Saturday, January 19, 2008

Conan the Annoyer

There's something fundamentally ambiguous about Arnie Schwarzenegger's acting. No matter what movie he's in, no matter what scene he's in, he always wears the same, slightly stunned expression on his face. Lines are delivered in a lumbering, leaden style so that it's impossible to tell what emotion or idea Arnie's trying to convey, really. The other night on Sleek Geeks, Adam Spencer and Karl Kruzelnizcki* played some footage from Junior, labelling one expression on his face 'happy', and another expression 'sad'. "Right there, you see the entire range of Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting", they declared. Actually, you couldn't even say for certain whether he was happy or sad in either of the camera shots: he just wore slightly different scowls on his face.

But whatever movie he's in, Arnie delivers - even if you're not sure what he's delivering**. His most famous role was in the Terminator films, where he played an emotionless robot - a pretty canny choice considering his acting style. But he's also, pretty successfully, made fun of himself. In Junior, this is obvious. In another film he was apparently considering playing the tooth fairy. And then there was that Danny de Vito mistake, but the less said about that the better.

Truth is, his films really start to blend in to one another after a while; they're just Arnie films. I've just been watching Conan the Destroyer, where Arnie plays a roaming sword-toting thief. Though the film might just as well have been called Conan the Barbarian (which it's sequel to) or Conan the Cimmerian or whatever, since the impression it leaves afterwards is more or less the same impression you'd get as if you'd been watching any other Conan film that has been made, or might be made, or isn't going to be made, or is made in the wet dreams of comic book geeks the world over.

So anyway, Destroyer starts off with Conan being attacked in some desert by warriors (you can tell they're bad because they're wearing spiky armour). Conan beats them off, at which point the last of the warriors lifts their helmet, announces that they are Queen Taramis (or Taranis, or Tamara, or something) and they have a job for Conan. (As job interviews go, I've seen worse.) Once they're all back at her palace, Taramis or Taranis or Tamara tells Conan that she wants him to go and steal a jewel or diamond or what-not, taking with him a virgin princess (it's very important that he's accompanied by a virgin princess, apparently). After they've stolen a jewel/diamond/what-not, they have to go somewhere else and steal a jewelled horn, at which point they come back, place this jewelled horn in the head of a statue of some God or other, and everything will be right. Or something. I didn't pay too much attention to the details here, but rest assured that the Queen will attempt to take over the world, the God turns out to be some sort of demon, the virgin princess is almost but not quite sacrificed, on a stone altar, no less***, and that Conan manages through some impressive sword play to save the day. And the world.

It's the perfect movie for Arnie the actor, in that the only thing the directors ask of him is to be present in a number of shots, and not present in a number of other shots. He does a bit of leaping around and swinging a sword around in an impressive fashion. At one point, Taramis tells him to 'think', and a troubled expression comes on his face. Elsewhere, she goes to the trouble of describing his emotions - "You are afraid!" - which is quite helpful, really, because you wouldn't be able to tell anything from the expression on his face. He also shares some entertaining dialogue with the virgin princess Jehna (or Tiena, or Jeana, or Jane, or some such):

JEHNA: Tell me if it hurts. But then, I imagine nothing hurts you.

CONAN: Only pain.

(It's worthwhile remembering that Arnie speaks like this in real life, too. He's famously remembered for his succint statement of Republican Party policy a few years ago: "I think gay marriage should be something between a man and a woman.")

But then, there are whole scenes in which dialogue is not required at all. There's a lot of hammy posing, and perfunctory sword fights, and the odd demon appearing on the scene (well, two to be precise.) For the most part, the characters confine themselves to the occasional exhortation to 'Look!'; the odd bit of fearful muttering, or magical gibbering; the occasional battle howl. The only words with more than two syllables are the exotic cognomens given to some of the characters and places. Conan is forever mooning about Valeria, or Valaria, or Balaria, or Malaria, or some such. There's a character called Bombata, or Bombala, or Blablabla, or whatever. I wouldn't know. When you do get real dialogue (one of the better examples is given above), the effect is positively Shakespearean. (And the closing words about how Conan eventually became a king and "Wore a crown upon a troubled brow" are rhetorically quite wonderful.)

And I loved every minute of Destroyer. It really is a beautiful film, a kind of bizarre fantasy about a past, pre-civilised world populated by Cimmerians and Shadazarians and just about every other variety of human. There are grand Hittite-style palaces, and lush sort-of European forests, and vast kind-of African deserts, and underworld-inhabiting cults, and a palace of mirrors, and gigantic eagles of smoke. The music (by Basil Poledouris, no less!) is some kind of bizarre pastiche-western-fantasy thingo. Oh, and then there are the guys in spiked armour. I love the spiked armour.

I wholeheartedly recommend Conan the Destroyer as the perfect film to enjoy if you don't have anything else to enjoy at the present time. (Also the perfect film for distracting you when you really should be doing something else, as I found out this morning...)

*I don't know if that's how his name is really spelled and I couldn't be bothered checking.

** Except for Junior, of course, where he delivered a baby from his body.

*** Lovingly fashioned for the occasion by Squibbles Sacrificial Altars, Tables and Associated Occult Items, LTD.


Anonymous said...


TimT said...

The Terminator as produced by Merchant Ivory!

The Terminator at a dinner party!

The Terminator as an android with repressed sexuality issues!

Harry Enfield is a genius.

Tim said...

Is that the Conan movie where Conan punches a horse? Or is that in all of them? Or, more likely, am I thinking of Blazing Saddles?

You must see Pumping Iron!

TimT said...

Nah, he does knock a few people off horses, but that's it. Not sure if it happens in the first movie. It definitely happens in Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks has a bit of a thing for horses, since he makes jokes about them in Men in Tights as well.

Having a look at wikipedia, I must say, yes, indeed, I must see Pumping Iron. He's a weird one, Arnie - no demonstrable acting ability, but with an ability to appear in film hit after film hit. Most of them good, too.

Deadman said...

Baggin' on our Governator??

Rachy's back...

TimT said...

Only cos I like him, Mark! And thanks for that.


Mel Brooks has a bit of a thing for horses, since he makes jokes about them in Men in Tights as well.

Not one of my best sentences!

Tim said...

There's also the recurring "Frau Brucher" gag in Young Frankenstein.

Totally off topic: did you once write a set of "rules for writing"?

TimT said...

... now been made into a musical! Young Frankenstein, that is. Somewhat to Gene Wilder's dismay, apparently.

I don't think I've ever written a set of 'Rules for Writing', unless I wanted to take the piss out of someone or something. (Maybe a 'rules for writing modern poetry'?) I saw your post on Elmore Leonard and was reminded of the time back on Ilines when James did a post about Leonard's original 'Rules for Writing' article.

tigtog said...

Thanks for stoking the flames of Arnie-love, Tim. I relived the entire movie as you described it.

To be fair, the source material was hammy and overblown before the movie peeps laid hands on it. The characters and costumes were quite properly Hyperborean.

The Conans, the Terminators (esp. I and II) and The Running Man are my favourite Arnie flicks. Total Recall pretty good. Never felt the love so much for his comedies. They were clever career moves, but not much chop as enjoyable entertainment for me.

TimT said...

The story arc, though extremely cheesy, struck me as being extremely well worked out (for a Hollywood film) and I suspected it was taken wholesale from a comic book. Though according to the doco on the DVD, it was an amalgam of various Conan stories. Even so, it reminded me of nothing so much as one of Mike Moorcock's entertaining adventure fantasies.

My aunt had the film on video and would play it to us occasionally when we visited at Christmas, so this film takes me back to my childhood, sort of.

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