Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Conan the Destroyer (1984), directed by Richard Fleischer.

I remember feeling let down by this sequel to Conan the Barbarian (1982). We get a semi-comic magic quest adventure that seems cheap and unworthy. What to do? Not every movie can be an origin story and the original had its own problems in tone and plot, but it also had a surprising depth of emotion and glimpses of mythical power in its storytelling.

A PG sequel to an R original always seems like a bad idea. PG13 came in shortly after; that might have been a more accurate rating. But swapping humor for seriousness is a bad trade, in my view.

Give credit to the cast: all are willing to do both the action and the comedy sides. Tracey Walter gets the clown burden; I think his bits could have been better written.

I miss Sandahl Bergman but the women we do have make the most of their roles. "Evil Queen" is kind of a thankless job -- and a small one here -- but Sarah Douglas gives her some life. Olivia d'Abo is both fetching and funny as the loosely-clad magic Virgin Princess. "Knowing" playing "innocent" is great fan service.

Grace Jones is the truly remarkable cast member: muscular and proudly just-about-naked, a fierce warrior woman. The character is easy to lampoon but hard to perform. I knew someone who did DJ work in Chicago who had met a lot of celebrities and he said Jones was one of the most charismatic people he had ever met. David Bowie was another.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: I love him but he seems to be coasting. To be fair the script doesn't require anything else from him.

Genre fans are hard to please. We want more of the same and then complain that it is the same thing over and over. In this case I would have been happy with more of the same. Still: I'll watch this from time to time.

Basil Poledouris conducts his own score, reusing the music from the previous film, slightly reorchestrated. I love the music but hearing it here I think: that was a better scene in the other film.

Photographed by the great Jack Cardiff -- Black Narcissus (1947), The African Queen (1951), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951).

Filmed in Mexico rather than Spain this time. They make good use of the mountains, plains and forests. Again, they seem hard on the horses and camel.

Available on Blu-ray.