still like the movie even though I agree with many of your points in your article. It was just entertainment.

Lois Dedman Enger
Lois Dedman Enger
8 years ago

weird…

Janet Reedman
8 years ago

I agree with Antonia–the worst thing about CtD is the change in tone from the first movie. At the time, however, CtB wasn’t the cultish film it  is today–people were saying it was TOO dark and not humorous enough. Hence, the less successful changes in CtD. As for movies I liked once and can’t bear now…I thought Avatar was visually stunning but the eco message they kept banging you over the head with has become increasigly annoying.

SeanDavid
SeanDavid
8 years ago

I have never appreciated Arnold in any movie. That being said, CtD wasn’t a big hit with me. I  watched it all the way through because I told my son I would do so, but seeing it on my own is a big NO. I would love to see some really great Sword and Sorcery novels filmed but I don’t know if the Powers That Be in the film world would ever be able to do them justice. JMHO of course but it just didn’t do it for me. 

Michael Crom Udell
Michael Crom Udell
8 years ago

Devoured this flick with cereal as a child, and as it bumbled and blundered next to its fierce cousins, Sword and the Sorcerer, Beastmaster and Conan the Barbarian, I began reading fantasy. Thanks CtD, you big silly; for many 80’s kids you were a stepping stone to discovering the brilliant stuff.

Sonia G Medeiros
8 years ago

I love the original Conan movies. Yeah, they were kind of cheesy and not especially full of mind-blowing story telling but so what. 😀 They’re fun. 

Phoenix Just-Phoenix
Phoenix Just-Phoenix
8 years ago

Still on the fence about this one after all these years. Liked the first one a lot better. This one was more playful and silly in spots, but is still watchable overall.

Patricia Rickmar Young
Patricia Rickmar Young
8 years ago

I liked all of them, have read all the books, and considering the time they were made, I believe they did good. But that is just my opinion.

Patricia Leach-Cuske
Patricia Leach-Cuske
8 years ago

like the original and the new one

Glorea Charland
Glorea Charland
8 years ago

Along with Conan the Barberian & Red Sonja.

The_Drill99
The_Drill99
Reply to  Glorea Charland
8 years ago

@Glorea Charland I’ll probably be doing a Red Sonja review next month.

Elena Alexyev
Elena Alexyev
8 years ago

I liked it

Mythic Scribes
Mythic Scribes
8 years ago

Shawn Enge It never occurred to me before, but you’re right: Dagoth is clearly an homage to H.P. Lovecraft. Now that makes the story 100% more awesome.

Beida
Beida
8 years ago

The counterpoint to number three is my biggest issue with Conan. I was also a child of the 80s and I think it was by far the cheesiest decade ever. I can only take so much cheese before I start to cringe.

Polgara
Polgara
8 years ago

I think overall CtD accomplished what it set out to do.  It has all the classic fantasy elements in spades.  The problems with this film were not in the storyline but in the way it was produced.  That’s where the campiness and overdone action came from, not from the story itself.

Kristiana
Kristiana
8 years ago

I’ve never watched any Conan movie, so I can’t say much about them. I do like Grace Jones’s looks, however. I used to think “2001: A Space Odyssey” was a phenomenal movie. Now it’s been on television so much I can’t change the channel fast enough to get away from it.

Lyrie
Lyrie
8 years ago

Sorry, CtD is just awful to me.  Cheese can be ok (and as you noted, was highly prevalent in the ’80s), but it is over the top in CtD. 

mithrilwisdom
mithrilwisdom
8 years ago

I have a soft spot for CtD, mainly because I saw it before watching CtB when I was a kid, so it remains my favourite of the two. Drunk Arnold more or less makes this movie.”If you’re going to learn how to fight … then learn with a real weapon. Not with a toothpick!”

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  mithrilwisdom
8 years ago

mithrilwisdom Yes, the drunken scene by the fire is a classic.  Whatever shortcomings the film may have, that scene is worth watching.

Shawn Enge
Shawn Enge
8 years ago

I also did not like the way the opening monologue was performed by Mako. It seemed to be rushed, like someone who was asked to read in front of the class. C-tD is still one of my guilty pleasure movies though. It hearkens back to the 80’s before CGI, when rubber masks were still almost scary!

I did enjoy the Lovecraftian crossover, considering Howard and Lovecraft were friends.

Mythic Scribes
Mythic Scribes
8 years ago

Shawn Enge I agree that the music from Poledouris, while different from his first Conan score, was still spectacular. You’re also right about Wilt Chamberlin: that man can’t act. His “performance” was one of the low points of the film.

Shawn Enge
Shawn Enge
8 years ago

The music was the best thing about this movie. They tried to take Conan and make it more accessible. Parts of the story were good, but Wilt Chamberlin? Really?

Antonio del Drago
8 years ago

My biggest problem with Conan the Destroyer was always the dramatic change in tone from the first film.Conan the Barbarian was a brooding, dark epic with strong philosophical undertones.  Completely switching gears to a “light fantasy romp” really caught me off guard.I think that if you evaluate Conan the Destroyer on its own merits, it isn’t nearly as bad as it appears when contrasted with CtB.Also, one can make the case that Conan the Destroyer is much closer to the tone set by Howard.  Whereas Conan the Barbarian is more Oliver Stone and John Milius than Robert E. Howard.

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