JUST HOW FUNNY CAN A 'BARBARIAN' BE?
JUST HOW FUNNY CAN A 'BARBARIAN' BE?
Miami Herald, The (FL) - May 19, 1982
Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic
The trouble with comic-book movies is the tone; only George Lucas (Star Wars) seems to have gotten it down right. A number of directors working directly from pulp (Superman) or with pulp- inspired plots (The Sword and the Sorcerer) get most of it right -- usually the look, the special effects and the music -- but still fall short of producing the joyful energy of Star Wars, the sheer movie sparkle.
This is what happens to John Milius in Conan the Barbarian. He's a clever filmmaker like the rest of them, and he has his credentials in order (writer/director, The Wind and the Lion, cowriter, Apocalypse Now). But if we didn't know it was Milius at work, we might laugh at Conan; its occasional whimsy and sly asides, of the kind made popular in the Marvel comics of a decade or two ago, don't seem to fit the rest of the movie .
Conan is about a mythic hero from a fantasy world of an epoch long past. He is large and strong and loves to fight, "to crush enemies, to see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Unfortunately, this quote comes out, "und hear de lamentation of dere vimen," because Conan is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian weightlifter, who bears an accent somewhat out of synch with his character's era.
This is probably Milius' idea of a good joke, as is the bazaar scene in which Conan and his party are approached by sleazy vendors hawking "lizard on a stick" and "Black lotus, Stygian, the best." Schwarzenegger has the muscles for the part, and little else -- his face is so mild and restricted in its emotional range that he seems better suited to play Cohen the Librarian. And the jokes, coming between episodes of bloodletting and graphic wenching, are strange jolts. Conan was not written with a tone ironic enough to make its self-derision work; instead, the lines seem lame.
It takes great skill to laugh at one's material and still keep it exciting. The aim, presumably, is to give adults something to enjoy while throwing a bloody bone to the youth audience. But though Milius gets a grand look on film, and has a delightful score of the Ben Hur school, his movie is long on pop metaphysics and short on fun. Also, it's just plain long.
The one scene in which the Milius humor works comes near the end, when Conan and his cohorts (Gerry Lopez as the sidekick
from the mysterious East and Sandahl Bergman as the Viking queen-of-thieves, ingredients of an epochal stew) attack the evil snake worshiper Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) in his lair. Here we find that the local Sybarites have embraced cannibalism, and watch as a harem girl enjoys what is, quite literally, "finger food." In the spirit of the pulps, this is a decent sight gag. But it's not enough to carry a whole movie .
Movie Review Conan the Barbarian (R) ** ..... CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gaviola, Mako. CREDITS: Director: John Milius Producers: Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella De Laurentiis Screenwriters: John Milius and Oliver Stone Based on the comic-book character created by Robert E. Howard Cinematographer: Duke Callaghan Music: Basil Poledouris ..... A Universal release. ..... Nudity, implicit sex, violence and gore. ..... At the Omni, Hialeah Cinema, Triple Gables, Bryon/Carlyle, Concord, Cutler Ridge, Movies at the Falls, Lauderhill, Movie City, Florida, Coral Springs, Movies at Plantation, Thunderbird Drive- In. ..... **** Excellent*** Good ** Fair* PoorZero: Worthless