A few weeks ago I reflected on how underwhelmed I was about this summer’s movie-going options. Nearly everything just looks pretty dull to me. The summer movie season is traditionally one of my favorite times of the year, showcasing the best in loud, fun, crowd-pleasing spectacle and unhinged entertainment. But what does this summer have to offer us? The A-Team? Jonah Hex? Knight and Day? Salt? No thanks.
Lucky for all of us, though, movies have been around for a long time, and there are a lot of really great ones—or at least some mighty fun ones—that could certainly stand to be revisited. So for the summer, I’ve decided to offer a wide variety of Summer Movie Alternatives! I’ll pick one of the big movies opening up each weekend and take a trip back in time to find a movie with a similar angle that is sure to provide more bang, and for fewer bucks!
This weekend is Memorial Day weekend. And how is Hollywood celebrating it? With Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. What is this, liberal Hollywood telling our fallen soldiers to suck it? Give us something good, dammit! Is it too much to ask?
Let’s say you really want to get your swords-and-sorcery on this weekend, but—like me—you think Prince of Persia looks like a dud. Well I say don’t try fighting those crowds for a movie that will probably disappoint—stay in, order a pizza, and check out John Milius’s 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger epic Conan the Barbarian! If this movie doesn’t satisfy your craving for sandy vistas, magic spells, and mighty warriors with big swords reaping some prehistoric carnage, then maybe you didn’t really have that craving in the first place.
No, it’s not a perfect movie by any stretch. It has its problems—but do you know what it also has? JAMES EARL JONES TRANSFORMING INTO A GIANT SNAKE! And this is 1982, friends, so you won’t be seeing any CG on display for that one. Are you sold yet?
The plot is pretty simple, but it has many an intricacy. When we are introduced to Conan, our title character, we are in ancient, ancient times. He is just a young boy living in a quiet peaceful village, bonding with his father. And all of a sudden the village is ransacked and destroyed by a band of warlords led by the wildly evil Thulsa Doom (Mr. James Earl Jones). Conan’s parents are both murdered by Doom, and he remembers the two-snake emblem sported by the invaders for the rest of his life.
He and the other children of the village are sold into slavery, where he grows up to become Arnold Schwarzenegger, spending his days walking in constant circles pushing the mill known as the Wheel of Pain. He has one mission for himself in life: to avenge his destroyed village and murdered parents.
The majority of the film is more or less a series of adventures as he tries to hunt down Thulsa Doom and his doomsday cult, based on his one memory—the emblem with the two snakes. Along the way he meets many people who assist him on his journeys, including thieves Subotai and Valeria, the wizard Akiro (who narrates the film), and even Max von Sydow shows up playing King Osric who sends Conan on a quest that will lead him to Thulsa Doom, to his vengeance, and to JAMES EARL JONES TRANSFORMING INTO A GIANT SNAKE!!!
Like I said, it’s not perfect. If you haven’t gathered it from my description, you should know that it really is pretty cheesy. But that’s part of the fun and the charm of these old sword-and-sorcery epics! Where’s the cheese in Prince of Persia? Where’s the fun? The bottom line is this: Conan the Barbarian is FUN. It exemplifies all of those elements that seem to be missing not just in Prince of Persia, but in this entire summer of movies!
So far we’re just steeped in sadness. Iron Man 2 wasn’t very good. I liked Robin Hood a lot actually, but it wasn’t exactly chipper. And now we have this ridiculous bummer? An ancient warrior with a Sun Tan City hue and an Urban Active hand stamp? (Do they stamp your hand for re-admittance at Urban Active? Probably not, but I thought it sounded funny, and I’m comfortable enough with my art to take liberties with the truth…just like Mel Gibson.)
The only thing sadder than Jake Gyllenhaal playing dress-up is Jake Gyllenhaal playing dress-up and asking us to take him seriously. The entire plot of Donnie Darko had more credibility than Gyllenhaal himself does playing this role.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, IS his role. He IS Conan. Would anyone else really have been appropriate for the part? Arnold isn’t trendy-Bowflex muscular! He’s mythically unnatural muscular! He’s a comic book hyperbole come to life! He has nearly transcended my TV screen to where I thought I saw my reflection in the pools of sweat glistening off his pecks—pecks he still has to this day but chooses to hide under some “suit.” Like he has better things to do than be Conan? And his iconically thick Austrian accent has never felt more appropriate for any other role of his than it has here, with the possible exception of Jingle All the Way.
Schwarzenegger commands the part with that barbaric might that the title of the film requires of him. He’s a beacon of cold, calculating, prehistoric dread. And in that prehistoric sort of way, he knows that the best way to deal with your enemies is to crush them, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. Conan speaks truth!!
And he had a sequel, as well—1984’s Conan the Destroyer, directed by Richard Fleischer. Most regard this film as one of the most notoriously bad sequels of all time. Personally, I enjoy it—much for the same reasons as I enjoy the first Conan. It’s mindless fun. Yes, Wilt Chamberlain is in it. And yes, Conan fights a rubber monster in a hall of mirrors, and yes if you look hard enough you can see its zipper and the space between the body suit and mask, but those are the charms that you simply have to grant it. It’s an entertaining flick.
Currently, Marcus Nispel is working on a remake, simply titled Conan. Now, I made it a point a few months ago to state that I’m not against remakes—I invite them from all ends. That being said I am against this particular remake—not because I worry that the power and the majesty of the Conan legend will be destroyed, but rather because I believe Marcus Nispel (director of Texas Chainsaw ‘03, Friday the 13th ‘09, and the Viking movie Pathfinder) to be a truly terrible filmmaker, and anything he touches must surely be despicable.
But for now, I have no choice but to recommend Conan the Barbarian as the proper Summer Movie Alternative to this weekend’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Both movies have the same aim—a solid adrenaline-shot of desert-battle popcorn movie entertainment. But where Prince of Persia would try to lure you in with its Disney appeals, video game familiarity, and the latest special effects, Conan the Barbarian is content to merely club you over the head and drag you into its cave. But it would’ve had me at hello, anyway.
And it has JAMES EARL JONES TRANSFORMING INTO A GIANT SNAKE!
Would ya like to own BOTH Conan flicks for only a couple bucks more than the price of one ticket to Prince of Persia? Well, click here to buy Conan – The Complete Quest!