Conan the Barbarian is your quintessential 'sword and sorcery' movie, derived from classic 1930s pulp magazine stories by Robert E. Howard and brought to the screen in thrillingly trashy style.
Robert E. Howard's character Conan is said by many to have been the progenitor of the 'sword and sorcery' genre of science-fantasy, though I'd give that honour to Edgar Rice Burroughs, for his fabulous adventures set on Mars and Venus.
But Conan did help define the genre, and provided the prototype for later developments by more able writers such as Sprague de Camp and Leigh Brackett.
This is true science-fantasy adventure in which Conan, left orphaned and sold into slavery, grows up into a muscular champion fighter, seeks to revenge himself on the invader of his birth-land who slaughtered his people and lopped off his mother's head.
We trace the development of Conan from boy to muscle-bound simple swordsman (who else but Arnold Schwarzenegger), and watch as he engages in enemies who are in league with weird and wonderful spirits -- or who can, as is the case with his major foe, Thulsa Doom, transform himself into a giant snake. Or is he a snake who can take the shape of a man? Either way, he is a truly awesome foe.
Thulsa is played by one of my favourite actors, American James Earl Jones; he of the wonderful rolling, deep voice which cannot help but make majestic the tritest dialogue. I think Jones was the original voice of Darth Varder -- he is a huge asset in this picture.
As Conan proceeds on his quest for revenge, he acquires a couple of sidekicks -- rogue Mongol Subotai (Gerry Lopez) and the queen of thieves Valeria (Sandahl Bergman). Subotai looks like a refugee from a Kurosawa movie, and does a thoroughly good job here. Sandahl has the toughest job. She has to try to look attracted to Arnie, when it's obvious she'd be far more attracted to a diesel-truck.
Arnold has the easiest job. He doesn't have to act or emote or really do anything except swing a sword or punch out a camel. The only parts of him which actually emote are his pecs and biceps -- and there are a lot of scenes here carefully framed just to show those over-pumped muscles.
This is in lots of ways a very bad movie. Arnold just can't act here (though later in his career he did come up trumps, especially in Terminator Two and Twins, and speech does present him with severe problems too. The story isas silly as most science-fantasy is, with its mixture of blood, gore and magic in the pre-historic, pre-Atlantean Hyborean age.
It's totally ridiculous, and it's great fun. I loved it. But then, I love pulp fiction of the early 20th Century, and most of it is, one one level, as bad as this, while being profoundly wonderful on another. Only a fan would, I'm afraid, understand. This is grand 'B' grade entertainment for grown-up kids.