Blu-ray Review Conan The Barbarian Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Aug 8, 2011.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    Back in 1982, John Milius reintroduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world not as a famous bodybuilder, but instead as the movie version of Conan The Barbarian, fighting his way across medieval landscapes through a bloody mosaic.  Seen today, the movie doesn’t hold up that well, but there’s still something primal to it – a feeling of raw power coming from the unapologetic machismo on display, from Milius’ spare imagery, and from Basil Pouledoris’ mighty score.  The new Blu-ray updates the earlier DVD release with intermittently successful HD picture and sound and a new featurette.   Fans may want to rent this but be warned there are some issues here.



    CONAN

    THE BARBARIAN

    Studio: Universal/Dino De Laurentiis

    Year: 1982

    Length:  2 hrs 9 mins

    Genre:  Comic Book Adaptation/John Milius

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

    BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 33 mbps)

    Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.2 mbps – up to 5 in the bigger scenes)

    Subtitles: English SDH, French


    Film Rating: R (Violence, Nudity, Sexual Material, More Violence, Blood, Still More Violence)


    Release Date: August 2, 2011


    Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gaviola, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Valerie Quenessen, William Smith and Max Von Sydow


    Written by:  John Milius and Oliver Stone

    Directed by:  John Milius


    Film Rating:    3/5


    When you think about it, Conan The Barbarian was a good project for John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  For Milius, it was a chance to indulge his interest in ancient history and bloody spectacle, and for Schwarzenegger, it was a chance to transform himself from the genial bodybuilder seen in Pumping Iron to a full-fledged movie star.  And at the time, the idea worked, more or less.  But even when the film was released in 1982, there were reviews that called out Milius for the more outrageous moments of sex and violence, as well as for the wild casting of surfer Gerry Lopez in a crucial supporting role.  And there were plenty of reviews that noted Schwarzenegger’s limited acting ability.  However, the film still carries a primal aura of raw power, even when seen nearly 30 years later.  There’s an attitude hanging over the whole thing, from the unabashed male machismo on display to the rivers of blood, that practically announces itself.  And next to Big Wednesday, this may be the most successful film of John Milius’ directorial career.  I don’t know that the film has aged particularly well, but it’s a great time capsule of where both men were at the time they made this movie.   There’s not a lot of story to speak of – it’s a comic book origin story of Conan the Barbarian, from the time he was orphaned as a child through his adult quest for bloody revenge.  The pacing tends to be slower than one would expect these days, but that slower pace helps in the epic feel of the movie.  This is big, bold filmmaking of a style one rarely sees anymore.


    Conan The Barbarian was released on Blu-ray this past week.   The Blu-ray edition includes high definition picture and sound that have some issues, along with the special features from the earlier DVD edition, and a new HD featurette.  Fans of John Milius or Arnold Schwarzenegger will want to rent this to check out the upgrade, but should be aware there are some pitfalls here.



    VIDEO QUALITY   3/5

    Conan The Barbarian is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 transfer that varies wildly between scenes and even between shots.  At times, the picture quality is breathtaking.  Early shots in the snow show great detail on faces and objects.   Late shots of a night temple gathering have a satisfying inky blackness.  But then we get into some issues.  There are many images in the film that include a large vista of sky, particularly early on – and these earlier images tend to be quite noisy.  An early shot of James Earl Jones is shockingly soft – but this may be a defect of the source print.  On the other hand, an early night scene where Conan is freed from slavery has some major black level issues – he’s wearing a dark fur that gives the transfer fits in the low light.  I should note that some fans have noted that one of the shots in this sequence doesn’t use the proper night filter, so that a pack of dogs chasing Conan at night are revealed to be doing so during the day.  I’m not counting off for that, but I have to note the noise and blackness issues in scoring the PQ here.  Certainly, this is head and shoulders above what anyone has seen before from this title.  But we cannot ignore the issues at hand.



    AUDIO QUALITY   2 ½ /5

    Conan The Barbarian is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is full-throated when it comes to the big battle sequences, but which stumbles over some basic matters that should not have been a problem.   Specifically, there are several key moments in the movie where the choral part of Basil Pouledoris’ score has been simply removed from the sound mix.  One of these comes during the pivotal opening battle that Conan witnesses as a child.  Another comes during the key moment when Conan prepares for the climatic battle with a display of swordsmanship on the beach.   This glitch is apparently present on all current Blu-rays of the title, and it’s perplexing.  I have no idea why the chorus was eliminated from these cues.  I'll clarify here to say that the DTS HD MA mix is the only one on the disc.  The mono mix available on the prior DVD is not on the Blu-ray.


