Over the last couple of years I have really been discovering films from the 80's and the more I watch, even the mediocre ones, I realize that the 80's was a fantastic time for films, and that is why we have all these terrible remakes being pumped out in the Age of Avatar, Transformers and Twilight. Guys and gals in the 18-30 range were able to experience these films as kids and are nostalgic for their favorite franchises. Hollywood knows this and, like the filthy money grubbing bastards they have become in the last decade (it really seems worse than ever), are pumping out big budget turd after turd and, rather unfortunately, everyone is eating it up.
|Jason Mamoa was apparently the saving grace of the film.|
On the flip side, some franchises could use a remake or fresh look. Conan the Barbarian was perfectly ripe for this kind of attention but, as it seems, the new film is not as good as the 1982 classic. Yes, it is a classic. It was written by Oliver Stone and directed by John Milius. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in his second most iconic role after Terminator, James Earle Jones in his most iconic role after Darth Vader (and maybe Mufasa?) and Mako (cuz he is the man.) But the part of the film that is undeniably classic and one of the greatest movie soundtrack of all time is Basil Poledouris's incredible masterpiece.That is the subject of today's Musical Monday.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN: A NEARLY SILENT OPERA
John Mileus and Basil Poledouris viewed the first Conan film in a operatic view. That is to say, they borrowed themes from Wagner to create an epic tale that would stand the test of time. This is a fairly appropriate way to look at the film because, while the story is standard, the execution is incredibly dramatic; from the sacking of Conan's hometown to his crucifixion to his resurrection to the death of Valeria to the death of Thulsa Doom, every scene is wrapped in the orchestral masterpiece to keep the film together and give it a timeless feel. I am not music expert but I can tell you what each song invokes. Click the title to listen to a video of each song if you like. I really recommend getting a hold of this incredible soundtrack as a background for Dungeons and Dragons and for fantasy writing.
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger"-Friedrich Nietzsche
This song just screams "high adventure" and it's rhythmic tones just lend itself to the dramatic landscape shots that should accompany such music. I see rolling hills, craggy mountains and warriors on horse back. One of the major buffs this film has over other swords and sorcery films are the real locations that just give you the feel of being dropped into a real world.
Conan's personal theme, the Riddle of Steel speaks to the high pain and violence that are Conan's trade and how revenge is his quest. The Riddle of Steel is the central philosophy and deals with the importance of metal to the Cimmerian people.Thulsa Doom answers the "the riddle of steel" by showing Conan the power of flesh is greater.
3. Gift of Fury
The gift of fury is all about the suffering that Conan has to endure after the initial death of his parents and later Valeria. It speaks of the sadness that is turned to anger and the finally fury that an avenger uses as a weapon against their foes.
Few songs are more appropriately named in the history of cinema than Wheel of Pain. This scene instantly ingrains with its screeching wheel sound and rhythm the struggle of a hero. Specifically, it actually refers to the wheel that Conan is made to push for decades that builds his strength. This song is about turning pain into strength.
Conan finds an old warrior's tomb at the beginning of the film. He takes the finished warrior's sword and continues on his own quest. This is another beautiful moment of poetry in the film as it represents that all things must come to an end and even the mighty Conan will be bone and then dust. This is often considered one of the best songs in the film and I have to admit that its solemnity is not lost on me.
It is the theme of civilizations and light-heartedly reminds me of a ball-room dance. It really works well in the scenes where Conan is in a town or with his thief friend, Sabotai.
This romantic piece is always charming and makes me think of two figures overlooking a sunset over a valley.
This sorrowful tune always brings the thought of loss into my heart. It reminds me of the pain that Sabotai and Valeria must've felt upon losing Conan and how they had to search for a way to bring him back- at any cost.
This is a victory march song with a little bit of irony thrown in with the chimes. It makes me think of a powerful army or even an ironworks (thanks to all the clanking). At the end, we hear a little bit of The Orgy.
10. The Tree of Woe
Foreboding. The creepy and crushing sounds of this song always make my D & D players feel wary even when its in the middle of a perfectly normal scene. The eerie use of chimes, bells and wavering hums is enough to put anyone in a worry.
11. The Recovery
At first, it starts out a slightly muted and disappointed version of Conan's theme but as it build we get a worldess female chorus that brings redemption and second chances to mind. The song invokes purity in action, as well as the purity in love between Valeria and Conan. Conan feels weak but is more determined than ever to get his revenge. In death, he has lost what he was but has gained who he has become.
A nerd can really headbop to this stirring and hypnotic build up into a rocking chorus that invokes power and prestige. The rising nature of it also works really well with the idea of characters sneaking into some dangerous place. The sultry lullaby that is also in it that teases at the light-hearted civilization is twisted and gives a sense of unease.
13. Funeral Pyre
This song is just pure loss. The high dramatic notes punctuating the strings as they mourn the death of a fallen hero. I can't stop myself from thinking of Valeria's funeral during this song.
Swords, horses and action! This song is a perfect battle tune thanks to its war drums, valkyries singing in the background and the incredibly intense chorus. The chorus is just head bopping and really serves to make me think of warrior's fighting and other epic battle scenes. It really is a great song and turns what could've been a silly scene into an awesome bit of action.
15. Death of Rexor
This is a pure victory tune. It is of the hero's overcoming some great villain and coming to the climactic scene. This song carries us from the defeat of Thulsa Doom's lieutenants at the hands of Conan and the protector spirit of Valeria into the beheading of Thulsa Doom. The end is haunting and dramatic. It during this scene that Thulsa Doom is trapped on top of his Mountain of Power with Conan and tries to woo him with words. He fails.
The god/villain/king has been slain and his minions are left unsure of what to do. There is hope but it is on their shoulders to find a new way. The heroes are offered a final reward. The big dramatic end just wraps up everything nicely.
The funny thing about Conan the Barbarian was that I didn't seek it out because I'm an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan or because I love swords & sorcery, I sought it out because I loved the music. Furthermore, I was introduced to the music by Conan the Barbarian: The Musical (linked at the top). In the end, I recommend anyone who loves good movie soundtracks to seek out this undebated classic.