Top critical review
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"You must learn to like men a little better."
on September 15, 2004
Based (very loosely) on a character created by legendary sword and sorcery fantasy writer Robert E. Howard, comes Red Sonja (1985), imbued with powers of mystical origin and seeking justice and revenge for the wrongs perpetrated upon her and her family by an evil warlord queen. The film, directed by Richard Fleischer, who also did Conan the Destroyer (1984), stars Brigitte (I was married to Sylvester Stallone once) Nielsen as the title character. Also appearing is Arnold Swarzenegger as Kalidor, a Noble warrior who aids Sonja on her quest, and the lovely Sandahl Bergman (she appeared in Conan the Barbarian as the warrior Valaria) as the evil Queen Gerden. Other notable appearances include Ronald Lacey (you may remember him as Toht from the film Raiders of the Lost Ark) as evil henchman Ikol, and Paul L. Smith (Bluto from the Robin Williams Popeye movie) as Falkon.
The film begins by relating the sad tale of Sonja and how Queen Gerden and her forces wiped out her family, supposedly I guess due to the fact the Queen wanted Sonja in some capacity (girls gone wild indeed) but Sonja refused. Left for dead, Sonja is visited by a spirit of sorts, which gives her literally gives he strength to embark on a quest of justice and revenge against the evil queen. Also, it seems the queen has stolen a powerful, carefully guarded, glowing orb right before it was meant to be destroyed, one that has powers of its' own, allowing for the possessor to control elemental forces and call down storms and earthquakes, if they so wish. Kalidor, one of the individuals in place to oversee the destruction of the orb, joins forces with Red Sonja, as their paths may differ, but they ultimately lead to the same place. An impudent, young prince named Tarn and his guard/manservant Falkon, whose kingdom was unceremoniously wiped out by Gerden as a test for her newfound powers, soon joins them. Will this small band of adventurers be able to stop Gerden and destroy the orb before the combination of the two destroys the world?
Alright, there's no denying this film has many problems...the movie basically came into existence to leech off the successes of the most excellent Conan the Barbarian (1982), and the lesser excellent sequel Conan the Destroyer (1984). Why they just didn't make another Conan film is beyond me, but I guess it was for the best, as, like Conan the Destroyer, this film garnered a PG rating, seriously hindering the level of violence inherent within the original Robert E. Howard stories. There is much violence and killing in this film, but it's extremely watered down, unlike Conan the Barbarian (which had an R rating, and was more faithful to the source material in more aspects than one). It's funny, but if you watch the trailer for this film, you'd think Arnold Swarzenegger was the star, as he was much more prominently displayed over Nielsen, but this is not a Conan movie. I did like some elements about the film. I thought the sets were very well done, and quite expansive. There was a few times when they seemed a bit too much, like in Queen Gerden's throne room...it was certainly suitable for an evil queen, but was it really necessary to have skeletons hanging around? I mean we know she's evil, but that seemed like overkill. The costumes were marginally well done, with the fighting scenes a bit better, specifically the swordplay (I don't think Swarzenegger understood the what it mean to go half-speed, as he seemed to really lay it on at times, swinging his large weapon, sword, that is...). The weakest part of this production has to be the script. The dialogue is so incredibly lame, and often resorts to having characters either speak the obvious, or put forth moronic questions and/or statements that made me groan. Also, the little comedic bits of dialogue didn't help either, as they were so poorly done and seemed quite unnatural and completely out of character. Someone else mentioned Nielsen's idiotic mullet, and I would agree, but I thought she did all right with the fighting sequences and the more athletic maneuvers, but the scenes where a stunt person took her place was quite obvious at times. I normally don't care much for children actors in films like this, as they invariably kill the mood, but the kid playing Prince Tarn wasn't too bad. Maybe if he had better lines, who knows? Bergman as Queen Gerden was good, but completely two dimensional and was passed off as a power hungry warmonger with sapphic tendencies. The plot was pretty straight-forward, and moved along well, but I was annoyed with the whole premise of some of the central characters learning lessons, like the young, snotty prince learning the value of humility and self-sacrifice, and that of Red Sonja, who suffered at the hands of Gerden's men at the beginning of the film, that not all men are bad and there is more to life than fighting, like love...I didn't mind that these elements were incorporated into the story, but I felt like I was being slapped in the face with it...Howard would do this in his books, but with a subtle professionalism nowhere to be seen here. Overall, the story's not so hot, the acting so-so, the costumes, scenery, special effects and fighting all pretty good, with the best element being the original musical score by Ennio Morricone...had the makers of this film had a better script and more material befitting an R rating (as in Conan the Barbarian), we might have really had something here.
The wide screen print here looks pretty good, and shows almost no signs of age or deterioration. The only special feature is an original theatrical trailer, but I really wasn't expecting much more. If you like the 2nd Conan film, you may enjoy this, but otherwise you might be better off renting instead of buying. You'll thank Crom...