Conan the Barbarian Technical Review (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the recent Blu-ray release of this Arnie movie from 1982...
Set in the fictional Hyborian Age the film tells the story of a young Cimmerian boy, Conan, who witnesses the slaughter of his mother and father and the razing of his village at the hands of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his band of marauders. Sold into a life of slavery and forced to push the Wheel of Pain for years on end, a now-adult Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has grown into a heavily-muscled warrior trained to fight in the area for the amusement of his masters. After beating all-comers Conan is freed and begins a quest to avenge the death of his parents. Along the way he meets and befriends the thief Subotai (Gerry Lopez) and Valeria (Sandahl Bergman), a fierce warrior woman who becomes his lover. During their travels they encounter Osric, a king who promises them a fortune in rubies if they rescue his daughter from the clutches of an evil snake-worshipping cult. As it happens the leader of the cult turns out to be none other than Thusla Doom himself, setting the stage for an epic showdown between Conan and his arch-enemy.
It’s worth noting that while the UK once again gets the cut version of the feature, those thrifty fellas at Fox have authored the disc to include both versions by way of seamless branching so that one version can be sold in the whole of Europe. What this means is that you can change your Blu-ray player’s default menu language to French and experience the uncut version of Conan. Don’t worry, it still plays with English audio and there are no forced subtitles.
I’ve never seen the film before so I can’t comment on whether the disc is faithful to the original theatrical experience, but I do imagine it’s the best the film has ever looked (certainly on a home format). The 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer is generally pleasing, with reasonable detail levels and a relatively natural colour palette. While there is a fair bit of grain on display—some of it on the clumpy side—I never really found it distracting in motion, although your mileage may vary. On the negative side a few shots do look a little waxy and the print has a few nicks and scratches to remind you that you're watching a twenty-nine year-old movie, not a recent big-budget blockbuster. Some artificial sharpening also looks to have been applied, but it's not as egregious as the worst cases I've seen. Could the film have looked better if it had been completely remastered? Almost certainly yes, but having said that the final results are far from disastrous and watching Conan is still an enjoyable, nostalgic experience.
That sounds like a Basil Poledouris score! That’s what I said to myself when I heard the opening piece of music, which sounds almost exactly the same as the theme from Total Recall, and my suspicions were confirmed shortly thereafter. The score dominates this track, largely because it's just about the only thing that makes real use of the surround channels. The rest of the action is confined almost exclusively to the front of the soundstage, which unfortunately means that Conan isn't the immersive experience it could be. With that said the various effects all come through loud and clear, although they do sound their age in that 'muffled, lacking fidelity' way that a lot of eighties movies do. Dialogue is generally intelligible and I don't remember any glaring instances where it became buried in the mix, while bass is reasonably powerful. I wasn't expecting too much from this track, but to be fair what I got was actually pretty good. You definitely know you're watching an early eighties action movie, but that just adds to the atmosphere.
The disc has a pretty decent collection of bonus material. First up is a commentary track with director John Milius and star Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you've ever heard one of Arnie's other commentaries you'll know what to expect here, as the Austrian Oak spends much of the time describing what's happening on the screen and making lame, borderline-homophobic jokes. There are also quite a few pauses to contend with. Perhaps fans will get a little more out of it than I did, but I wasn't hugely entertained. Much better is the lengthy (fifty minute) making of featurette, the deleted scenes and the newly discovered interviews from 1982. There’s also a nifty featurette about sword makers and the philosophy of swordplay, a featurette about the origins of the Conan character, a split-screen effects comparison, the ‘Conan Archives’ (a selection of galleries set to the score) and a couple of theatrical trailers.
I could blather on about this disc even more than I already have, but I guess what most people want to know is whether it’s worthy of their hard-earned cash. Well it's nothing extraordinary audio-visually, but the supplemental features are pretty good and the inclusion of the uncut version of the film is a nice little ‘undocumented feature’. As far as I'm concerned it's technically proficient enough to offer a solid recommendation to fans, but those unfamiliar with the feature might want to try before they buy.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 11th July 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Italian, DTS 5.1 Japanese, DTS 5.1 Russian, DTS 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Hungarian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai, Dolby Digital 5.1 Turkish
Subtitles: English, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish
Extras: Audio Commentary, Making of, Deleted Scenes, Interviews, Featurettes, Galleries, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Milius
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones,
Genre: Action and Fantasy
Length: 131 minutes
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