Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?
Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.
Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women.
Mongol General: That is good! That is good.
—Conan The Barbarian
36 Years later, and the best version of Robert E Howard’s pulp adventure series set at the beginning of the Hyborian age of man, the best live action version of his CONAN, is John Milius’ absolutely thrillingly written CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982).
Starring the great James Earl Jones, and just dripping with great lines, the movie holds up. And no one who has seen it, can leave it without the lines of a plain, unapologetic, patriarchal time, following you, like war drums in your heart. Man, Millius got what was best in Howard’s Conan, dialing down the ‘of its time’ weaknesses of Howard’s stories, and instead dialing up the strengths to 11.
Seeing the movie as a boy, it was a boy’s adventure writ large, like STAR WARS or INDIANA JONES or SUPERMAN. And John Millius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN were the lines and the myth, that many boys grew to manhood on.
The only weakness of the first film is its titular star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger at the time, coming off devastating bodybuilding wins, was while physically the absolutely right person, did not have the acting chops. I mean he pulls it off for the most part, but some scenes cause you to wince, even as a kid, However with an actor with more gravitas, the movie could be a solid recommend, rather than a qualified one.
I think you could take this same Movie, with the brilliant John Millius script, shoot it almost line for line, and shot for shot, and add a protagonist with more acting skill, and have a great movie.
The 2011 Momoa movie unfortunately, while it got a dynamic actor, surrounded him with a sub par script and story, and had nothing iconic or memorable to it, ala Millius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN.
And the less said about the CONAN THE DESTROYER the better.
However there is talk of an Amazon Streaming TV series of Conan to be put together by Colony co-creator Ryan Condal, Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik and The Handmaid’s Tale executive producer Warren Littlefield.
But until that sees the light of day, I would say revisit Millius; CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and enjoy what is best in life.
Thulsa Doom: I wish to speak to you now. Where is the Eye of the Serpent? Rexor says that you gave to a girl, probably for a mere night’s pleasure, hmm? What a loss. People have no grasp of what they do. You broke into my house, stole my property, murdered my servants, and my PETS! And that is what grieves me the most! You killed my snake. Thorgrim is beside himself with grief! He raised that snake from the time it was born.
Conan: You killed my mother! You killed my father, you killed my people! You took my father’s sword… ah –
[Rexor twists his arm]
Thulsa Doom: Ah. It must have been when I was younger. There was a time, boy, when I searched for steel, when steel meant more to me than gold or jewels.
Conan: The riddle… of steel.
Thulsa Doom: Yes! You know what it is, don’t you boy? Shall I tell you? It’s the least I can do. Steel isn’t strong, boy, flesh is stronger! Look around you. There, on the rocks; a beautiful girl. Come to me, my child…
[coaxes the girl to jump to her death]
Thulsa Doom: That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Such a waste. Contemplate this on the tree of woe. Crucify him!
—James Earl Jones having six years earlier defined one of the great cinematic villains of all time in Darth Vader, does so here in front of the camera, with his brilliant performance of Thulsa Doom. Like all great villains, there is something alluring, and of the misplaced hero, in the best of villians. Something almost correct, something of the man they were, or could have been, that resonates in who they are. Something in their fervor and their madness, that seems at times… almost sane.
Not currently available (free) on streaming, this is the reason to always have your Blu-Ray Player and Blu-ray copy of great movies like this! Get your copy at the link below! 🙂