CONAN THE BARBARIAN  [Limited Edition SteelBook] [Blu-ray]
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 25 January 2014
CONAN THE BARBARIAN  [Limited Edition SteelBook] [Blu-ray] Thief, Warrior, Gladiator, King!
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as the legendary warrior and hero, Conan the Barbarian. When his parents are killed by a band of brutal marauders and the gang's cold-blooded cult leader [James Earl Jones], the orphaned Conan endures a childhood of merciless slavery only to become a gladiator for the amusement of his captors. Eventually set free, Conan begins a dangerous, full-blooded quest to avenge his parents' massacre. Now, the sword-wielding warrior must vanquish his bloodthirsty enemies in this death-defying action-adventure about courage, strength, character and the triumph of good over evil.
‘Conan The Barbarian’ is new to the Limited Edition SteelBook Blu-ray treatment. Thankfully 20th Century Fox UK does know a good thing when they see it for us fans of Arnie Films, as they have finally paid tribute to their early 1980¡äs fantasy classic by giving it the Limited Edition SteelBook treatment in the UK only. ‘Conan the Barbarian’ Limited Edition SteelBook, is adorned with beautiful artwork from the original film poster, a gold embossed title, and a quarter-slip with printed ratings logos.
Cast: 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, Gary Herman, Erik Holmey, Akio Mitamura, Nadiuska, Jorge Sanz, Jack Taylor, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Kiyoshi Yamasaki, Pilar Alcón (uncredited), Florencio Amarilla (uncredited), Ron Cobb (uncredited), Dragon Dronet (uncredited), Donald Gibb (uncredited), Andrea Guzon (uncredited), Corrie Jansen (uncredited), Celia Milius (uncredited), John Milius (uncredited) and Sab Shimono (voice) (uncredited)
Director: John Milius
Producers: Buzz Feitshans, Raffaella De Laurentiis and Dino De Laurentiis (uncredited)
Screenplay: John Milius, Oliver Stone and Edward Summer (story) (uncredited)
Composer: Basil Poledouris
Cinematography: Duke Callaghan
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English: 1.0 Mono Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 121 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Andrew¡¯s Blu-ray Review: Like its star attraction, the bulging mass of muscles that is Arnold Schwarzenegger, 'Conan the Barbarian' has a one-track mind for fantasy-adventure pandemonium, and it follows through with tons of heart and determination. Though not a faithful adaptation of the Robert E. Howard stories, but the John Milius 'Red Dawn' film interpretation carries a great deal of the enthusiasm and mettle found in those sword-and-sorcery tales. With a terrifically enchanting production value and a simple, light-hearted storyline, this passionate little yarn is a delightful behemoth full of magic, mystery, and scantily-clad, beautiful women. It delivers the perfect blend of cheesy escapism, boorish brawn, and plenty of sword action.
Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his breakthrough performance as the titled character in search of barbarous vengeance. The Austrian champion bodybuilder was by this point a renowned celebrity as a world-class body-defined, winning several competitions, before challenging himself in an acting career, which was off to a very slow start. But it wasn't until his role of the already-iconic Cimmerian slayer that his career suddenly catapulted his unique name to superstardom. And he's the perfect fit for bringing the heroic fantasy to the big screen. Practically bursting at the seams with muscles and with his raspy brusque accent, Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal breathes life and dimension into a character that could only previously be imagined by millions of readers.
Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, Conan's quest to avenge the genocide of his people and the murder of his parents commences as a young slave. This is one aspect of the script that is the second one written by Oliver Stone demonstrating his talents as a screenplay writer, which works extraordinarily well in an otherwise straightforward plot. The narrative takes its time to develop and establish a sympathetic character, which for a big part of the story lives in survival mode. Then it shows he is no naturally-born superhero. Conan must learn the art of wielding a sword, and he has a hunger for learning as well as fighting. The man is also flawed, pursuing emerald riches as a thief and content in a lifestyle of gluttony.
