TIFF Bell Lightbox Presents The Rise of Beefcake Cinema: ‘Conan the Barbarian’; or Arnie’s big misadventure
Conan the Barbarian
Directed by John Milius
Written by John Milius and Oliver Stone
John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian is nothing if not title appropriate, because barbarous is the only potent way of describing it. Based on a pulp fiction magazine of the same name, the movie version feels like it only adapted every other page, focusing on the violent and naughty bits instead of story, resulting in a movie with as many breasts as dead bodies.
A Game of Thrones episode (an overlong one) minus any semblance of a plot or political intrigue, Conan the Barbarian is a gigantic misadventure that, as the British might say, is a bloody waste of time.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as the eponymous Conan, and the film’s first major problem lies herein. Schwarzenegger surely looks the part, with his hulking physique, but his screen presence doesn’t match up to the gravitas that’s needed of him, and that’s not due to the film’s lack of trying.
The film’s first 30 minutes is essentially a back-story for his character, documenting his parents’ death at the hands of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his introduction and escape from slavery, but at the end of it all, Conan is still a person without personality.
Schwarzenegger’s line delivery is often stilted and incomprehensible, and even the film’s use of voiceover narration is insufficient in making us fully understand him. We are left with a big brute of a man, and we have to literally project some characterization into him.