    SPECIAL FEATURES      3/5

    The Blu-Ray presentation of Conan The Barbarian carries over the extras from the prior DVD edition, adding in a new HD featurette about armorers and additional archival interviews from the set.


    Commentary with John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger – This scene-specific commentary is quieter than you might think, considering the personalities involved.  For many scenes, the guys just watch the movie for a while before piping up with their impressions of what was happening.  Milius has more to offer here than Schwarzenegger.  This commentary was recorded over 10 years ago for the DVD edition released in 2000.


    Deleted Scenes – (5:35, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – A pair of deleted scenes are presented here in standard definition.  Most of the footage deals with the bloody death scene of Max von Sydow’s King Osric.  This material was included on the 2000 DVD.  For some reason, these scenes are given DTS-HD MA sound.


    Conan Unchained: The Making of Conan the Barbarian– (53:15, 480p, Full Frame)  – Laurent Bouzereau’s 2000 documentary on the making of the film is preserved here, including then-current interviews with all of the principals.  This is another feature carried over from the 2000 DVD.


    Art of Steel:  Sword Makers and Masters – (14:37, 1080p)  EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY – This is a new featurette covering the work of Albion Armorers to manufacture swords, and on modern day swordsmen to practice their craft.


    Conan: From the Vault – (10:17, 1080p) EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY – This is a compilation of archival 1982 interviews with John Milius and various members of the cast on the set.


    Special Effects – (1:37, 480p) – This is a split top/bottom screen dissection of a visual effects sequence where Conan is menaced by ghosts and his friends fend them off.  On the top of the screen, we see the untreated footage.  On the bottom, we see the final result.


    The Conan Archives – (11:46, 480p, Full Frame)  This is an assembly of photos and poster art, presented to the tune of Basil Pouledouris’ score.


    Trailers – (3:48 Total, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – Two trailers for the movie are presented in standard definition.


    BD-Live – The usual BD-Live functionality is present.


    Pocket BLU – The usual pocket BLU functionality is present.


    D-Box – This functionality is available for those viewers who have this ability in their home theater.


    The movie and the special features are subtitled in English and French.  The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.


    IN THE END...

    Conan The Barbarian may not hold up well over time, but it’s certainly an interesting statement of who made it and when they did it.  The Blu-ray has some issues with both its picture and sound, but it’s still the best this movie has ever looked on home video.  Fans of John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger may want to rent this to see what they think.


    Kevin Koster

    August 7, 2011.


    Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


    Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode

    Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

    Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

    PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

    5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

    2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

    Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer 

     
  2. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    Good job of addressing the issues with the Blu Ray, Kevin. This has turned out to be a MAJOR foulup by Universal. Conan the Barbarian has one of the greatest scores in film history. The impact of the score on the film--the storytelling, drama, emotional weight, its very merit as a motion picture-- is all but impossible to overestimate. To mangle such a magnificent score in this fashion is simply unacceptable. The day for night error just makes it that much worse. I urge everyone who is a fan of this film and its wonderful score to contact Universal at http://www.universalstudiosentertainment.com/contact-us.php to request that they issue a corrected version with the original mono soundtrack in lossless format (it's difficult to trust them to take another stab at a 5.1 remix. Who knows what sort of tin-eared, disrespectful, pay-no-attention NEW errors they might introduce?). Let your voice be heard.
     
  3. Brisby

    Brisby Second Unit

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    Reading about the screw-up with Poledouris' magnificent score (it makes the movie for me, which is just agreeably juvenile silliness without it) makes me want to wait this release out and see if Universal will offer a "corrected" version down the line. :td:
     
  4. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    I think the magnificent score pretty much makes the movie for everyone. As much as for any film ever made, to a very large degree, it IS the movie. Universal should be ashamed, but I doubt they ever had a clue they did anything wrong.
     
  5. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Screenwriter

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    Does this release include the original mono track as a viewing option, or just the bungled remix?
    Vincent
     
  6. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

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    I have to agree with the comments regarding Basil Poledouris incredible music score for Conan, it's one of the main reasons I watch the film. Bought the soundtrack LP first time I saw the movie. I wonder if the UK Blu-ray has the same problem? I'll wait on this one.
     
  7. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    No mono option. :( ALL of the CTB Blu Rays have the same audio problem.
     
  8. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    That is disappointing news regarding the soundtrack. I wish your review had been out earlier, Kevin. It would have saved me a little money. Leave it to Universal to screw up another release.
     
