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Ultra HD : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: January 30th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1982

Conan the Barbarian - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray (Arrow Limited Edition)

Overview -

John Milius's 198actioner Conan the Barbarian is a fun, crowd-pleasing fantasy-adventure epic with a devoted following, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in his breakout performance as the titular character and the great James Earl Jones as his nemesis Thulsa Doom. The cult sword-and-sorcery classic raids the Ultra HD temple with a beautiful 4K presentation and an excellent Dolby Atmos remix that brings new life and excitement to this genre favorite. Featuring many of the same bonus material from previous releases, this UHD edition package offers a few new surprises, making this a Highly Recommended addition to anyone's 4K library.

 

THIEF. WARRIOR. GLADIATOR. KING.

Ripped from the pages of Robert E. Howard's beloved pulp stories, and brought to the screen by maverick director John Milius, Conan the Barbarian is one of the most beloved fantasy-action adventures in Hollywood history, which not only popularized a new subgenre - the sword-and-sorcery film - but also made a cinematic icon of its star, former bodybuilding sensation Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In an ancient land, young Conan witnesses his family being slaughtered by an evil snake cult ransacking his village. Raised as a slave, the adult Conan (Schwarzenegger) rises up through the fighting pits, becoming an unparalleled and fearsome warrior. Unexpectedly freed, Conan and his companions - two fighters, Subotai (Gerry Lopez) and Valeria (Sandahl Bergman), as well as a Wizard (Mako) - are enlisted by King Osric (Max von Sydow) to free his daughter from the hypnotic clutches of the same cult that murdered Conan's family long ago, led by the shape-shifting sorcerer Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones).

Praise Crom! At long last, Milius' glorious ode to the days of high adventure (co-written by Oliver Stone) has been restored in stunning 4K with hours of bonus features and a heart-racing Atmos remix that immerses you in the action, accompanied throughout by an electrifying, career-best score by the late Basil Poledouris (RoboCop). If you do not listen... then to hell with you!

Product Features

  • Brand new 4K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films
  • Double-sided fold-out poster
  • Six double-sided collectors' postcards
  • Illustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing by Walter Chaw and John Walsh, and an archive set report by Paul M. Sammon

DISC ONE - FEATURE (4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY)

  • 4K (2160p) Ultra HD Blu-ray presentations in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of three versions of the film via seamless branching: the Theatrical Cut (127 mins), the International Cut (129 mins) and the Extended Cut (130 mins)
  • Newly restored original mono audio and remixed Dolby Atmos surround audio on all three cuts
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing on all three cuts
  • Archive feature commentary by director John Milius and star Arnold Schwarzenegger (Extended Cut only)
  • Brand new feature commentary by genre historian Paul M. Sammon, author of Conan: The Phenomenon (Extended Cut only)
  • Newly assembled isolated score track in lossless stereo (Extended Cut only)

DISC TWO - EXTRAS (BLU-RAY)

  • Conan Unchained: The Making of Conan, an archive documentary from 2000 featuring interviews with Schwarzenegger, Milius, Stone, Jones, Lopez, Bergman, Poledouris and several others
  • Designing Conan, a newly filmed interview with production artist William Stout
  • Costuming Conan, a newly filmed interview with costume designer John Bloomfield
  • Barbaric Effects, a newly filmed interview with special effects crew members Colin Arthur and Ron Hone
  • Young Conan, a newly filmed interview with actor Jorge Sanz
  • Conan & The Priest, a newly filmed interview with actor Jack Taylor
  • Cutting the Barbarian, a newly filmed interview with assistant editor Peck Prior
  • Crafting Conan's Magic, a newly filmed interview with visual effects crew members Peter Kuran and Katherine Kean
  • Barbarians and Northmen, a newly filmed interview with filmmaker Robert Eggers on the film's influence on The Northman
  • Behind the Barbarian, a newly filmed interview with John Walsh, author of Conan the Barbarian: The Official History of the Film
  • A Line in the Sand, a newly filmed interview with Alfio Leotta, author of The Cinema of John Milius
  • Conan: The Rise of a Fantasy Legend, an archive featurette on the film's literary and comic book roots
  • Art of Steel: Sword Makers & Masters, an archive interview with sword master Kiyoshi Yamasaki
  • Conan: From the Vault, an archive compilation of on-set cast and crew interviews
  • A Tribute to Basil Poledouris, a series of videos produced by the Úbeda Film Music Festival, including video of Poledouris conducting a concert of music from the film in 2006 (remixed in 5.1 surround) and interviews with collaborators such as Paul Verhoeven and Randal Kleiser
  • Rarely-seen electronic press kit from 1982, featuring over half an hour of on-set footage and cast and crew interviews (from a watermarked tape source)
  • Outtakes, including a deleted cameo by Milius
  • Split-screen "Valeria Battles Spirits" visual effects comparison
  • Conan: The Archives, a gallery of photos and production images from 2000
  • Conan the Barbarian: The Musical, an affectionate comic tribute to the film by Jon & Al Kaplan
  • US and International teaser and theatrical trailers
  • Image gallery

