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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Conan the Barbarian: Special Edition (1982)

Conan the Barbarian: Special Edition (1982)

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Released 13-May-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Featurette-Making Of-Conan Unchained - The Making Of Conan
Audio Commentary-John Milius (Director) & Arnold Schwarzenegger (Actor)
Deleted Scenes
Featurette-Special Effects
Featurette-The Conan Archives
Theatrical Trailer
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1982
Running Time 125:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (49:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Milius

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
James Earl Jones
Sandahl Bergman
Ben Davidson
Gerry Lopez
William Smith
Max Von Sydow
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music Basil Poledouris

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Croatian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Conan the Barbarian is set in the Hyborean Age, between the sinking of Atlantis, and the start of recorded history. Men and women were different then. Women's body temperatures ran several degrees higher, forcing them to wear the skimpiest of attire to avoid over-heating. Men's body temperatures ran colder, requiring them to wear furs. Conan, a sensitive soul, was in touch with his feminine side - or maybe it was just the fire for revenge that ran inside him - he could get away without a shirt. Interbreeding of men and women in the ages since then has yielded what we have today - people all with the same body temperature. (Well, have you got a better explanation for the costumes?) 

    Conan is a mythic figure, a powerful man, always depicted with masses of rippling muscles. There was only ever one actor to depict Conan. Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't born to play Conan, but his rough-hewn face with its heavy brow gave him the looks, and his body building career made him perfect for the role. As John Milius put it: if Arnold didn't exist, it would have been necessary to build him for this role. It is not surprising that Arnold's existence was what triggered the project - they were looking for a film for him, and this one arose.

    Oliver Stone, who wrote a draft of the script (which was revised heavily by John Milius) envisaged a series of movies, perhaps 12 in all, with Arnold coming back every couple of years to make another one (he likened it to James Bond). Milius envisaged three movies, each with a different theme. Fact is, Arnold was in transition, from the grotesquely over-muscled body-building days (see Pumping Iron, or Hercules in New York) down to a more human appearance (see Predator, for example) - he could not have sustained the Conan look for 20 years. Shame, really - I would have liked to see those movies. Guess we'll have to wait for someone to build a new Arnie. As it turned out, we got this film, the inferior sequel Conan the Destroyer, and a kind of spin-off: Red Sonya. Pity.

    Conan the Barbarian is a film told without a lot of dialogue. The first sixteen to twenty minutes are only disturbed by a short monologue from Conan's father on the riddle of steel - vital information for later. We see Conan the child, a normal child until his village and family are wiped out in an attack by the Vanir, and some mysterious men. Conan is taken as a slave, and chained to the Wheel of Pain, where he grows into a man, doing nothing but pushing this immense wheel to grind grain. It's understandable that he grows into a man short on words, and perhaps not overly bright. This sequence is marvellous, showing where the muscles came from. Then he is purchased by the fight master, and forced into pit-fighting for the amusement and gambling of drunks and barbarians. His success makes him valuable, so he is taken to the East and taught advanced fighting and the use of weapons - the cameo by Yamazaki, master of the sword, is entertaining. Conan's first words in the movie come at this point, when he is asked what the best thing in life is, and he replies "Crush enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women" - Conan is clearly a poetic soul. This whole start to the film explains how the great body was forged - it's superb, and the thirty minutes it takes is not time wasted. The story proper starts when Conan is freed...

    A great hero needs a great villain. Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) is that villain. James Earl Jones plays this character with finesse - he is quiet and intense, never raising his voice. It seems beautifully ironic that John Milius was, in part, inspired by the cult led by Jim Jones in coming up with a cult led by James (Earl) Jones.

    I should mention that this is a Director's Cut. The ending, in particular, has been changed somewhat from the original version. The changes are not big, but I noticed them, and liked them, even before the commentary pointed them out. If you have only seen the original, you might be surprised by this cut. I noticed two other added scenes - I don't know if there were others.

    I still haven't read any of the Conan books, but I may well do so. I fear they won't live up to the film, though. Oh, it is not high art, but it is a beautifully crafted piece. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend it, but it's definitely not for children - even if you didn't mind the plethora of unclad bodies, there is just too much gore.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The movie is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. This is the original and intended theatrical aspect ratio, which is always good.

    The picture is clear, but not razor sharp. Shadow detail is excellent in all but the darker night-time scenes. There is no low level noise, but a little grain in some of the darker scenes is easily mistaken for noise.

    Colour is excellent. There is no over-saturation and no bleed, but there are some well-saturated colours. Admittedly, much of the production design uses somewhat muted colours, but there are plenty of opportunities to evaluate the red of blood, yellow/orange of flame, and the blues of the sky.

    There are few noticeable film artefacts - there's a small blue spot at 48:45, for example - and a scattering of minute flecks, but you'd be a harsh judge to ding a twenty-year-old film for these. There's no significant aliasing, and no serious moire. There is a bit of grain that comes and goes, but it is generally minor. There is some background MPEG shimmer, but it is not pronounced, and only visible when looked for. In summary, this is quite a clean transfer.

    There are subtitles in thirteen languages, one of those being English. The English subtitles are well-timed, accurate, and easy to read.

    The disc is single-sided, RSDL, with the layer change at 49:44, in a silent fade to black between scenes - this is perfect-placed and invisible. I had to use technical means to locate it.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks, both English. One is the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The other is the audio commentary. I listened to both completely.

    Dialogue is clear and easy to understand. There are no visible audio sync problems.

    The score is perfectly suited to the film. It is some of Basil Poledouris' best work. Lots of brass and percussion for most of the themes, unsurprisingly. I noticed, in watching the deleted scenes, how much the score is part of this movie.

    The surrounds are used, but subtly - I noticed only two instances of directional sound to the rear. The subwoofer supports the lower register, but again subtly. Not a deeply immersive soundtrack, but one which does use the 5.1 setup to a limited extent.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is static and silent. It is of the same design as the R1, but without the sound and animation. Not a big loss.

Featurette - Conan Unchained - the Making of Conan (53:13)

    This is quite a substantial extra, and worth a look. I'd have appreciated it more if it did not include fair chunks of the audio commentary - I didn't appreciate the overlap. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

Deleted Scenes (5:29)

    Three different scenes:

Special Effects (1:39)

    A comparison of a single scene (the attempted Conan takeaway) in split screen - the finished scene, with CGI demons above, and the scene as filmed below. Interesting, but fairly short.

Conan Archives (11:49)

    A montage in three parts:

Trailers (3:47)

    Two trailers, presented one after the other.

Production Notes

    Sixteen pages of notes about the making of the film.

Cast and Filmmakers

    Brief biographies and filmographies for a lot of the cast (a total of 57 pages):

Audio Commentary - John Milius (director) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (lead actor)

    This is a bit disappointing, partly because we've heard big chunks of it in the Making Of. Oh, there's lots of information, and John and Arnie are reasonably entertaining to listen to, but I felt they were more interested in enjoying themselves than in informing us. Arnie falls into the trap of describing the on-screen action at times, which is not helpful.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 disc has been out for some time. The R1 Collector's Edition replaced an even earlier version that was movie-only and not 16x9 enhanced - that earlier version was not very good. The R1 Collector's Edition has all the features of the R4, plus a Recommendations section (two static pages with cover shots of three movies on each - boring) and a Web Link to the Universal Pictures web site. Not big selling points for the R1. Interestingly, the R1 disc is distributed by Universal whereas the Region 4 disc is distributed by Fox.

    The Region 1 disc's transfer is inferior to the R4. The R4 is a bit brighter, and has fewer film artefacts. The difference is not huge, and I would not advocate throwing out the R1 if you have it, but I would definitely recommend buying the R4 if you don't yet have a copy.


    Conan The Barbarian is a violent, bloody, exciting adventure, presented well on DVD.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The extras are ample, and fairly good.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Sunday, May 05, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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