  9. Bryan Tuck

    Bryan Tuck Screenwriter

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    I can't find remember where, but I believe I read that the Fox European DVD from several years back also had a 5.1 track with this audio issue. As tempting as it is to blame Universal for another Blu-ray with missing music, the actual botching of the mix may not be their fault. Still, it seems someone should have checked it a little more thoroughly before sending it out.
     
  10. joshEH

    joshEH Producer

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    Was watching this, and the other issues aside, was extremely pissed off to learn that Universal not only cut the Milius-sanctioned "Moby Dick" scene out of the film for the BD (right before the battle of the mounds), but even went to the time and expense of re-editing the commentary track around it, as well (it's now basically just the International Cut) .
    Seriously, like...what the fuck??
     
  11. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Too bad about the audio screwup. I was really looking forward to hearing the lamentation of their women...
     
  12. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    It seems that someone decided it was best in life to crush the fans of the film and hear their lamentation.
     
  13. Bryan Tuck

    Bryan Tuck Screenwriter

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    I can almost understand that, since that was apparently not in the actual international cut, and it may have even been cut into the film at SD resolution only.
    I actually don't know the different versions of this movie too well (been a while since I've seen the film at all), but from what I've read, seamless branching with all three cuts might not have been too difficult. That could have been cool.
     
  14. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    According to The Digital Bits, Universal has been made aware of the problems and is looking into them. Let's hope they fix it and issue new discs.
    http://thedigitalbits.com/#mytwocents
     
  15. SilverWook

    SilverWook Cinematographer

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    Poledouris' music is so much a part of Conan, he was brought in to score the soundtrack for the live Conan attraction that used to be at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Video of that long gone show would have made a cool extra.
     
  16. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

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    THAT SUCKS.
    This film has a special place for me because before I was older and wiser, I was just an 11-year old kid watching this movie (TV edited version, of course) and realized for the first time how effective a film score was.
    Sure, there was Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I was humming those themes all of the time...but none of them ever resonated with me.
    Then I watched Conan the Barbarian. Maybe it was just timing. Maybe something clicked in my brain after a few watchings of this film. I realized how music made the movie.
    The film has little dialogue. Basil Poledouris' score took me by the hand and pulled me through the film.
    I was in awe. I bought the CD of the soundtrack for $25 - and when you're a kid with no job $25 is a lot when your friends are buying Run DMC, Two Live Crew, GNR, etc...
    Yet I listened to the soundtrack over and over...still have the original CD today (over 20 years old).
    So, when I heard that this soundtrack is botched. Disappointed. Especially after the DVD was mono only because the word was the original multitracks/elements could not be located to do anything more (~ten years ago).
    The choral moments are integral to the soundtrack.
    I asked for this for my birthday. I will cancel that order now.
     
  17. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    I received an email from Universal, responding to my email about the botched audio:
    Hello,
    Thank you for contacting us.
    We are looking into the matter that you reported, and we'll be back in touch as soon as we have information for you.
    We appreciate your patronage and hope that you will continue to enjoy our releases.
    Sincerely,
    Consumer Relations
    UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINMENT
     
  18. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    Glad I read this before tracking down a copy. I'll hold out for a re-do/replacement.
     
  19. Lord Dalek

    Lord Dalek Cinematographer

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    On the subject of the soundtrack... the choral portions appear to have been recorded separately and overdubbed when necessary onto "Riders of Doom" and "Battle of the Mounds" (you can tell because portions of the clean Riders of Doom pop up during Orgy Fight and the end credits. It is possible that somehow the separate magnetic track for these overdubs was damaged and as everyone knows, a fairly sizable chunk of the original stereo tapes for the score have deteriorated due to bad storage conditions in Italy. However, I am going to chalk it up as an oversight by the remixing crew at Universal.

    And since we're on the subject... the following recordings are heard in true stereo for the first time here (contrary to popular belief the R2 20th Century Fox dvd used rechanneled mono versions for these sections)

    "Pit Fights"
    "Prologue (Alternate Version)"
    "The Streets of Deviants"
    "Orgy Fight"
    "Infidels"
    "Head Chop"
    "End Titles"

    This is what is still in mono

    "Wolf Witch"
    "The Tower of Set-Snake Attack"
    "The Tavern"
    "In The Court of King Osric"

    That's roughly 11 minutes of material that's probably gone for good.
     
  20. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    According to this article, the original soundtrack is intact, so Universal COULD restore it if it wanted to.
     

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