The Five Greatest Moments From the Original Conan The Barbarian
Campy torture, blatant misogyny, Arnold, and other highlights that the remake will never top.
This Friday, a new shirtless muscleman will seek vengeance on his parents' murderers. And it might be good — who knows? But it will probably never match the weird, guilty joy of the original. These are the five greatest moments in the original Conan the Barbarian.
5. Conan and Valeria's "revelry montage"
Conan's lover, Valeria, is a big part of the original Conan. Valeria and Conan form a relationship, so deep, in fact, that it persists after Valeria dies. Which is kind of hilarious, since Conan literally speaks two phrases to her throughout the film. They're both within thirty seconds of meeting her, and they are, in their entirety: "You're not a guard," and "No." That's it. The rest of their relationship is, from Conan's end, composed entirely of leering and groping. That said, their "revelry montage" at one point features the pair making out while eating chicken, which I guess shows that for some relationships, talking really only complicates the simple joys in life.
4. James Earl Jones' snake imitation
James Earl Jones wields the most unspeakably excellent flat-pressed hair in Conan, and whether he's fondling snakes, grieving over the death of his favorite pet snake, or simply turning into a giant snake for no apparent reason, his wild-eyed recitations and overwrought gestures indicate that he's really enjoying himself — there's a rare, malicious joy to his performance that's the polar opposite of his work as Darth Vader or Mufasa (or the voice of CNN). The high point of his performance, though, is undoubtedly the aforementioned scene where he interrupts a perfectly good orgy to transform into a giant snake apropos of nothing. Then again, the "why" isn't quite as hilarious as the "how:" Jones pulls his hands into his sleeves, smushes his face forward, and suddenly there's a large snake wearing his hood. The damn thing just looks so adorable that you sort of forget how absurd everything else is.
3. Conan's "Crom" Speech
It's hard to pinpoint a high-water mark in a film whose script paraphrases Nietzsche and Camus at points, and features Arnold Schwarzenegger grunting and laughing maniacally in others. But for my money, it doesn't get any better than Conan's final speech to Crom. "I have never prayed to you before — I have no tongue for it," Arnold intones, begging the question of what tongue, if any, he does have. Lustily over-emoting his way through words like "revenge" and of course, "HEAHLL," Conan stabs at eloquence and coherence here the same way he does at his enemies — with a pronounced lack of grace and and an abundance of enthusiasm. Crom bless him.
2. Twenty minutes of violent overture
With the exception of a largely pointless speech by Conan's father, the first twenty minutes of the film feature nothing but orchestral wails and barbarian violence. It's a nearly a full half-hour before we even hear Conan speak (and of course when we do, it's the appropriately epic line about the best things in life). Not only does this spotlight on the soundtrack hearken back to the great spaghetti-western gimmick of "when in doubt, show people walking over grandiose music," but it enhances the impact of the relatively sparse (and usually laughable) dialogue. Basil Poledouris' soundtrack for Conan is often cited as a great throwback to the classic, romantic era of film scoring, and the state of modern-action cinema (perennially scored to "Bodies" by Drowning Pool, for no reason other than that yes, bodies are indeed hitting the floor) is especially depressing compared to Conan's full-on aural assault.
1. Arnold punches a camel in the face
Arnold's performance in Conan is, in my opinion, his best ever. Roles like "Detecktkhive Jahn Kimbauhl" and "Danny DeVito's twin" drew on resources Arnold, well, did not have. But in Conan, when all he has to do is yell while falling over or struggling with people, or occasionally make really excellent "surprised" or "angry" faces, his performance hits new heights of acting-without-acting Zen. Delivering his heavy-handed dialogue with a kind of narcoleptic furor, Arnold slurs, growls, and glares his way through a performance that will never be topped by man or beast — hell, his belly laughs alone are more entertaining than most of the 1990s. Also, in what is easily the high point of the film, he drunkenly punches a camel directly in the face, dropping it to the ground in a moment that I suspect was completely unscripted — I always imagine that Arnold thought he was being confronted by director John Milius with acting notes and just reacted naturally.