Skip’s Quips: Having Another Go at ‘Conan the Barbarian’

Blog Sketch 082813Why, I asked myself last night, am I watching the original 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian again?

Isn’t once enough for this film? It doesn’t have great cinematography. Much of the acting – except for stalwarts such as James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow – is atrocious. And the special effects are pretty poor by today’s or even yesteryear’s standards.

Oh, yeah: And the blood squibs are gloppy. Really gloppy.

Well, parts of it are watchable, for some reason. I’ve read one of the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories, “The People of the Black Circle,” and the film stays true to the tale’s sensibilities. You know: blood, gore, lust and all that. Plus, there’s the much-lauded score by Basil Poledouris, which is somewhat bombastic but definitely works.

Then there’s the script, courtesy of director John Milius and Oliver Stone. Pretty simple stuff, but at least it’s not verbose and pretentious. I was grateful for that.

There were also a number of seemingly derivative moments that may have been “inspired” by classic films such as Kwaidan (the scene in which the wizard writes runes on Conan’s body to protect him from demons) and The Seven Samurai (the stake-adorned defense against Thulsa Doom’s cohorts). Surprisingly erudite stuff for a film such as this. I did see part of an interview a long time ago in which Milius lauded Kwaidan as being “dreamlike,” so perhaps he was mining that movie for Conan. Nevertheless, it made for strong viewing.

So all in all: kind of a sloppy film, with dull moments and some very good ones. I may end up watching it again in the future and asking myself, once more, why I’m doing so. Hopefully, I’ll be able to answer myself the same way.

Skip’s Quips: Asking Jokes to Take a Holiday

Blog Sketch 082813Few films escape the pitiless skewer of parody, and The Seventh Seal is no exception. Yet as I was thinking about this black-and-white Ingmar Bergman movie today, I wondered if all the jokes are warranted. The fact is, they diminish public opinion of this great philosophical masterpiece, putting it in the attic of Works of Art That Are Too Frequently Lampooned to Be Taken Seriously Anymore.

That’s a shame, because this flick is as relevant and powerful today as it was 56 years ago.

One of the only films I’ve ever seen that evokes the fear and horror pervading the Middle Ages credibly—and done on a limited budget to boot—TSS features a stupendous central performance by Max von Sydow as an introspective knight who has returned from the Crusades to find his country ravaged by the plague. The surrounding cast, which includes Bibi Andersson and Nils Poppe as traveling actors, is brilliant, too, as is the wonderful, humor-filled (yes, humor!) script, brooding score and iconic cinematography. Of course, the black-clad, bald-headed Death also plays a part, in a memorable turn by Bengt Ekerot.

Is all of this worth making fun of? Perhaps. But I think the silliness has run its course. Now it’s time to revisit this glorious film and absorb its myriad pleasures—a bird hovering with menace in the sky, a squirrel jumping on a tree stump after Death has cut down a man trying to escape him, and the famous final “dance” in silhouette are but some of the movie’s glories. I believe it’s one of those must-watch motion pictures, and although I understand where all the jokes are coming from, I feel they hide its true worth.

So I’m going to open up this Seal again and ignore the parodies made of it. I hope it’s a start—I know it’s worth taking seriously.