Directed by Richard Fleischer
June 29, 1984 (United States)
“Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms laid spread across the world. Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, sword in hand. It is I, his chronicler, who knows well his saga. Now, let me tell you of the days of high adventure…“
Conan the Barbarian is tasked by Queen Taramis with escorting young Princess Jehnna to obtain a jeweled horn to awaken the dreaming god Dagoth.
I admit to liking this one just a little more (by a smidgen) than Conan the Barbarian only because Conan the Destroyer reminds me of an old school adventure movie serial, and I have a soft spot for those. Conan the Destroyer is much more fun and lighter in tone than Conan the Barbarian. The violence was not as high in this film under director Richard Fleischer. And it is much more accessible as a sequel too than others might be. You do not need to see the first to get this follow up film. The basics are all laid out in the first few minutes and it stands alone.
Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, both legends, wrote the story but were reportedly unhappy with the final screenplay by Stanley Mann and the overall film. They were so unhappy in fact that they eventually converted their vision into the graphic novel Conan the Barbarian: The Horn of Azoth, changing some character names and merging other characters to distance it from the film. I am sorry but I think they are just upset they did not get their way. This is good stuff here.
Too often people complain about the second film in a series just copying the first and this one most certainly did not. It had a completely different atmosphere from the from its predecessor and in my opinion it still works. Yet people complain about it. Even Ahnuld complained though those comments seem to have come after the complaints. Way to stick your finger in the wind and see which way it is blowing and diss a good film.
From the opening the music just makes me want to get on a horse and ride off into battle. Basil Poledouris was a genius. He knew how to evoke the right emotions in a film. He knew how to tell the story of a movie through the music he made. He was the mind behind Red Dawn, RoboCop, The Hunt for Red October, Starship Troopers, and of course this film’s predecessor among so many others. He created actual music and not just film scores. This is the kind of quality you get when you have an orchestra performing and not a person by themselves with a few instruments like today. He is among my favorite composers that worked in film. This man was a genius, and his death was a loss to film music.
I also love the action. There is more fighting in this. This is much more sword and sorcery with heavy emphasis on the sword, but it is not filled with blood squibs. I am cool with gore and it can be effective and necessary, but it can also be avoided at times and they do a good job of avoiding it here yet still giving us an exciting movie.
The Dagoth monster at the end is just fantastic. I am more of a fan of a man in a rubber suit than I am of something crafted via CGI. I have a definite soft spot for practical effects and the use of costumes. This is just a big frightening lumbering beast and I love it. André the Giant was the man in the suit, and he was not the smoothest moving individual to enter a wrestling ring so the stiffness of the beast has more to do with him as a person than what he wore in this movie. And I think that is where the creature came up short. I think close shots could have been done with a puppet in a similar fashion to Admiral Ackbar in ROTJ and the distance shots could have been André the Giant in the suit. I think it would have looked much better. And they could have done something that looked like it moved quicker than it does here.
Schwarzenegger and Mako are the only two actors from the previous film to return as their characters with Mako’s Wizard of the Mound character being named Akiro here. Sven-Ole Thorsen, who played Thorgrim in the first film, returned but as the bearded Togra. Thorsen has been involved in some fifteen Schwarzenegger projects in one way or another and has had a career beyond our favorite Austrian thespian as well.
Valeria was obviously dead, and it is my understanding that the brief scene where her character appeared in the funeral pyre was performed by someone else. David L. Lander (Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley) was originally cast to play Malak the Thief, but due to his deteriorating health from the onset of multiple sclerosis he was forced to quit and Tracey Walter got the part. I think this switch was for the best. I enjoy Lander but Walter is just the better fit here. He has made a career of often cowardly yet brave. Lander’s characters tend to just be cowardly.
Grace Jones joins the group as the warrior woman Zula. This was perhaps the perfect role for her. Back then that is what she looked like. She always looked like she stepped out of some fantasy warrior film and here she was finally in one.
We also get the amazing Sarah Douglas as the evil sorceress Queen Taramis and Wilt Chamberlain of all people in his only film role as Captain of the Guards Bombaata. Sarah Douglas is one of my favorite genre actresses. She has done so many good things and even if the material has not been good, she has been fantastic in it. I get a little excited when I find her in something because I know she will be good and at least one part will be enjoyable.
Only in the 80s could you cast someone like Wilt Chamberlain in a movie. He was a basketball player and not known for acting. I am just not sure who thought of this, but it was good casting. He was not wooden, and he made the guy villainous without being ridiculous.
A very young Olivia d’Abo is cast as Princess Jehnna who was born to resurrect the Dreaming God. This was actually her film debut and she does great. Her talent is obvious here as she holds her own against all the actors and delivers her lines believably.
The costumes are just amazing. In Conan the Barbarian there was set an aesthetic that was a standard up until The Lord of the Rings films. These are just some of the coolest fantasy outfits ever. That is one long reign.
The story is simple enough and well-trodden territory. Essentially Queen Taramis is using her niece to seize power. In this case it is ultimate power via awakening Dagoth. This plot has been done countless times in film.
The battle at the end is just great. It is a lot of flashing lights and noise, but it just gets my blood pumping. The battle is not the only part that looks good. I am still impressed with an early shot in the film where Conan and his ragtag group are riding into the distance and they are passing between two rows of these great statues. This was in the days before CGI could insert everything including the kitchen sink into films. This was done as a matte painting more than likely and it just looks solid even in the light of modern day.
The film is solidly directed by Richard Fleischer. Prior to this he had a strong resume with films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1954, Fantastic Voyage in 1966, the musical version of Doctor Dolittle in 1967, the war film Tora! Tora! Tora! in 1970, the classic science fiction thriller Soylent Green in 1973 among many others. He keeps the film moving steady and building to the thrilling climax.
Conan the Destroyer is a great addition to the Conan saga that never got a follow up. It is a fun adventure film with a good story and great effects. Watch it!