Through the course of his journey, Conan meets fellow thieves Sabotai [Gerry Lopez] and Valeria [Sandahl Bergman]. They are a good addition to the story, not only as trustworthy companions but also as an amusing distraction from the fact that Conan is mostly a lone figure. Too much Schwarzenegger in any given movie doesn't necessarily mean a good thing. Remember 'End of Days' and 'Eraser'? Anyhow, filmmakers also bring in the always-charismatic Mako who pulls a double shift as the odd wizard Akiro and the film's narrator. The actor inserts a good comedic element without completely looking the fool. Max von Sydow, too, makes an appearance as King Osric, whose plea to rescue his daughter from a religious cult points Conan in the direction to vengeance and eventual heroism.
The leader to this fanatical sect also happens to be the object of Conan's sweltering retaliation and is played by none other than the remarkably talented James Earl Jones. I was thrown off by his character's final lines where repeats the words father and son several times. No matter, Jones is utterly impeccable as Thulsa Doom, giving the film a certain quality of respectability. And John Milius does great in making James Earl Jones' a really nasty evil villain to powerfully foil a very angry and determined Arnold Schwarzenegger. With a grand musical score by Basil Poledouris which nicely combines traditional symphony with a medieval-operatic quality and a militarised bent, 'Conan the Barbarian' remains an awesome fantasy-adventure epic and one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's most memorable action roles. Hey, I think I just learned how to spell Arnold Schwarzenegger without having to look it up each time. How cool is that!
Blu-ray Video Quality – We now have at last a beautiful stunning fresh re-mastered of 'Conan the Barbarian' and does appear to rejuvenated and dapper this awesome 1080p encoded image. Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture displays far better clarity and resolution than its standard-definition inferior DVD counterparts. Contrast doesn't provide much pop, but it's well-balanced and crisp nonetheless. Black levels, on the other hand, are hit-or-miss though generally strong. Night time sequences are noticeably the poorest with average shadow delineation and a good deal of fuzziness. The colour palette is accurately saturated with vivid primaries and nicely-rendered secondary hues. The transfer comes with a thin veil of grain, providing the film with an attractive cinematic appearance. Several scenes show distinct lines in Conan's outfit and armour, and close-ups expose terrific life-like textures in the faces of actors. Foliage and the unusual Pagan architecture are sharply defined. Sadly, there are also many sequences where details don't hold up quite as well, issues commonly associated to the age of the print used. The image has been digitally cleaned up without too much damage and shows some slight ringing around the edges during scenes with high contrast. Overall, the Blu-ray video image is as sharp as could be hoped for, and it's definitely the best presentation ever for this classic sword-and-sorcery epic.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – In the audio department, things only get even better as we have a choice of viewing it in either 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio or 1.0 Mono Dolby Digital soundtrack, that perfectly satisfies expectations. The original monaural design is given new life as it occupies a splendid sense of space and provides the soundstage with a full-bodied presence. There may not be much in terms of rear activity in the 5.1 surround department and the effects that whiz from speaker to speaker, but listeners can enjoy imaging that's highly engaging and feels broad for the majority of the films running time. Though not very dynamic or extensive, the mid-range is crystal-clear with flawless differentiation between the frequencies. Fans can enjoy every clashing and clanging of the swords with terrific clarity. The low-end is understandably limited, but it offers just enough oomph and weight to the battle scenes to make the spectacle enjoyable. Dialogue and character interactions are pitch-perfect and excellently intonated, so we can make out every hilarious grunt and bellow during Arnold Schwarzenegger's fight scenes. Best of all, is the wickedly awesome music from Basil Poledouris is the real winner in the entire mix. The thunderous, symphonic score fills the entire front soundstage and lends itself wonderfully to back speakers with very subtle bleeds. Each instrument is superbly separated and cleanly delivered, and when mixed with the choir segments, the excitement just builds and immerses the listener. The high-resolution track may not compare with contemporary action-packed flicks, but this lossless audio presentation of 'Conan' is simply awe-inspiring and must be listened to at full blast.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary by Director John Milius and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger: Director John Milius and star Arnold Schwarzenegger provide a fairly standard but somewhat dull conversation. The two men spend most of their time narrating on-screen events, with John Milius throwing in a few quips on character motivation. It is clear that Arnold Schwarzenegger has not seen the film in several years, often giggling and stating he had forgotten about certain scenes. On occasion, the two remark on the production and swap stories about on-set shenanigans. On the whole, the audio track is an easy listen, but also rather inconsequential unless one is a hard-core fan of the film.
