Conan the Destroyer (1984), a recap (part 2 of 6)
Last time: Conan and (sigh) Malak, professional thieves, were tracked down by Queen Taramis, who had a job for the former and pretty much pretended the other didn’t exist. If Conan undertakes the quest to bring her niece Jenna to the Magic McGuffin, then Taramis will bring Conan’s beloved Valeria back to life. But there’s one catch: once Conan is done, Taramis’ minion Bombata must kill Conan. No word on whether he’s supposed to kill Malak, but one can hope.
Conan, Malak, Bombaata, and Jenna ride out through some ruins, with our heroes in the rear and the princess riding with the captain of the guard. She wonders if Conan is handsome, and Bombaata asks why she can’t judge for herself. Jenna points out she has a hard time judging because, “How many times have I seen a man? A real man?” which earns her a double take from Bombaata. Here’s a fun fact: they cast Wilt Chamberlain, despoiler of thousands of women… to play a eunuch. Is that irony? I’m pretty sure it is. Jenna finally decides that yes, Conan is handsome. Yeah, post-facelift, maybe, but here in this movie? Well, I guess if you put a bag on his head and concentrate on that awesome physique…
Miles behind them, the captain’s guard rides out to shadow the party, which by now have reached some woods. Conan begins to take another path and Jenna points out she’s in charge and he needs to follow her, saying “there’s rules in every game,” which sounds really immature, and considering we’re dealing with a pampered princess, is totally in character. Conan points out that “there’s magic in this game and they have to fight it with magic,” and Malak says “Akiro” with a smile, which is the name of the wizard from Conan the Barbarian. Honestly, I liked it better when he didn’t have a name, like maybe names have power and the wizard doesn’t hand his out lightly. But how the hell does Malak know the dude? Akiro is a hermit living in a desolate wasteland in the shadow of a burned out mountain temple—
—or apparently he now lives in the woods. And his new neighbors want to eat him. Man, first thing you do when moving to a new neighborhood is to have your neighbors vetted!
Conan sits on his horse watching the shenanigans going on until Akiro… you know what? I’m just going to call him “Mako” from here on out. I called him Mako before and it worked well enough. Conan exclaims, “Crom!” and charges down on the cannibals and swings, and one head goes flying up into the air. Then another! Malak cuts Mako free, and the wizard explains that the savages were going to eat him because they thought they would absorb his magic. Sounds legit. I’m wondering if these guys are supposed to be Picts? If so, they’re really, really lame. I guess it doesn’t matter, because Conan knocks out the chief or witch doctor with a blow to the head and scares off the rest.
Conan says to Mako, “I need you,” and Mako says, “I’m yours!” Soon the gang is back on the road, and I had to double check, but yes, they did bring along an extra horse for the wizard, so somebody behind the scenes was doing their job. Soon they’re out of the woods…
…and back in the desert. Was that, like, some really big oasis they just left? All the same, the woolly mammoth skeleton is a nice touch; it implies all this action is taking place thousands of years ago.
Conan asks Jenna about the key and she explains it’s not an ordinary one; it’s a jewel called the “Heart of Aroman” and only she can wear it. No one else can touch it. We get another shot of the dead mammoth, because dammit, they spent some serious coin on that prop and they’re going to get their money’s worth! Behind Conan, the guardsmen are riding balls out and… there’s only four of them? Man, Conan certainly decimated their ranks earlier. Considering how easily he wiped them out, you’d think Bombaata would be a little concerned just four won’t be enough back up. Unless he’s confident enough that he can take Conan out on all on his own.
The gang reach a village, or at least that’s what one of the locals calls it. I dunno; a village is supposed to have a place of worship, otherwise it’s just a hamlet. And yes, I learned that from playing Dungeons & Dragons. Mako tries to tell Malak to ease off on the stealing, but naturally, the dude’s an idiot and rips off a necklace from some poor bastard’s staff. It’s one thing to steal from a rich merchant, but from these poor bastards who look like they make a living shoveling bat guano or something? That just makes you a dick. The locals are having some entertainment in the form of the lone survivor of a bandit raiding party…
…whose ankle is tied to a metal ring mounted into a wooden post. I have to give Grace Jones credit, in that she was doing her own thing and made it work.
Jenna tells Bombaata to save Grace, but his response is that all thieves should die. Damn, something tells me he and Conan aren’t going to become friends. Jenna rides over to Conan and implores him to help Grace out. Conan ponders this, then he casually moseys his horse on over to where the action is. The crowd becomes silent and Grace turns to regard the mountain of a man on horseback, whose only response is to swing his sword down to cut the rope holding her to the ring. Grace grins and proceeds to go to town on the hamlet folk, while Conan and company quietly ride on out. I’m just wondering how many innocent people Grace and her friends killed when they rode into this sleepy little almost-village. Then again, it is the Hyborian Age, where everyone’s a bit of a bastard. After cracking some skulls with that staff of hers, Grace makes her way to her horse, which is conveniently parked nearby. She dons some sort of metal forehead shield, spits defiantly, and rides off.
