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Conan the Barbarian (1982)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that -- even though Conan is a star in his own long-running series of Marvel Comics books -- there's R-level sex and bloodshed in the form of sword impalings, torture, dog attacks, bloody axings, and gladiatorial beat-downs (even of animals). There's female nudity, too, as a young, enslaved Conan is "bred" with unwilling females like cattle and enjoys a very physical relationship with his love interest, a beautiful thief. Not that most viewers will notice amidst the hard-R content, but the movie also contains some anti-religious themes.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
CONAN THE BARBARIAN adapts for the screen the virile adventure stories of American pulp writer Robert E. Howard, set in a mythical prehistoric age before the sinking of Atlantis. Conan is son of a village sword-maker in a northern tribe. His village/family are massacred for no good reason by bandit-mystic Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Sold into slavery, Conan bulks up thanks to years of hard labor (and is now played by Mr. Universe bodybuilder-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger). He proves a champion in the gladiatorial ring. Unexpectedly freed by his master, Conan goes on a vengeful quest to find Thulsa Doom, whom he finds is recruiting masses of suicide-crazed religious pilgrims via his powerful snake cult.
Is it any good?
With a script co-written by Oliver Stone, this sword-and-sorcery hit aspires to be more serious in intent than a lot of films with longstanding comic-book tie-ins, but it's pretty ponderous. Compared to Robert E. Howard's agile prose, this plot dutifully stomps its way from point A to point B without too many surprises or detours. The villainous Thulsa Doom (whose messianic-suicide cult may be some sort of knock against organized religion) doesn't do very much at all, even with lackluster magical powers, and the sword-battle scenes are shot in flat, no-frills fashion.
While Schwarzenegger strikes artful poses and has the required physicality, he really isn't given much of a character to play. Conan just reacts rather than acts. No wonder movie critics of the savage era of 1982 (who failed to appreciate the future California governor in the documentary Pumping Iron or some of his non-action roles) initially wrote off the star as a talentless slab of imported Austrian meat. In later roles -- and in the 1984 sequel Conan the Destroyer -- Arnold flexed his humor and charisma muscles just as much as his biceps and pecs.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the character of Conan, and what makes him ostensibly a good guy in this violent, brutish landscape. Also, why do you think that this incarnation of Conan is clearly made for adults and not for the ages who enjoyed the comic book series? Do you think this would be a compelling story without the hard-R content? Were you aware of some of the anti-religious themes (specifically a quote from Nietzsche), and why do you think they were included in a movie like this one?
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