Conan The Barbarian: Collector's Edition (DVD)
Though now impossible to imagine in hands other than Francis Ford Coppola's, Apocalypse Now once belonged to John Milius, the Red Dawn writer and director whose militarist sensibility would surely have resulted in a very different version had it been left unchanged. Only a few years after the release of Apocalypse, however, Milius did get to make his own movie about a warrior who embarks on a journey to slay a charismatic cult leader, 1982's Conan The Barbarian. Bringing to the big screen Robert E. Howard's fantasy-world pulp hero, Conan opens with the oft-quoted axiom about that which doesn't kill us making us stronger. But the philosophy behind Conan has less to do with Nietzsche than far older notions of force, strength, and survival. Originally scripted by Oliver Stone (then reworked by Milius) and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's considerably more entertaining than most of either Stone's or Schwarzenegger's later excursions into hyper-masculinity. Schwarzenegger plays the title hero, a child orphaned by warrior-priest James Earl Jones who becomes a slave, a pit fighter, a thief, and ultimately a warrior-for-hire. Sent by Max Von Sydow to retrieve his wayward daughter from a snake-worshipping cult that's fond of human sacrifice, cannibalism, and free love, Schwarzenegger eagerly takes the job, knowing Jones to be its leader. Rather than taking him on a journey into a metaphorically charged heart of darkness, however, his mission gives its star a chance to engage in abundant sword-whomping, bloodletting, and snake slaying. Filled with sex, violence, and extreme fantasies of male empowerment, Conan, unlike the many imitators that popped up following its success, at least has the commitment to see its vision through from start to finish. Setting Schwarzenegger's exploits in a fully fleshed-out version of Howard's fantasy world makes Conan far more palatable than it might have been, as does Milius' use of humor and allusions to everyone from Leone to Riefenstahl to, inevitably, Coppola. Even Milius and Schwarzenegger now seem amused by the whole thing on the commentary track to this new DVD, which also contains an extended cut of the film, an extensive new making-of documentary, deleted scenes, and just about everything you need to know about Conan and then some.