Gerry Conway! A talented jerk like Steven E. de Souza, Conway sold his first work as a teenager then went to both Marvel and DC Comics. At only 19, Conway worked on The Amazing Spider-Man where he scripted the Death of Gwen Stacy storyline and many others over a several year run. While at the House of Ideas, Conway co-created The Punisher and wrote for The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and more. Moving to DC Comics, Conway co-created Firestorm and worked on Superman, Justice League of America and Detective Comics among others. If that weren't enough, in the 80's Conway jumped into film, television and animation with credits on G.I. Joe, Transformers, Batman: The Animated Series, Diagnosis Murder and Law & Order.
Conway quickly introduced Conan the Destroyer, recalling how Conan the Barbarian producer Edward R. Pressman sold his share of the rights to mogul Dino De Laurentiis. Conway and comics writing partner Roy Thomas worked on the script for about a year pumping out 10 drafts. During that time, it seemed like only the writers and Arnold were attached to the project. Word came down that Richard Fleischer was hired to direct, an excellent choice in Conway's eyes as he loved the director's Norsemen saga, The Vikings, starring KIRK DOUGLAS, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh. The writers met with Fleischer, thought he was a very nice man and immediately after were told they were fired! Thus ending Conway's involvement with tonight's feature on which he receives a Story By credit and attended the premiere in 1984.
Starting with credits over the a dusty landscape and Mako's wonderful narration of an age "between the time the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas", days of high adventure set to Basil Poledouris' iconic score. We find Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) praying for his lost love Valeria while thief homeboy Malak (Tracey Walter) counts stolen booty before they're attacked by Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas). Taramis wishes to recruit the barbarian thief on a mission to retrieve a treasured horn that will bring back dreaming god Dagoth. For his service, Taramis promises to resurrect Valeria. At the palace of Shadizar, Taramis and Captain of the Guard Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain) explain their plot to use Conan to retrieve the horn, that only virgin niece Jehnna (Olivia d'Abo) can collect, then kill the barbarian and sacrifice the niece in order to appease Dagoth.
Feeling that a sword can't match up to sorcery, Conan stops off to pick up Wizard of the Mounds Akiro (Mako) before the motley crew runs into Zula (Grace Jones), a fierce warrior stranded in a village after an unsuccessful raid. To get the horn, they have to find a jewel which is housed in an ice and crystal castle on a lake where wizard Toth-Amon (Pat Roach) resides. From there it's off to a temple where Jehnna places the jewel and walks through fire to collect the horn. Bombaata seemingly seals Conan and his crew in a tunnel and escapes with Jehnna and the horn. Back at the palace, things don't go too smoothly as Jehnna's botched sacrifice turns Dagoth into a horrific monster that a rescuing Conan must hack the shit out of with a battle ax and his trusty broadsword. The film looked great on the big screen, the print was in terrific shape as was Arnold, holy geez was he yoked in this! I believe director John Milius told Arnold to tone down his workouts for the first Conan as a specimen built from hard living and physical labor wouldn't look like a polished bodybuilder while in the sequel Arnold is equal parts huge and shredded with his signature huge chest, big arms and a slim tapered waist. Being shirtless for many a scene I wondered if he was severely dehydrated and underfed for the duration of filming.
Fight scenes are nice with bloody squib slashes, severed heads and impalement's galore but for all the sword, spear, mace and knife fighting, they could have used a little more choreography instead of just clanging weapons a couple times before being run through. Being a fantasy film you get magic, sorcery, wizards, crazy costumes and monsters. During the mirror chamber, Arnold throws down with Toth-Amon in his reptilian/man-ape form and gets body slammed and windmilled around the room in a goofy fight scene. The monstrous Dagoth was played by an uncredited Andre the Giant in a full, aquatic monster inspired suit, who slaps Arnold around before getting his horn ripped out and stabbed dead.
Of course with such an eclectic assortment of actors including a bodybuilder, a singer and an NBA star, performances and expressions are laughable and priceless at times. Arnold playing drunk is great as is his punching of a horse and hammer fisting a camel early on. Mako is terrific as the ragged wizard who can move things with his mind and start a fire out of nothing. Tracey Walter plays the comedic sidekick/thief just fine in a role that would probably be designated to Rob Schneider if this was made in the 90's. Future Bond girl and Dolph Lundgren girlfriend Grace Jones is strong and terrifying while Olivia D'Abo is cute as can be as the naive virgin always showing skin in aerated gowns. Wilt Chamberlain is tall as shit and gives Bombaata some nice gravitas. While Conan the Destroyer is by far no masterpiece, it still stands as a solid if unspectacular entry in the sword and sorcery, action-fantasy genre if only because there aren't enough comparable titles and is perfect for lazy day viewing.