Conan the Barbarian

With the new screen adaptation of Conan the Barbarian about to hit the box office like a warhammer – its backers hope – it’s interesting to look at the origins of the latest 1980s movie revamp.

Conan the Barbarian

Marcus Nispel’s Bulgarian-shot Conan the Barbarian (2011), starring newcomer Jason Mamoa as Conan and Rose McGowan as half-woman, half-witch Marique, is based on Robert E. Howard’s fantasy fiction. His work was first adapted by John Milius in Conan the Barbarian (1982), which was where Arnold Schwarzenegger first made an impact on cinema audiences. The ‘Austrian Oak’ starred as the broadsword-wielding hero, who sets out to track down Tulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) with help from Amazonian Valeria (Sandahl Bergman). This steamrollering fantasy epic produced by Dino De Laurentiis was scripted by Milius and Oliver Stone, boasts a rolling thunder score by Basil Poledouris and spectacular shooting locations in Spain, including the Almerian desert, the Sierra Nevada and the unmistakable ‘mushroom rocks’ of Cuidad Encantada (The Enchanted City), near Madrid.

An official sequel, Richard Fleischer’s Conan the Destroyer (1985), teamed Schwarzenegger with Grace Jones. The worldwide success of the ‘Conan’ films spawned many imitators over the next few years, including a bunch shot in Italy. The most famous of these was Red Sonja (1985), also directed by Fleischer, which starred Brigitte Nielsen as the revenge-seeking title heroine, Schwarzenegger as swordsman Kalidor and Sandahl Bergman as Queen Gedren. It was shot in L’Aquila and Lazio, Italy and had a score by Ennio Morricone. Conan also inspired the ‘Ator’ series of films in Italy, included Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982), starring Miles O’Keefe, and its sequel Ator the Invincible (1982 – aka The Blade Master). But Schwarzenegger is the epitome of this type of muscle-bound sword and sorcery hero and it’ll be interesting to see how the new Conan squares up.

UK TV viewers can see a double-bill of the ‘Conan’ films next week. Barbarian and Destroyer are being broadcast back-to-back on ITV4 from 9pm on Thursday 18 August. Plus Red Sonja is being shown on UK TV Channel 5 at 11.20pm on Sunday 14 August.

The original Conan has just been released on Blu-ray in the UK and the US:

It’s also available on DVD in the UK and US:

Almost all UK releases of Conan the Barbarian are cut for horse stunts. This widescreen videotape inexplicably slipped through the net in 1999 and isn’t:

To read more about the Italian ‘Conan’ knock-offs such as Ator, check out my new book Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult published by I.B. Tauris

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