At the outskirts of the not-village, Conan and friends pause when they realize Grace is following them. Bombaata heads back to confront her…
…and it seems she wants to join the party. Bombaata’s not having it, though; he’s going to have enough trouble killing Conan and his two friends without worrying about this crazy woman with a giant toothpick. He tells her to “be off!” Her response? Why, she attacks Bombaata, of course. She comes back around and uses her staff like a makeshift lance, blasting him in the chest and knocking him off his horse. I love this little bit where they cut to the rest of the party and Conan does this sort of double take, like he can’t believe what he just saw.
Grace comes back around, but Bombaata is ready for her this time, and he proceeds to cut her quarterstaff down into thirds. Grace leaps off her horse and head-butts Bombaata, and while that might work on Joe Hamleter, it doesn’t do much to a guy wearing a studded leather headband. He tosses her off and is ready to cut her down, but by now Conan intercedes. Conan tells Grace (her character’s name is Zula, but hell, I’m just calling her Grace) to leave, but she swears she’ll lay down her life for him. Conan smiles and says, “We shall see,” and we’ve got ourselves an adventuring party.
Behind them, the guardsmen come riding through the hamlet with no name. You’d think with how hard they’re pushing their horses, they’d have caught up to our heroes by now. Our band reaches woods… again… and now I’m wondering if they’ve been traveling for days or something. At least in Conan the Barbarian, when he and Subotai were on the road, you had a feel for their long journey, and when Conan struck out on his own he was traveling for a while. Here, it feels like all of this is just a few miles outside of Taramis’ capital. I think this called for maybe a montage or two, to imply a long journey taken? The group reaches a mountainous area, and if anyone is curious, the movie was shot in Mexico mainly because the production company was also shooting Dune in the same country, so production personnel could be used on both projects. The gang reach a rise and look down on a lake—
—containing the worst matte painting I’ve ever seen. Jenna explains it’s the castle of Thoth Amon, and I’m wondering how a teenager who’s probably never stepped foot outside of the castle knows all this stuff. Olivia D’Abo is doing an okay job, but I think she should be showing a little more wonder and disgust at the big wide world she’s been thrust into. Like, play up the spoiled princess bit a little more, or have Conan point out how for a princess she’s weathering the journey better than he thought. Unless everyone in the Hyborian Age is not only bastards but hard as nails as well. Eh, that I can buy. As the gang ride down to the lake shore, they’re being watched by presumably Thoth Amon himself.
Eh, Thulsa Doom, he ain’t. Fun fact: Thoth Amon appeared in “The Phoenix on the Sword”, the very first Conan story published back in 1932, and he’s the bad guy in the later story “The God in the Bowl”. Honestly, I’m not really digging this dude’s look; it’s too “busy” for my liking.
Back with the traveling party, Conan says they’ll head out in the morning, but Jenna insists that she’s the leader. Conan’s reply is, “Then lead in the morning.” Heh. Seriously though, I think a better argument would have been, “I’m not going out on a strange lake in a strange boat to a strange castle in the middle of the night.” It’s at this point that a Dungeon Master would say something like, “Are you sure you don’t want to head out to the castle now?” Because many a party experienced bedevilment by procrastination.
Instead of pouting like a petulant child, Jenna gives in. Oh, and Malak agrees with Conan, like anyone gives a shit about what he thinks. God, could someone just put an arrow through his eye or something? Night falls and Thoth Amon comes to the window, and he turns into a… ghost bird, I guess?
That is a bad visual effect there, even for 1984. Thoth flies across the lake to the camp, where everybody is asleep. No one’s standing watch? No one?! It’s the freakin’ Hyborian Age, with threats everywhere! Demon women living in huts, pasty faced cannibals, bandits! There’s a wizard just a mile away in a magic castle! It’s sort of implied the gang is under a spell that keeps them asleep, but I think it would have been cooler if Malak had been on watch and they found him face down unconscious, suggesting he was sorcerously knocked out. The inevitable happens, and the smoke bird swoops down and snatches Jenna away to carry her back to his castle.
Thoth, now (sort of) human again, carries Jenna into a bedchamber and lays her down on a comforter that looks like he could have picked up from Bed, Bath and Beyond. It turns out his motives are a lot less creepy than I gave him credit for; he tells the sleeping girl that tomorrow she’ll touch the touch the “heart of Ariman”, and it’ll be the first time anyone’s done that in a thousand years. I’m really hoping he’s talking about the jewel and not something else. Maybe his motives really are as creepy as I first surmised.
Morning comes, and the gang finds Jenna is gone, and everyone starts to panic. Uh, guys, maybe she’s out relieving herself? Conan asks Mako where Jenna is. He steeples his hands, and mumbles that she’s in the castle, taken by a bird of smoke. And everyone just immediately buys this. You’d think at least Grace or Malak would look at him and say, “You’re making that up!” Conan orders everyone into the boat… which, now that I think of it, makes me wonder whose boat this is? It’s not Thoth Amon’s; we just saw he doesn’t need one. Does the local paperboy use it to make deliveries out to the castle? It being here is a little, I dunno, convenient? The gang heads out…
…and wow. Just… wow. That’s some seriously bad greenscreen work there. They saved all that money shooting two movies in the same country, so where did all the hoarded loot go? Probably into Dino De Laurentiis’ pocket. Thoth Amon watches the heroes via his magic gem heading towards his abode, and says they’re too late, but they should come anyway.
Next time: Our heroes storm the fantasy fortress to rescue Jenna and retrieve the key.