Despite my affinity for fantasy films it wasn’t until this week that I really sat down to watch Conan the Barbarian for the first time. The film certainly looks good on Blu-ray with only a little digital tinkering here and there to keep the film from looking its absolute best. The colors are a bit drab but that has more to do with the art direction and costume design than any fault of the transfer. The audio is fantastic as dialogue is perfectly clear and Basil Poledouris’ score is appropriately bombastic.
The bonus features are a bit unbalanced with director John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger providing a rather bland audio commentary. Fortunately the hour-long documentary Conan Unchained does a much better job of presenting the film and the various aspects of its creation from script to screen. The package also includes six delted scenes, two trailers, a still gallery of production drawings, concept art and publicity photos as well as a brief split-screen special effects segment. Exclusive to the Blu-ray release are two brief featurettes. The first examines the art of sword making and fighting while the other is a collection of archival interviews.
Now on to the part where I upset some of you, I found the film itself to be poorly paced and somewhat boring at times. Clearly screenwriter Oliver Stone and director John Milius have set out to make Conan the Barbarian a fantasy epic and they’ve certainly made a long film with high production values. There’s also no question that Arnold Schwarzenegger was perfectly cast and that his performance, while predictably stiff and occasionally ridiculous, is what made the film a success and launched the former body builder’s career as an actor. But is there any depth to Conan? No, not really. He’s just an angry youth looking to revenge his parents’ murder at the hands of the villainous Thulsa Doom (the always excellent James Earl Jones). Not that I was expecting Gone with the Wind but after so many years of hearing how great the film was I hoped for something less fluffy. I wish I had a sense of nostalgia for the film that might endear me to its weaknesses but if I’m going to spend a couple hours watching a fantasy-adventure I’d rather be watching The Lord of the Rings. Am I being too hard on Conan the Barbarian? Yes, of course I am. The film was a remarkable achievement and despite its slow patches manages to entertain in ways that the recent Clash of the Titans remake could only dream of. I just wanted it to be more than what it was.