This was the first film that introduced me to "the goosebump effect" or rather seeing scenes of such emotional and thematic power that they give you chills. After watching this film over and over again it still doesn't disappoint. The scene immediately following the raid on Conan's village is a true masterpiece of visual storytelling. without a single line of dialogue everything that is to come in the next two hours is set up with the Murder of Conan's parents before his eyes. The look of disbelief on his face as his mother's lifeless body falls before him. Staring at his hand and then toward Thulsa Doom. the Villain saluting his freshly stolen steel. It is a perfectly executed scene that were this film not so unjustly written off as a hack and slash "sword and sorcery" picture would be rightfully remembered as one of the great scenes in film history.
The best way to describe Conan would be to call it a philosophical epic. There are real ideas and philosophies at play in the narrative. Conan's father's teachings of steel...the opening scene forging the sword becoming a metaphor for Conan's life. He is a character created by hardship and grief, and like the opening quote says "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" Conan becomes more powerful with the more hardships he overcomes. The film is very well put together. Many scenes and images from the movie are as visually layered and well thought out as any Ridley Scott picture. The prelude to the opening battle in the snow is stunning with great visual flair, a single scout stands atop a boulder breathing heavy, anticipating battle as vibrant rays of sunlight pour through the trees.
There is a ritualistic quality to many of the scenes in the film such as the finding of the atlantean sword, or the lead up to Conan's duel with the snake which is carried through right to the end where after Conan drops his sword the followers of doom extinguish their flames in the fountain. Everyone in the film manages to give a good performance but the big mistake that most people make in judging them is that they do not understand that acting is not simply saying lines of dialogue, it is behavior. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest of the cast give outstanding performances without saying all that much. The scene at the funeral pyre where Conan runs his hand through the hair of his fallen love...the subtle look of grief withheld combined with the eloquent score is enough to get the idea across, no dialogue is needed. Basil Poledouris' score for the film has to be one of, if not, the greatest score ever composed and it plays an integral part in creating the rich emotional landscape of John Milius' epic film. Conan the barbarian is a film I saw when I was very young, and through the years as I have gotten a little older and wiser the film has gotten richer and more rewarding with each subsequent viewing.
This is a film of great resonance and subtlety. Most audiences today cannot appreciate a film that requires a bit of deep thinking, but this is one of the rare films that is even more rewarding if you look beneath the surface.