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Region Free
Video Resolution/Codec:
HDR10
Length:
130
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.35:1
Audio Formats:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Special Features:
Poster
Release Date:
January 30th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Like its star attraction, the bulging mass that is Arnold Schwarzenegger, Conan the Barbarian has a one-track mind for fantasy-adventure pandemonium, and it follows through with tons of heart and determination. Though not a faithful adaptation of the Robert E. Howard stories, the John Milius (Red Dawn) movie carries a great deal of the enthusiasm and mettle found in those sword-and-sorcery tales. With a terrifically enchanting production value and a simple, lighthearted storyline, this passionate little yarn is a delightful behemoth full of magic, mystery, and scantily-clad, beautiful women. It delivers the perfect blend of cheesy escapism, boorish brawn, and plenty of sword action.

Schwarzenegger makes his breakthrough performance as the titular character in search of barbarous vengeance. The Austrian champion bodybuilder was by this point a renowned celebrity as a world-class body-definer, winning several competitions, before challenging himself in an acting career, which was off to a very slow start. But it wasn't until his role of the already-iconic Cimmerian slayer that his career suddenly catapulted his unique name to superstardom. And he's the perfect fit for bringing the heroic fantasy to the big screen. Practically bursting at the seams with muscles and with his raspy brusque accent, Schwarzenegger's portrayal breathes life and dimension into a character that could only previously be imagined by millions of readers.

Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, Conan's quest to avenge the genocide of his people and the murder of his parents commences as a young slave. This is one aspect of the script — the second written by Oliver Stone demonstrating his talents as a writer — that works extraordinarily well in an otherwise straightforward plot. The narrative takes its time to develop and establish a sympathetic character, who for a big part of the story lives in survival mode. Then it shows he is no naturally-born superhero. Conan must learn the art of wielding a sword, and he has a hunger for learning as well as fighting. The man is also flawed, pursuing emerald riches as a thief and content with a lifestyle of gluttony.

Through the course of his journey, Conan meets fellow thieves Sabotai (Gerry Lopez) and Valeria (Sandahl Bergman). They are a good addition to the story, not only as trustworthy companions but also as an amusing distraction from the fact that Conan is mostly a lone figure. Too much Schwarzenegger in any given movie doesn't necessarily mean a good thing. Remember End of Days and Eraser? Anyhow, filmmakers also bring in the always-charismatic Mako who pulls a double shift as the odd wizard Akiro and the film's narrator. The actor inserts a good comedic element without completely looking like a fool. Max von Sydow also makes an appearance as King Osric, whose plea to rescue his daughter from a religious cult points Conan in the direction of vengeance and eventual heroism.

The leader to this fanatical sect also happens to be the object of Conan's sweltering retaliation and is played by none other than Darth Vader . . . doh! I meant the remarkably talented James Earl Jones. I was thrown off by his character's final lines where repeats the words father and son several times. No matter, Jones is utterly impeccable as Thulsa Doom, giving the film a certain quality of respectability. And Milius does great in making Jones' villain a powerful foil to an angrily determined Schwarzenegger. With a grand musical score by Basil Poledouris which nicely combines traditional symphony with a medieval-operatic quality and a militarized bent, Conan the Barbarian remains an awesome fantasy-adventure epic and one of Schwarzenegger's most memorable action roles.

Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Courtesy of Arrow Video, John Milius's Conan the Barbarian rides into home theaters as a two-disc 4K Ultra HD limited edition. For this review we were issued check discs and not a full retail edition so if there are any differences in the packaging we'll update the review ASAP. Housed in their standard black keepcase with a side-sliding slipcover, the Region-free, UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite a dual-layered, BD50 disc. The package includes a booklet, six double-sided postcards and a double-sided poster.  At startup, the disc goes straight to a menu screen with full-motion clips, music playing in the background and the usual options at the bottom left corner of the screen.

