Looking Back At CONAN THE DESTROYER - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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"Conan the Destroyer," the 1984 sequel to "Conan the Barbarian," stands as an intriguing chapter in the landscape of 1980s fantasy cinema. Directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the titular role, the film builds upon the lore established in its predecessor while taking a slightly different tonal path.

The premise of "Conan the Destroyer" revolves around Conan, tasked with escorting Queen Taramis's niece, Princess Jehnna, on a quest to retrieve a magical crystal. The storyline, while simpler than the original, is a classic quest narrative, filled with sorcery, battles, and mythical creatures. It expands the Conan universe, delving deeper into the Hyborian Age, a fictional prehistoric period created by author Robert E. Howard.

Schwarzenegger's return as Conan cemented his status as an action star. Fresh from the success of "Conan the Barbarian" and "The Terminator," his physicality and screen presence were perfectly suited for the role of the brooding, muscular hero. Schwarzenegger's Conan is less the introspective warrior poet of Howard's creation and more a man of action, which suited the film’s shift towards a lighter, more adventure-focused tone compared to the gritty, darker feel of the original.

Grace Jones brought a unique ferocity to the role of Zula, a warrior and bandit. Jones, known for her modeling and music career, imbued Zula with a raw, imposing presence, standing out in a cast of strong characters. Olivia d'Abo made her film debut as Princess Jehnna, bringing a blend of innocence and determination to the character. The chemistry among the cast members, particularly between Schwarzenegger and Jones, added an engaging dynamic to the film.

Mako returned as Akiro, the wizard and narrator, and Tracey Walter played Malak, providing comic relief. The film also featured Wilt Chamberlain as Bombaata, who brought an imposing physical presence rivaling Schwarzenegger's. Chamberlain, a basketball legend, transitioned smoothly into the role of the Queen's formidable bodyguard, though his acting was less acclaimed.

Director Richard Fleischer, known for "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and "Soylent Green," brought a different sensibility to "Conan the Destroyer" compared to John Milius's more somber approach in "Conan the Barbarian." Fleischer aimed for a more accessible, less violent film, which resulted in a PG rating, unlike the original's R. This shift was a double-edged sword; it opened the film to a wider audience but also diluted some of the raw, mythic quality that defined the original.

The production, set in various locations including Mexico, leveraged expansive landscapes to create a vivid, fantastical world. The cinematography capitalized on these settings, offering sweeping vistas that underscored the epic nature of Conan's journey.

Released on June 29, 1984, "Conan the Destroyer" performed moderately well at the box office, grossing over $31 million in the United States. It faced stiff competition from other fantasy films of the era, such as "The NeverEnding Story" and "Gremlins," as well as from its own predecessor in terms of audience expectations.

Critical reception at the time was mixed. Some praised the film's entertainment value and visual spectacle, while others criticized its lighter tone and departure from the original's intensity. In retrospect, "Conan the Destroyer" is often seen as a less successful sequel, but one that still holds a place in the pantheon of 1980s fantasy cinema.

Looking back, "Conan the Destroyer" represents a transitional phase in the fantasy genre, bridging the gap between the sword-and-sorcery films of the early 1980s and the more polished, effects-driven blockbusters that would follow. It remains a fascinating study in how a sequel can diverge from its source material, for better or worse, and a noteworthy chapter in the career of one of Hollywood's most iconic action stars.

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