Red Sonja

Netflix doesn’t have Conan the Destroyer available on instant play so if you need a second dose of sword-swinging Arnold after yesterday’s Conan the Barbarian, try Red Sonja.

Red Sonja

PASS: Red Sonja (1985) – Rated PG-13

“After her family is brutally murdered, a young woman named Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen) sees “red” and becomes a master of the sword — all to seek revenge on the evil queen responsible for the tragedy that snuffed out her kin. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the film co-stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (in one of his earliest roles) and features Sandahl Bergman as the evil queen.”

This is Arnold’s 3rd outing as Conan in all-but-name. Sadly not only is this not very good but Arnold himself considers it one of his worst films. Production values came down quite a bit from Conan the Barbarian and unfortunately it shows. This also continues the family friendly PG-13 trend started in Conan the Destroyer which seems odd for a Robert E. Howard/Frank Frazetta inspired series. They added Black Belt/child actor Ernie Reyes Jr. to the mix which I found somewhat grating.

Regrettably Sandahl Bergman turned down the title role – opting instead to play the villain Queen Gedren. If you thought Sandahl was a bit wooden in Conan, you haven’t seen anything until you see Brigitte Nielsen as Sonja. They also make Gedren a lesbian. Gasp! An evil lesbian! who wants to destroy the world! How do we know she is evil? Her face is scarred! Examples number 63, 104 and 106 in our series on lazy lazy lazy screenwriting.

All in all there are just too many flaws – most of them significant – for me to recommend this film. If you can check your brain at the door and enjoy a healthy dose of Arnold then by all means go ahead and watch this piece of cheese – otherwise give this a pass.

People Watch: As with my post on Flesh + Blood, look for perennial villain Ronald Lacey as, surprise, a villain.

Conan the Barbarian

In order to narrow down last week’s choices for Swashbuckler week, I eliminated those films dealing with magic. As that is enough to fill another week *surprise*, this week is Sword and Sorcery week. I’ll start with some quintessential Arnold. Conan the Barbarian is currently available on Netflix instant play.

Conan the Barbarian

WATCH: Conan the Barbarian (1982) – rated R

“Catch Arnold before he became a politician! A pure swords-and-sorcery flick, Conan the Barbarian is one of the best and sparked a wave of fantasy films in the early ’80s. When Conan’s parents are killed in a raid, he’s sent to a slave camp where his master trains him to be a warrior and use his skills in high-stakes fights. Once granted his freedom, the muscle-bound bruiser seeks to avenge his parents’ brutal murder and solve the riddle of steel.”

You know when a film opens with a quote from Nietzsche that it’s likely to be dripping with testosterone. Manly John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now, Dillinger, Dirty Harry) both directed this and co-wrote it with Oliver Stone. This film overflows with machismo and is well done apart from a bizarre third-act twist. Basil Poledouris’ ponderous bass and drum heavy score is not only fitting and rousing but has been ripped off numerous times for other movies’ trailers. There are many wonderful action pieces throughout the film especially theĀ  big end battle.

While not Arnold’s best film, it is hard to hear the word Conan without picturing Arnold’s incredible physique. Arnold is of course Arnold but that is perfect for this film and without him this film would not have amounted to much. Arnold’s love interest Valeria holds her own and is played ably and very physically by dancer Sandahl Bergman who unfortunately did not receive anywhere near the post-movie boost that Arnold did. They did their own stunts but stuntwoman Corrie Jansen (as a priestess of Doom) took the cake when she set a record by taking a 182-foot free fall plunge.

James Earl Jones oddly plays villain Thulsa Doom. I say oddly because in the books, Thulsa Doom was actually an enemy of Robert E. Howard’s other hero, Kull the Conqueror. Thulsa’s thread runs through the film and he makes a fine villain but in the third act, he becomes the leader of a snake cult that believes in flower power (?!?). The Jim Jones massacre occurred in 1978 and was obviously fresh in the writers’ minds but I’m not sure whether the cult is supposed to reflect them or ‘flower power’ or a mixture of the two. At any rate it seems really jarring especially with the incredibly fake 2nd worst cannibal stew in one sequence – worst goes to the Richard Chamberlain stinker, King Solomon’s Mines. Other than those flaws, the film is very enjoyable.

People Watch: Max von Sydow has a brief but welcome role as King Osric