There’s little that isn’t impressive about Conan the Barbarian from a production standpoint. It’s massive, from the outdoor and indoor sets, the march of extras by the hundreds, and of course the star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a wall of muscle.
Conan the Barbarian has 50-foot snakes, orgies, beheadings, and physical combat galore. It has snake men, snake women, bogus deities, and a startling will to conquer. It’s masculine, violent, and raw.
There’s not much story to Conan the Barbarian
There’s not much story to Conan the Barbarian
In truth, there’s not much story to Conan the Barbarian. Conan (Schwarzenegger) doesn’t even speak for 20-minutes into his own story, enslaved and silenced in his earliest days, putting into motion a fantasy vengeance tale. In doing so, Conan the Barbarian sifts through religious allegory, making Conan a hero through a Christian lens, the man crucified, reborn, and stabbing a living snake who engages in Sodom & Gomorrah-like orgies, further cementing Conan’s Christ-esque figure.
Of course, Jesus didn’t slaughter hordes with a broadsword, but Conan still represents that accepted form of righteousness. Enslaved and forced into combat, Conan is given women, but he caresses them and clothes them. His empathy for those who are innocent is clear, determined to rid the world of its serpentine evil force, Thusla Doom (James Earl Jones).
Much as its religious parallels evoke a familiar reading, at its base, Conan the Barbarian is a survivalist fantasy, about a man who exists only to live as self-made leader. On his own from childhood, Conan takes that trauma into adulthood with a singular mindset. The film’s aggressive posture often makes women slaves first, obedient to a point of suicidal tendencies. Men rule this time, dominating an existence built on butchery. In its finale frames, the antagonist defeated, Conan takes a woman as his own. She’s never given a choice as submission defined this culture.
It’s a stark, harrowing film, one defying the urge to create a campy tale in the vein of Flash Gordon. Conan the Barbarian remains strictly focused on fantasy-imbued history, with humanity entrenched in a violent cycle, absolutely outlandish visually, but drenched in hardened combat. No one else could play Conan other than Schwarzenegger, whose beastly physique encapsulates a natural, “survival of the fittest” mantra. By eye alone, the man exudes strength, and an unnerving silhouette to any of his challengers. He fits in this world where everything looks and feels enormous, even if it tells a thin story.
Brought into the modern era via Dolby Vision and a 4K master, Conan the Barbarian looks wonderfully preserved. Clarity brings out detail, and this goes for the close-ups and wide shots of villages or forests too. Definition drives this presentation, the texture wonderfully precise.
Color appears of the era, slightly skewed with warmth and a sepia tint. This doesn’t mean primaries drift toward nothingness as they do exceptionally well. Blood strikes a hearty red, flesh tones land their density, desert browns display vibrancy, and forest greenery pops.
Arrow keeps the contrast reserved, carefully applied to respect the source, but still stretching it to add vividness to Conan. Black levels drift more toward a brownish hue, just a few notches off from pure black, yet still delivering on depth. The minimal grain structure (with few exceptions) is easily hidden by shadows. The few major spikes show some digital noise, but otherwise hold true.
Included is the original mono, joined by a fresh Dolby Atmos remaster. Basil Poledouris’ epic score energizes the low-end with pounding drums and low-end weight. Charging horses generate bass too, although not with the same tightness; it’s artificial and loose.
Faded dialog suggests age, preserved the best it could be. Surrounds and stereos minimally factor in. Aside from the score’s bolder presence in Atmos, mono is fine.
Arrow includes three cuts of the film on 4K, theatrical, international, and extended. Each varies by just a few minutes.
On the extended cut only, writer/director John Mulius and Arnold Schwarzenegger provide a commentary. The second track comes from author Paul M. Sammon. Finally, there’s an isolated score track.
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Conan the Barbarian
Muscle, steel, and masculinity define Conan the Barbarian’s surface level fantasy.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 49 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: