Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the Cimmerian warrior thief in this follow-up to the wildly popular 'Conan' movie and is joined by Mako as his wizard companion Akiro. Missing, however, is John Milius, a few of the original producers, and another screenplay from the talented Oliver Stone. And the action sequel actually shows the lack of their input. Also missing is any connection to the mythological source created by Robert E. Howard. 'Conan the Destroyer' can't even claim to be based on any of Howard's stories aside from character names. In a strange, mystical way, though, the plot could very easily describe itself as being loosely inspired by the first movie and its success.
For this fantasy adventure, Conan travels far and wide once again to battle another dark, twisted religious sect bent on ruling the world. This time around, the cult is not led by the deep bass voice of James Earl Jones. Instead, we have the more soprano-like stylings of Sarah Douglas as Queen Tamaris. Although best remembered as Ursa in the first two 'Superman' movies, Douglas's performance matches quite nicely opposite Schwarzenegger. The script doesn't seem to give her much to work with, but she practically steals every scene she's in. Dressed in deliciously form-fitting outfits that expose lots of skin, the sorceress employs Conan's protection to retrieve a jeweled horn that will awaken the god, Dagoth.
Accompanying him on this perilous quest is fellow thief Malak, played by the funny character-actor Tracey Walter. The role offers plenty of amusement and comedy, but his slapstick shenanigans can be rather distracting at times and grow old fairly quickly. Mako's Akiro is more subtle in his humor and works far better, but even his magic tricks tend to fall flat during the course of the narrative. Olivia d'Abo is the Queen's niece Jehnna, responsible for handling the horn as well as developing an unnecessary, if not unhealthy, love-interest for Schwarzenegger. Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain joins the Conan ranks as the princess' bodyguard Bombaata, who rarely talks or does much else aside from seeming dishonest. Every time his name is mentioned, I think of Afrika Bambaataa.
The most memorable of this motley troupe is arguably the very unique and highly original Grace Jones as the wild, screaming marauder Zula. Much like Schwarzenegger, the Jamaican-born actress already possessed a strong following in the music industry and was admired for her modeling career. This role was to be her breakthrough performance — which it was — and catapulted her face as a prominent celebrity of the 1980s fashion world. As the fierce, courageous warrior — except against rodents — devoted to serving Conan, Jones brings that balance of seriousness and comedy which Walter and Mako fail to deliver. She followed this with portrayals of a superhuman Bond villain in 'A View to a Kill,' a seductive queen vampire in 'Vamp.' and a lustful fashion diva in 'Boomerang.' All funny, memorable stuff.
Despite these relatively entertaining performances from Schwarzenegger, Douglas, and Jones, 'Conan the Destroyer' does come with some troubled spots, mainly in the story and undeveloped or wrongly-used characterizations. But what does work rather well is the directing of Richard Fleischer, son of the renowned animator Max Fleischer and helmer of such classics as '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,' 'Soylent Green,' and 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' With another winning score by Basil Poledouris to build the excitement, the film moves at a brisk, satisfying pace and accomplishes its goal without a hitch. 'Destroyer' puts a great deal more emphasis on the "sword" and "sorcery" than its predecessor, but it remains an easy, enjoyable watch for those who can forgive the little connection it has with Howard's original stories or the Conan mythos.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment provides a second offering to the Blu-ray gods with this Region Free, BD50 disc of 'Conan the Destroyer.' Housed in the normal blue keepcase, the standard menu selection appears after a series of internet-based trailers, which are skippable. The cover art, much like its predecessor, is not much of a looker but passable.
Despite a few troubled spots that are easily forgiven, 'Conan the Destroyer,' on the whole, looks excellent in high definition video. The AVC-encoded transfer displays outstanding clarity with distinct details of fine lines and textures throughout. In close-ups, facial complexions appear healthy and natural with plainly visible blemishes and pores. Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture comes with spot-on contrast, giving the movie a youthful and energetic appeal. The color palette is bold and full-bodied, adding to the overall quality of the image. Black levels are also accurate and true with strong shadow detailing, except in a couple scenes with slightly poorer resolution. Noise reduction has been applied to clean up the transfer a bit, but used very sparingly and barely worth mentioning. Film grain remains thinly intact and consistent, providing the movie with a great cinematic appeal.
The audio is also good, but it doesn't seem to hold up quite as well as the video. Dialogue is for the most part well-prioritized and perfectly intelligible; however, there are minor moments when the voices of actors don't match their lip movement. In one conversation with Wilt Chamberlain, Olivia d'Abo's voice suddenly echoes while out in the open, riding on horseback. These are odd and sadly distracting anomalies, but the original recording is likely the culprit, not the high-rex track.
On the plus side, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack exhibits a clean and sharply-rendered dynamic range with a healthy low-end. It's a front-heavy presentation with great balance and fidelity, providing the imaging with an attractive, spacious feel. Once again, Basil Poledouris' score makes best use of the lossless mix, filling the soundstage with warmth and brilliant differentiation of the orchestral instruments. The music also bleeds very lightly into the back speakers, making this a nice and satisfying soundtrack to a fantasy-adventure favorite.
Sadly, Universal has opted not to provide any worthwhile special features aside from the movie's original Theatrical Trailer. I understand the film is not as wildly popular as the first, but an audio commentary or retrospective would have been nice.
'Conan the Destroyer' is the sword-and-sorcery sequel with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mako reprising their roles. Sarah Douglas, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Tracey Walter and Olivia d'Abo join the fantasy quest to defeat a religious cult from awakening a demon god and ruling the world. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the movie is fun escapism but falls somewhat short of offering the same engaging level of adventure as its predecessor. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent video presentation and good audio, though it also comes with one or two minor weaknesses. On the whole, this bare-bones package is better suited for the high adventures of the bargain bin.