The Conan Chronicles

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)

The seminal hero of sword and sorcery, Conan was created by author Robert E. Howard and later evolved from the pages of pulp magazines across movies, TV, and more. His first big-screen outing was also a pivotal career move for bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became a bona fide movie star by anchoring director John Milius’ epic adventure film Conan the Barbarian with his statuesque presence: While not everyone can survive the fashion risk of a furry little loincloth, Arnie rocks it. But yes, there are a couple of solid stories to back it all up, reunited in Arrow’s magnificent new “Conan Chronicles” boxed set featuring 1982’s Conan the Barbarian and the 1984 follow-up Conan the Destroyer, both on 4K Blu-ray.

Co-written by Oliver Stone, Conan the Barbarian explores the theme of suffering, which serves the big brute’s “origin,” orphaned and taken from his home to live as a slave, then as a gladiator, and later as a thief and a mercenary. He and his honorable soldier-of-fortune cohorts are hired to rescue a princess from a mystical cult leader, a journey that will exact a heavy toll before its end. Disc One proffers three largely similar cuts of the film, all potentially feeling a little slow for modern viewers were it not for one of composer Basil Poledouris’ best-ever scores, sometimes making even the mundane seem grand.

Two years later, with a story by comic book greats Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, Conan the Destroyer was conceived to be a lot more fun, with some seamless additions to the cast — among them dedicated comic relief — and more special effects. Not coincidentally, Destroyer is also significantly shorter and carries a PG rating versus Barbarian’s R. This time, an even buffer Conan and a mostly new crew are tasked with securing a magical horn that will bring back a god powerful enough to raise the dead, at the behest of a queen who is also a witch. What could possibly go wrong? It’s easy to forget that fantasy-adventure was not particularly popular in the early ‘80s, and these two bold, original entries did wonders to legitimize the genre for generations to come.

These Conans are born of new 4K/16-bit scans of the original camera negative, restored and presented in their proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Barbarian immediately displays a healthy grain structure that retains the movie’s distinctive 1982-era charm. The many dark scenes have a rich, natural appearance, while the restrained use of color yields standout moments such as striking red blood and orange fire. Contrast is equally strong, as in a raging funeral pyre set against a black night. Switching from director of photography Duke Callaghan to Jack Cardiff, Destroyer has an overall softer look with a greater reliance on filters while still preserving ample detail in busy locations and appealing landscapes.

Despite being positioned as would-be summer blockbusters, the theatrical releases of both films originally went out with mono audio soundtracks. That’s the default track for all of the options across this box set, which is more than adequate thanks to Arrow’s new restorations. All elements are sufficiently clear, effects have ample pop, and the music has a welcome prominence in the mix. Although fidelity is challenged on Barbarian, it is less problematic in the Atmos reimagining. As expected, the mono is noticeably flatter and less spacious so don’t be afraid to give Atmos a try, although I found it to be somewhat tame, which is ironic for a protagonist who is anything but. And in a further show of love for Mr. Poledouris, his boisterous scores have been newly assembled in their entirety and bestowed in lossless isolated stereo.

Settle in for twin commentaries on Barbarian (one archival, one new), four commentaries on Destroyer (three/one), and lots of fresh interviews and legacy featurettes (Barbariam’s many extras spill onto a second platter). And it wouldn’t be an Arrow limited edition without the lavish complement of art cards, posters, and a book.

HDR FORMAT: Dolby Vision, HDR10
AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos with True-HD 7.1 core

Conan the Barbarian
LENGTH: 127/129/130 mins.
DIRECTOR: John Milius
STARRING: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Mako

Conan the Destroyer
LENGTH: 103 mins.
DIRECTOR: Richard Fleischer
STARRING: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Olivia d’Abo, Wilt Chamberlain, Tracey Walter, Mako

ashurbanipal's picture

“Crush your enemy, drive him before you and hear the lamentations of his women.”

Imary1950's picture

The film's exploration of suffering and resilience is enhanced by Basil Poledouris' memorable score, which adds depth to even the most mundane moments. four colors