Conan the Barbarian appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Although aspects of the image looked pretty good, the overall package proved problematic.
In particular, artificial sharpening created persistent distractions. Edge haloes abounded here, as most parts of the movie displayed them, and they damaged definition.
This meant general clarity varied from “fairly positive” to “semi-soft”. Sharpness never became poor, but the haloes really dented the image’s potential.
I saw no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, and the ample grain meant I didn’t suspect problematic digital noise reduction most of the time, though some low-light shots may have come with that technique. Print flaws stayed absent.
Colors went with a natural palette that felt lackluster. Occasional shots offered vivid hues, but most of the movie provided tones that felt decent at best.
Blacks were a bit too dense, while shadows seemed a little murky. Enough positives arrived here to make the image a “C-“, but the film could use a new transfer.
While better, the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack also came with inconsistencies, most of which impacted quality. In particular, speech could seem edgy and metallic, without a natural feel much of the time.
The lines stayed intelligible, though. Also, the movie lacked a ton of dialogue, so this wasn’t a huge problem.
Effects came with their own ups and downs, as those elements occasionally featured distortion. They also displayed decent range, though, a factor that semi-compensated for the roughness.
Music worked best. The score showed nice clarity and range, with bright highs and deep lows.
As for the soundscape, it favored the front channels and offered good stereo presence there. Effects seemed accurately place and they moved efficiently.
The surround played a smaller role but they added pretty good involvement, especially when I considered the movie’s vintage. In the end, this was an inconsistent mix that I felt earned a “B-“ overall.
The Blu-ray comes with a mix of extras, and we open with an audio commentary from director John Milius and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at cast and performances, story and characters, effects, sets and locations, and connected domains.
After a slow start, the commentary improves in the film’s second act – for a while, that is. Unfortunately, the track returns to its mediocre ways for the movie’s final third.
This means we get a sluggish, dull discussion most of the time. As mentioned, the commentary works reasonably well during the movie’s middle portions, but usually Milius and Schwarzenegger do little more than say “look at that” and narrate the action. It’s not the worst track I’ve heard but it’s pretty bland.
Called Conan Unchained, we get a 53-minute, 15-second documentary that includes remarks from Milius, Schwarzenegger, executive producer Edward R. Pressman, producers Raffaella De Laurentiis, Buzz Feitshans and Dino De Laurentiis, co-writer Oliver Stone, production designer Ron Cobb, stunt coordinator Terry J. Leonard, composer Basil Poledouris, and actors Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, James Earl Jones, and Max von Sydow.
“Unchained” looks at the project’s path to the screen, story/script/character areas, various design choices, cast and performances, stunts and action, sets and locations, various effects, music, and the movie’s release.
“Unchained” brings a very good documentary. It’s great that it includes so many of the main participants in the film, and it goes over a nice array of topics. Expect a thorough, enjoyable program.
Next comes a featurette entitled Art of Steel. It runs 14 minutes, 37 seconds and offers notes from various folks from Albion Armorers.
They create replica swords from Conan, and “Art” lets us see their processes. This often feels like an ad for Albion, but it gives us some decent details.
We also get a few minutes about swordplay from trainer Kiyoshi Yamazaki and swordsman “Aaron”. Though not long, this section offers a few useful tidbits.
Under Conan: From the Vault, we get a 10-minute, 17-second vintage featurette. It involves Schwarzenegger, Milius, Jones, and Bergman. They discuss some aspects of the project but don’t expect much substance.
Special Effects goes for one minute, 37 seconds and shows a splitscreen segment. The top of the screen displays raw footage and the bottom brings the finished sequence with effects added. It’s a decent comparison.
Six Deleted Scenes occupy a total of five minutes, 35 seconds. These really veer more toward outtakes than true deleted scenes.
For instance, we get three takes of the same character’s death. The first five seem forgettable, but the sixth – in which a stunt goes comically wrong – deserves a look. (Note that these clips already appear in the documentary.)
In addition to two trailers, we end with The Conan Archives. This provides an 11-minute, 46-second reel that displays a running compilation of concept art, production photos and publicity material. It’s a good collection but the format seems clumsy.
As Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first notable film role, Conan the Barbarian merits a spot in cinema history. Too bad the movie itself offers a dopey, monotonous experience with no obvious positives on display. The Blu-ray provides flawed picture and audio along with an erratic but generally informative package of supplements. Conan becomes an actively awful movie.