Conan the Barbarian–Behind-the-scenes chronicle a treasure of art and moviemaking

Review by C.J. Bunce

For fans of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, fans of Frank Frazetta’s art, and all the film legends involved with getting the 1982 fantasy movie Conan the Barbarian off the ground, you’re going to be in for a surprise.  Conan the Barbarian: The Official Story of the Film (just released from Titan Books and available now here at Amazon) contains much more than your average book about a sci-fi or fantasy genre film classic.  Interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oliver Stone, John Milius, and Raffaela de Laurentiis, concept artwork from Ron Cobb, and poster print-sized images of Frank Frazetta’s paintings… writer John Walsh has created a trove for fans of the movie, but also fans of the character.  Conan the Barbarian belongs to that famous year of movies that saw E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Tron, Blade Runner, The Dark Crystal, John Carpenter’s The Thing, First Blood, and Poltergeist.  Despite this, Conan the movie emerged as a financial box office success and propelled its lead actor into movie star trajectory.  Ninety years after the creation of the character, Conan fans finally get a worthy tribute.

In 1982 director John Milius adapted Robert E. Howard’s classic fantasy character into its first major motion picture with a script co-written by Oliver Stone.  Conan the Barbarian: The Official Story of the Film explains how it all came together.  But it includes much more.  The author takes time with photographs and text to show the critical role played by Conan creator Robert E. Howard, and the even bigger impact of the Marvel full-color comics and the black and white strips from Roy Thomas and John Buscema, and Frank Frazetta, who defined the imagery for the character and inspired the look of the films via his series of cover artwork for the novels.   Yes, you could remove from the book some of the over-sized full-color prints of Frazetta’s paintings, as they are suitable for framing.

Including interviews with cast and crew (most contemporary to the production or made years ago, but some new) and featuring behind-the-scenes photography from the shoot, the book is full of every aspect of making something so unusual, since fantasy films were far from Peter Jackson’s camera and only at the end of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion world.

Readers will find interviews and/or discussions about star Arnold Schwarzenegger, writer-director John Milius, writer Oliver Stone, production designer and jack-0f-all-trades on the film Ron Cobb, storyboard artist William Stout, cast members James Earl Jones as Doom, Max Von Sydow as King Osric, Sandahl Bergman as Valeria, Mako as Akiro, the ubiquitous William Smith as Conan’s father, Gerry Lopez as Subotai, and more. 

It’s all there: Costumes, art, props, swordbuilding, storyboards, clapboards, bodybuilding, stunts, development art, alternate/unused ideas, screenshots from unused scenes, all the key sets, makeup, special effects, model fx, matte paintings, body doubles, forced perspective, miniatures, post-production, and a discussion with music composer Basil Poledouris, including multiple album covers.  That’s a lot, but this book also has excellent reproductions of variant movie posters, discussions of unmade sequels, and Conan: The Destroyer in brief. 

A recurring theme is basing parts of the film on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.  The balance was excising the X-rated elements of the original Howard stories, and telling a story that felt like a lived-in, real-life place.  The filmmakers said they approached it at times like a historical account, including language elements, and cultural crossovers including the Asian and Arabian worlds.

Note: Inside the book jacket is a slick faux leather cover with gold foil swords.

Fans of Arnold and the best summer of movies ever won’t want to miss this.  A great addition to “The Official Story of the Film” series from Titan Books–books on classic sci-fi and fantasy, including Walsh’s Escape from New York and Flash Gordon, order Conan the Barbarian: The Official Story of the Film now here at Amazon.  




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