CONAN THE DESTROYER
I re-watched Conan The Destroyer tonight. I purchased "The Complete Quest" (not so complete now that The Legend of Conan is being made) for $5 bucks off of Amazon. The set is bare bones, but it does provide the most recent, cleaned up versions of both Ahrnold films.
I will say that the cleaned up version actually makes the film watchable. I saw the original version on Encore (or one of the channels) a few months ago, and it was a crappy and as campy as I remembered it being when I walked out of the theater after seeing it for the first time in the mid-80's. The cleaned up version + lowered expectations? It's a watchable a film.
Destroyer remains no where near as good as Ahrnold's first at-bat, and I actually like the recent Momoa version much, much better than Destroyer. But, I'll say this: Even the campy looking Dagoth climax monster looks a heck of a lot better in this version of the film. They touched it up a bit, made the colors darker. Yes, it still looks like dude in a rubber suit, but it's a hell of a sight better looking than the original.
Too bad the Thoth-Amon scene in the room of mirrors couldn't be changed. That's still the low point of the show. That ape-thing that Thoth turns into in order to fight Conan is just, well, not worthy of a D movie from a 1980's video tape. That whole section with Thoth-Amon is just awful.
Most of the sets look very good, even for today's standards (Thoth Amon sequence excluded, of course). I really don't like that silly looking fantasy armor that the Shadizar guards wear, though. The rest of the costumes are pretty good.
The thing about this film is that it's really not a Conan movie. It's a Conan comic book movie. Where the first film followed Howard's works more closely, this film seemed to follow the Marvel comic more closely. The film is lighter. Sometimes, it's funny. But, the plot is very by-the-numbers and feels like a five issue comic book story-arc.
Issue 1: Set up the quest with Conan being chased by Queen Taramis. Conan misses Valeria. Taramis promises to bring her back if Conan will do her this one teecy-weency favor. Issue ends with Conan setting out on his quest.
Issue 2: Conan needs pals. First, he and Malak are joined by Akiro the sorcerer, first, then unexpectantly by Zula the Kushite. Issue ends when Zula swears to give her life to Conan if he will just let her travel with him.
Issue 3: The party confronts Thoth-Amon in his Crystal Palace. Conan wins the Heart of Ahriman. Issue ends during their daring escape while the palace crumbles around them and sinks back into the lake.
Issue 4: After a fight with the Shadizar Royal Guards, Jehnna leads Conan to the ancient crypt where the Heart tells them the location of the mythical Horn of Dagoth. Issues ends with a rip-roaring fight with more Shadizar Guards and Bombaata screwing Conan over in THE BIG TWIST. What will Conan do? Issue ends with the party again pledging their lives to Conan and the lot of them riding for Shadizar.
Issue 5: The Big Climax! Malak knows a back way into the locked down city. Jehnna is about to be sacrificed, and the END OF THE WORLD is near as the Horn is placed on the Sleeping God's head. Conan fights Bombaata, then he and the others take on the Dagoth creature that spawns as the sacrificial ceremony is spoiled. Issue ends with Jehnna on the throne, every member of the party given a position in her court, with Conan turning down the opportunity to rule Shadizar at Jehnna's side. No, the big Cimmerian will wait until he gets a kingdom of his own.
IT'S A COMIC BOOK!
Which, is no surprise, really, since Roy Thomas--the dude responsible for bringing Conan to Marvel comics in the first place back in the 70's--co-wrote the script. As a matter of fact, if you really do want to see his unaltered version of the story, look for a 1980's Marvel graphic novel called Conan The Barbarian: The Horn of Azoth.
There seems to be a D&D fan somewhere in the production, too. Maybe one of the writers. Maybe old Roy, himself. It's like they mined the game for ideas in the script. I remember the first time I saw the film, watching the (horrible) Thoth-Amon scene in the room of mirrors. "He just cast Mirror Image!" I said to my bud that went to see it with me. In the scene where Akiro and the evil mage are fighting to open or close the door in the ancient crypt, my buddy nugged me and said, "Akiro's using Hold Portal while the bad guy is using Knock!".
Thoth-Amon used his crystal ball to scry on Conan and Jehnna approaching his palace.
We were neck deep in AD&D at that time, and our group, like most groups, had the inevitable arguments over thieves using their backstab ability. Just how do that do it in combat? Can they only use it once? How can it be used if the enemy knows the thief is there?
Well, Malak's combat scenes solved that problem for us. In the film, that's his primary attack move!
Even the fights were AD&D realistic! Look at that opening sequence. Conan rips through the bad guys. Why? Because he's much higher level! Those guys were probably zero level men-at-arms! And, the thief Malak. Why did he hide under the altar during the fight? BECAUSE HE AIN'T GOT NO FRIGGIN' HIT POINTS. He hid and waited for opportunities to backstab without getting into melee directly.
As a whole, I still think Destroyer is a pretty lousy movie. If you're a D&D fan, and/or a Conan fan, you may get a nostalgic kick out of this film. That's what I get out of it. And, if you're going to own it, the cleaned up version is the way to go. I mean, hey! You get both films for $5 bucks!
In my estimation, using the ABCDF grading system, here's how I rate the three Conan films:
Conan The Barbarian 1982 - Grade B.
Conan The Barbarian 2012 - Grade C.
Conan The Destroyer - Grade D or F (D if have the D&D, Conan, nostalgic connection, otherwise F).
I'm still waiting for that awesome, blow my socks off Conan film. Maybe the upcoming The Legend of Conan will be it.
BTW, Robert Jordan's novelization of Conan The Destroyer is actually quite good. I think it's the least interesting of the seven Conan books that Jordan wrote, but it is much, much better than the film.
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