Kull the Conqueror (1997)

kulltheconqueror_1Starring Kevin Sorbo, Tia Carrere, Thomas Ian Griffith, Litefoot, Roy Brocksmith, Harvey Fierstein, Karina Lombard, Edward Tudor-Pole, Douglas Henshall, Joe Shaw, Sven-Ole Thorsen

Directed by John Nicolella

Expectations: Pretty low.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


I may be one of the few to ever say this, but I loved Kull the Conqueror. Perhaps thanks in part to my incredibly muted expectations, I found Kull the Conqueror to be relentlessly fun. Around every corner was something to excite and entertain, both in ways expected and unexpected. I can’t go so far as to call it a good movie, though, it’s definitely in the B-Movie camp and those inclined to scoff at these kinds of films will definitely scoff throughout Kull the Conqueror. But the movie is clearly designed to be a load of fun instead of being something hyper realistic, so when taken as such it gets the job done exceptionally well.

Our story begins in a dimly lit camp where Kull (Kevin Sorbo) is battling some dudes. We’re led to believe he’s fighting for his life, but this quickly proves to be untrue. In fact, Kull is getting jumped into the King’s elite guard, but after facing the King’s general in one-on-one sword combat, Kull is refused entry because he is not of noble birth. Meanwhile, the king is going crazy and slaughtering his children, so everyone heads over there and through some unexpected turns of fate, Kull ends up with the king’s crown and title. Say what?

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Conan the Barbarian (2011)

ConanTheBarbarian_1Starring Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Bob Sapp, Leo Howard, Steven O’Donnell, Nonso Anozie, Raad Rawi

Directed by Marcus Nispel

Expectations: Super low.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Against all odds, Conan the Barbarian is not a gigantic failure. They sure try in a lot of ways to drive the film into the ground, but thankfully they aren’t completely successful as this re-imagining of Conan’s origin story is pretty damn entertaining. But a good film it is not, although I was pretty fooled for the first 30 minutes or so. This section is by far the best in the film, and as soon as it’s over and Conan is actually Conan, things start to turn south.

This isn’t really a remake, as the story is completely different from John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian. In broad strokes they are somewhat similar, though, as both films open with Conan’s family being brutally murdered by an evil villain and Conan wishing for revenge. The villains are nothing alike, but they share a foreboding, formidable screen presence, inspiring a young Conan on his quest for revenge. So I suppose in this way it is a remake, but a remake in basic premise alone.

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Red Sonja (1985)

redsonja_4Red Sonja (1985)
AKA Kalidor

Starring Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Paul L. Smith, Ernie Reyes Jr., Ronald Lacey, Pat Roach, Terry Richards, Janet Agren, Donna Osterbuhr

Directed by Richard Fleischer

Expectations: Lowest of the low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


Over the course of your journey through cinema, you’re bound to watch your share of thrilling adventures. There’s also a good amount of entertaining misadventures, but even the most careful of viewers will eventually run into a “disadventure.” Red Sonja is unfortunately one of the latter variety, and it is a rather bad one at that. It’s sad, too, because it starts out with such promise. Opening with some quick text about how Red Sonja is on a legendary quest of revenge, visions of the incredible revenge wrought by Arnold in Conan the Barbarian filled my mind. This is exactly the wrong thing to do if you actually want to enjoy Red Sonja, because absolutely nothing in this film is anywhere close to the original Conan film. Well, the production design is pretty good, but it’s still a couple of steps down.

Ugh, where to even start? There’s so much wrong here; I feel like I’ve been confused and blinded by the horrors I’ve just witnessed. Painful as it is, after thinking about all the bad elements I have to say the one that annoyed me the most was the character of Prince Tarn. It’s going to be hard to relate why I didn’t like him without the whole thing coming off as “Will hates kids,” or at least “Will hates kids in movies,” but honestly I wanted to strangle this little pompous kid. It’s frustrating too, because Ernie Reyes, Jr.’s martial arts are actually really great! He could have been a fun, interesting character, but instead he’s a whiny kid who’s always yelling and putting everyone down. Ugh. If nothing else, haters of this kid will get some entertainment out of him being tortured by a villain, and later Arnold picks him up one-handed and shakes him.

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Conan the Destroyer (1984)

conanthedestroyer_2Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Sarah Douglas, Olivia d’Abo, Pat Roach, Jeff Corey, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Bruce Fleischer, Ferdy Mayne

Directed by Richard Fleischer

Expectations: Super low.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Sequels are tricky business, perhaps harder to get right than the first film in a franchise. Conan the Destroyer is a film that had all the odds stacked against it right from the get-go, as it had the burden of attempting to follow one of the greatest fantasy motion pictures of all time. So instead of trying to bang out a rehash of the first film, the new creative team decided to go in a completely different direction. Conan the Destroyer represents a different side of Conan, much like many of Robert E. Howard’s original stories that represent an unexplored side of the character at different places in his life. Conan the Destroyer is definitely not anywhere near as awesome or as well-made as Milius’s original film, but it is a nearly non-stop parade of B-Movie fun.

Conan the Destroyer presents us with a story that Conan gets mixed up in, not one that is integral to the character. This immediately hampers the film from being the deeply resonant tale of woe and revenge that the first film was, but that’s OK — this one has crystal castles, wizards and crazy monsters! While praying at an altar, Queen Taramis of Shadizar sends in her guards to attack Conan. He easily bests them, slicing their nets and punching their horses. Upon his victory, the Queen tells him of a quest, one that if he succeeds will allow her to resurrect Valeria from the dead. Wanting nothing more than Valeria back in his life, Conan agrees and we’re off on a thrilling fantasy adventure.

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Conan the Barbarian (1982)

conan_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gava, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Valérie Quennessen, William Smith, Luis Barboo, Franco Columbu, Leslie Foldvary

Directed by John Milius

Expectations: Extremely high.

fourstar


Conan the Barbarian opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” A far better actor than many give him credit for, Conan the Barbarian provided Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance at destiny. The films leading him to the role of Conan were of varying quality, but the fires of Pumping Iron or The Jayne Mansfield Story tested, trained and forged the steel of his resolve like the steel of the sword that is forged during Conan‘s opening credits. These experiences shaped Arnold into the hulking beast of a man awaiting his rightful place in the spotlight of Hollywood’s explosive action films. He seized this opportunity like a champion, delivering a muscular, vengeful performance that continues to resonate over 30 years later. Conan the Barbarian is a stunning achievement, and one of my favorite films.

Conan the Barbarian tells a very simple tale, but like all great fantasy stories, there is a focus on grand adventure that sets Conan apart from other films of its vintage. Watching it this time, it reminded me a lot of Richard Donner’s Superman, in that it takes a story that many would have made into a trashy genre film and treats it with respect and verisimilitude. Conan is not a B-Movie with swords, it’s an epic journey of revenge across the wide plains of Hyboria.

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