During a vintage interview from the recent Blu-Ray release of Conan the Barbarian, star Arnold Schwarzenegger compares the Conan franchise to Star Wars...and in many ways, it makes sense. But if John Milius' film represents A New Hope, then Conan the Destroyer is definitely more like Return of the Jedi. That's not to say that either of these sequels are bad films, but they definitely crank up the cheese factor. In any case, Conan the Destroyer was the last big-screen appearance of Robert Howard's most famous creation...at least until a few weeks from now, when a reboot of Howard's franchise will debut at the box office.
Like most sequels, Conan the Destroyer finds our hero at something of a crossroads: although his name is well-known throughout the land, he still doesn't have much direction on a day-to-day basis. Conan's path is set quickly this time around: he and his friend Malak (Tracey Walter) are approached by Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas), who asks them to escort her neice Jehnna (Olivia d'Abo) on a quest to recover a jewel with special powers. In return, Taramis promises to resurrect one of Conan's loved ones. Together with a motley crew of adventurers---including the androgynous Zula (Grace Jones), wizard Akira (Mako, returning from the first film) and Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain)---our hero's path seems fairly clear on the surface.
Story-wise, Conan the Destroyer isn't a terrible effort; if nothing else, it doesn't seem particularly tacked-on or even unnecessary. Audiences were eager to see more of Conan doing what he does best...and to a certain extent, that's what we get here. Yet the actual execution of the film often feels half-baked: the comic relief (usually attempted by Malak) is too frequent, many scenes feel too episodic and our heroic party is much larger than it needs to be. In all but a few situations, Conan seems like the only force to be reckoned with, while everyone else feels more like dead weight. Most sequels simply attempt to give us a bigger dose of the same thing, but Conan the Destroyer may have been more interesting with less faces in the crowd.
No matter your opinion of the film, there's still a certain charm on display here. There's also plenty of action, oddball characters and a handful of interesting visual effects. So while Conan the Destroyer is usually dismissed as a cheesy, slightly watered-down version of the 1982 original, it's still a good time if you approach it with the right mindset. Unfortunely, Universal's Blu-Ray package isn't as well-rounded as Conan the Barbarian's: while the technical presentation is quite good, there's almost nothing in the way of bonus features. When a film is neither completely fantastic or completely awful, a few carefully-crafted bonus features can help to win audiences over...but there's absolutely no support here. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Conan the Destroyer looks very impressive at times. Though I don't own a DVD copy for a direct comparison, this undoubtedly rates several steps above the aging, non-anamorphic release from roughly a decade ago. Much of the dirt and debris has been carefully scrubbed away, while textures and a satisfying layer of film grain are revealed below the surface. A handful of outdoor shots look especially crisp and eye-popping. Still, this isn't a perfect presentation: a few instances of digital noise reduction and edge enhancement can be spotted along the way, but most other imperfections seem to be related to the film's source material. Overall, it's simply a great visual presentation.
More good news on the audio front: a rather enjoyable 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is included, as well as a French 2.0 DTS-HD dub. Several moments of action roar to life, especially near the film's climax. Rear channel activity is often limited to music and background effects, though it could've been more aggressive at times. From top to bottom, the new mix is fairly well done and breathes new life into the film, but it's still odd that the original English mono track wasn't thrown in for good measure. In any case, optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are provided for the main feature.
Conan the Destroyer is a definite step down from the first installment, mostly due to the bloated diversity of the characters and a bit too much attempted comedy relief. Still, the film has its charms...and I'd imagine that a number of Conan fans still have a soft spot for this one. Unfortunately, Universal's Blu-Ray only offers a solid technical presentation, and the sticker price doesn't help matters any (why no cheap two-pack?). Unless you're a die-hard fan of the franchise, Rent It until there's a substantial price drop.
NOTE: The above image is promotional in nature and does not reflect the Blu-Ray's image quality.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.