Special Feature: Deleted Scenes Sequences [480i] [6:00] A collection of six scenes which didn't make it to the final cut.
Special Feature: Art of Steel: Sword Makers and Masters [1080p] [15:00] For those with an interest in the art of sword-making and fighting, this is a cool documentary with interviews of the people at Albion Armorers, the Samurai master who trained Arnold Schwarzenegger and a police officer with an affinity for sword fighting.
Special Feature: Conan: From the Vault [1080p] [10:00] A nice assortment of once-believed lost and forgotten interviews with cast and crew talking about the production and their respective roles.
Special Feature: Conan Unchanged: The Making of Conan [480i] [53:00] This is made mostly from more recent interviews with cast and crew, this engaging retrospect explores pretty much every aspect of the production and its making. It starts with a discussion on the story's origins and Oliver Stone's involvement before moving on to casting and the shoot. The second half is arguably the best with a good discussion on the fight choreography and the old-school special effects. The actors and Milius share their many memories of working with live snakes and performing the many stunts. It closes with a look at the set design, the musical score and thoughts/aspirations of the film and all very good stuff.
Special Feature Documentary: Conan: The Rise of a Fantasy Legend [18:24] Here you get a very nice informative documentary, from several eminent and informative people of the genre in regards to the mythology of Conan. And these include Roy Thomas [Writer of Conan Comic Books]; Steve Leiber [Artist/Illustrator]; Don Herron [Editor, The Dark Barbarian]; Michael Morrocock [Author, The Elric Saga]; Jim Keegan [Artist/Illustrator]; Kurt Busiek [Writer, Conan Comic Books]; Michael Scott Myers [Screenwriter, The Whole Wide World] and James Earl Jones [¡°Thurlsa Doom¡±]. What we see and hear is all these folks talk about how Conan started on its journey through the years, especially when Roy Thomas [Writer of Conan Comic Books] invented the genre when Conan was published in the Weird Tales Magazine. They all also talk about how Conan has evolved over the years and how similar Conan is in the magazine to what is portrayed in the now famous films and how Arnold Schwarzenegger was made for the part. One very interesting remark that James Earl Jones came out with, is that he tells us that Arnold Schwarzenegger informed him and the director John Milius that he was not a trained actor and that he wanted John Milius to just tell Arnie what to do and not try to ask him to speak the words from the script verbatim. So all this is a very interesting and informative documentary. All very good stuff.
Special Feature: Special Effects: Split Screen Video [1080p] [2:00] A cool split-screen comparing the scene when Conan is recovering from his crucifixion wounds.
Special Feature: The Conan Archives [480i] [12:00] Set to the film's original score, this is essentially a still gallery of production drawings and stills, concept art and publicity photos.
Theatrical Trailers [480i] [4:00] Two Theatrical Trailer previews completes the package.
Finally, 'Conan the Barbarian' is not a film that will likely please everyone equally, but for fans of fantasy-adventure epics, this 1984 action fantasy film from John Milius is a classic of the genre, one with a massive devoted following. The sword-and-sorcery film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in his breakout performance as the titled character, along with the great James Earl Jones as his nemesis Thulsa Doom. Universal offers this Blu-ray edition with great picture and an excellent audio presentation that perfectly captures the original score's drama and excitement. Supplements are the same collection from the DVD, but the package offers a couple of new surprises, making this a worthwhile purchase for Arnie fans everywhere. I think us British have the BEST of both worlds, because all our Televisions and Blu-ray Players are Multi-region, and we get the Limited Edition SteelBooks that are usually only available here in Europe and the UK, plus we get Extras that are not found on the Region A/1 Blu-ray. So all in all this is a MUST have, especially now I have this beautiful handsome Limited Edition SteelBook edition added to my Blu-ray SteelBook Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso
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