Conan The Destroyer's 2.35:1 AVC transfer is actually quite nice, all things considered.
The opening titles are not likely to inspire much confidence – full of speckles, blotches and dirt and a muddy red palette that smudges the blood-scaped desert imagery – and the very first shot that follows them, of Conan praying to Valeria, looks no nothing better than a soft, un-detailed and diffused DVD picture. But then, almost immediately afterwards, the video picks up very considerably.
There is still some edge enhancement that we can see ringing the rocks during this opening sequence, and this may well linger into the rest of the film but, to tell you the truth, I very swiftly either didn't notice it, or it just wasn't there any more. Print damage after this early point is still evident, though to a much lesser degree. There are at least two other occasions when a small dark smear can be seen on the lens. Once again, though, this is nothing to get concerned about. Grain is intact and consistent. Digital noise only appears once during a subterranean passage in the shadows. Otherwise, this has a very clean and untinkered-with appearance. No aliasing or banding. No artefacts. A tiny element of DNR, perhaps?
Despite being quite a colourful film, certainly a lot more colourful and vibrant than the first Conan, this is shot in a diffuse and softened manner by Cardif. We have some lens flares and some anamorphic distortion – which a lot of us actually like – but this is still a huge improvement over any home video version that has come before. Reds are nicely presented, though they are not thick and deep. Splashes of blood look just about right to me, especially gleaming when seen against that terrible demon-mask that poor Pat Roach is forced to wear. Greens come over well and look quite fresh during the scenes set in the forest. Blues are cool, and the rocky aesthetic that decorates much of the exterior scenes is suitably drawn. Contrast is good. Don't be phased by that softened and occasionally hazy sheen to the photography, there is ample distinction between light and dark, and between the shades of the palette. Blacks meet the challenge too, offering solid and stable shadows when the adventurers begin to probe the crypt. Flames from torches and from the blazing occult statuary provide a smoothly warm contrast to them, and the corresponding cast they throw is happily naturalistic. Skin-tones look good to me – the real recipient here being the big man, himself, with his burnished physique positively radiant at times.
Detail, other than seen in that opening shot of Conan is good and consistent. The image won't set your world on fire, but this transfer offers us a wonderfully rendered picture that is miles better than it could have been. Costume details are well-delineated, and you can happily inspect the instances of unintended nudity should you be so inclined. Striations in rocks, leaves on trees, the odd wound here and there, and some details in faces, eyes and hair are afforded. It is also worth noting that the once rather poor animated transformation of Toth-Amon into a large magical eagle, and its carrying to his fortress of a kidnapped Jehnna now looks far smoother and better integrated than ever before. I found this to be the case with the spirits of the dead in the first Conan's BD transfer, as well. Sadly, with the added detail and resolution it ends up making some of the other, um, creatures even more pitiful.
A good solid transfer that fans will certainly feel rewarded with.
There isn't too much going on with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 makeover for Conan's second outing. This is a primarily frontal assault with only sporadic elements of surround usage. This isn't a poor mix by any means, but it isn't a very exciting one either.
Across the front, the sound is reasonably well spaced and we get some finely reproduced stereo spread adding width to the action. Dialogue comes across without any errors and Arnie's delivery is certainly better than it was in the first movie, even during his drunken phase. We can certainly hear all the inflections in Sarah Douglas' refined vocals, and it is great to hear Pat Roach's distinctively light Brummie accent coming through unmolested. Bombaata, however, seems to be the one supplying most of the bass levels for the mix with that resonantly deep, bowel-loosening voice.
Actually, bass isn't too bad … when we get it. The big battle with the sorcerer's demon-wrestler is full of pounding .LFE, though much of this seems to emanate from the profoundly deep musical cue from Poledouris. This is a definite highlight, though sadly it is not an especially good part of the film. The shattering of glass during all of this is clear and sparkling enough, though it is not exactly crystal clear. Steerage of this chaos around the set-up is okay, but not brilliantly realised. Directionality rarely stretches to anywhere beyond the front with any conviction. The rear speakers have a tiny amount of ambience to carry. We can hear some scuffles taking place behind us, occasional voices, the wind swooning across the magical night as the band rest up on the bank of the sorcerer's lake. But there isn't much to report on with regards to rear support, and what is there is pretty feeble.
Whilst the action is nicely meaty and suitably heavy – full of bodily impacts and clashing steel – it isn't very cleanly delineated, and comes across more as just a general barrage. The sound of Zula's staff smacking various numbskulls who stray too close to her has some swift clout, however. And I like the little metallic thunk! that we hear when Bombaata slams his spiked club into the rock ceiling and then the wall to escape from the cave.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best element to come out of this is Basil Poledouris' music. All of his themes sound bright, lively and detailed. They come across with power and warmth across the range. Very definitely, that new motif for Conan showing-off his sword-swinging skills has clarity and power. And the wonderfully exotic percussion cues for the cannibals and for Zula's theme have terrific punch with their tribal shakers and wood-block making some great klock-klock sounds.
Overall, this sounds at least as good as you would expect it to. For sure, it has not sounded better, but the surrounds don't offer much to savour. It sounds faithful to me and doesn't make any mistakes and I'm sort of torn over how to score it. But, being fair, this is only getting a 6 out of 10.
We get a trailer. That's it … unless you count BD-Live and pocket-BLU. Which I don't.
A real shame. Aye, the film is hardly regarded as a classic, but it is surely worthy of something like a commentary (like the one that Sarah Douglas provided for the DVD) or a retrospective in view of the Conan renaissance. Hell, I'd have provided a chat-track … if they'd asked me. And I would have paid Universal if they could have sat me down with Sarah Douglas!
Conan The Destroyer's bad press is, to me, largely unwarranted. Fleischer's film is tremendous fun. It loses the dour dignity of Milius' classic ode to machismo, and swaps testosterone-packed philosophy for fast and fun set-pieces, a glorious aura of 80's magic and mystery, and Grace Jones twirling a mighty staff. Arnie is clearly having a great deal of fun, strutting about in the finest physical form that he ever graced the movies with, and showing a lighter side to his stalwart barbarian. The ensemble cast provide a great team of bizarre characters, and the startlingly bad acting in one particular case is neatly offset by the lead man performing the part with his own tongue wedged firmly in his cheek.
The plan had been to appeal to a wider audience and, like it or not, I think Fleischer and co. managed to do that whilst still keeping more than a fair chunk of visceral action and a few little smirks for the grownups. The bodycount is colossal and there is blood on offer. Sadly, Rambaldi's demon-lord creation is terrible, and I can't find a single way to excuse it. And the Mexican grapple-bout is shockingly naff too … although the gimmick with the hall of mirrors does make the set-piece quite exciting at the same time. You've got the hugely sexy Sarah Douglas pouting with noble, sneering sadism and Wilt Chamberlain blotting out the stars. You've got Grace Jones scaring the bejeesus out of everyone. And you've got Arnie on the rampage. Sure, it's more camp than people expected … but it still captures the spirit of many adventures that Howard's hero went on with good-natured exhilaration.
Universal's disc provides a great looking and reasonable sounding transfer, considering that it hasn't hailed from a fully restored print, but the complete lack of extras is just a cop-out when you remember that the DVD had a few things, including a commentary from Douglas.
After Milius' epic, the tone may have changed, but the essentials are all here. Conan The Destroyer remains great fun. Just don't get too sloshed when you play the BOMBAATA drinking game!
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.