Video Review

Ranking:

The classic sword-and-sorcery epic raids the 4K Ultra HD temple with a beautiful and occasionally remarkable HEVC H.265 encode, easily making this the best the film has ever looked on home video. Struck from a fresh remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives, the native 4K transfer arrives with sharp details and clean definition for a majority of the runtime. We can clearly make out the tiniest distinct features in the Pagan architecture, the threading in costumes and tents, the separate wooden parts of the huts, and the individual leaves in the surrounding foliage. Naturally, there are several soft, blurry scenes sprinkled throughout, which is to be expected, but thankfully, they are not terribly distracting and only add to the film's charm. Aside from that, the forty-plus-year-old source has aged incredibly well. 

The Dolby Vision HDR presentation also boasts better black levels than its HD SDR counterpart with improved shadow delineation within the darkest, murkiest corners of the frame, providing the 2.35:1 image with some appreciably depth. Although contrast is noticeably controlled and on the lower end of the gray scale, the photography is nonetheless well-balanced with stronger, more brilliant and cleaner whites while specular highlights supply a vibrant shimmer and sparkle to various metallic surfaces, such as swords or Conan's chainmail attire. Likewise, the orange-teal cinematography keeps things relatively restrained while favoring earthy hues, but colors are notably fuller and more accurately rendered, displaying very spirited fiery oranges, animated reds and a dynamic range of browns, tans and auburns. Facial complexions also appear more natural and highly revealing with attractive peachy-red tones among the entire cast.

With a thin veil of natural grain washing over the fantasy action, the 4K video comes a beautiful film-like quality that fans will appreciate, making this the very best it has ever looked. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 84/100)

Audio Review

Ranking:

Arrow provides several listening options for fans to enjoy with the original 1.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and a new Dolby Atmos mix taking top billing, but for the sake of this review, we will focus on the latter. And I have to say that the object-based track is unexpectedly awesome and highly engaging, giving new life to the movie as it occupies a splendid sense of space and presence throughout. 

While still being a very front-heavy presentation, as it should be, the remastered audio delivers a broad, full-bodied image thanks to Basil Poledouris's bombastically fantastic score, filling the entire front soundstage while lightly bleeding into the surrounds and top heights. Each instrument is superbly separated and cleanly delivered, and when mixed with the choir segments, the excitement just builds and immerses the listener. These thunderous moments reveal a dynamic and extensive mid-range, exhibiting superb differentiation between the frequencies. Fans can enjoy every clashing and clanging of the swords with terrific clarity. Although the rear and height channels are largely silent except for the music, some ambient effects are occasionally heard moving across the top front heights or to the sides, such as birds flying overhead or the echoes of screams. Meanwhile, vocals are pitch-perfect and excellently intonated, and the low-end is surprisingly potent and robust, providing appreciable depth and weight to the music and action. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 86/100)

Special Features

Ranking:

Along with the poster and postcards, Arrow Video provides a treasure trove of bonus features for fans to enjoy, making this package all the more tempting to collect. On top of the past great archival extras (that Milius and Schwarzenegger's commentary is as legendary as Robert E. Howard's iconic character), Arrow produced a massive selection of amazing new extra features to dig into. Key to the treasure chest are the new interviews with various crew people. From the jump when you start in with the William Stout piece you know you're in for a treat as everyone interviewed offers some fun anecdotes about making the film, working with Milius, working with Dino de Laurentis, but also adding a lot of insight to their piece of the tableau. Another cool extra is the Conan from the Vault featurette that offers up recently rediscovered archival interviews with Schwarzenegger and Milius that haven't been seen in decades. 

4K UHD Disc

  • Audio Commentary featuring John Milius & Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Audio Commentary featuring Paul M. Salmon
  • Isolated Score Track 

Blu-ray Bonus Disc

  • NEW Interviews:
    • Designing Conan with  William Stout (HD 14:17)
    • Costuming Conan with John Bloomfield (HD 13:21)
    • Barbaric Effects with Colin Arthur and Ron Hone (HD 10:50)
    • Young Conan with Jorge Sanz (HD 7:05)
    • Conan & The Priest with Jack Taylor (HD 6:52) 
    • Cutting the Barbarian with Peck Prior (HD 8:31)
    • Crafting Conan’s Magic with Peter Kuran & Katherine Kean (HD 6:36)
    • Barbarians & Northmen with Robert Eggers (HD 6:22)
    • Behind the Barbarian with John Walsh (HD 17:10)
    • A Line in the Sand with Alfio Leotta (HD 16:43)
  • Conan Unchained (SD 53 min)
  • A Tribute to Basil Poledouris 
    • Conan The Symphony (SD 47:14)
    • Remembering Basil (SD 35:37)
    • The Tale of Conan (SD 15:01)
    • Basil at Úbeda (SD 4:08)
  • Original Promotion Featurettes (HD 35:11 Total) is the original EPK cast and crew interviews
  • Conan: The Rise of a Fantasy Legend (HD 18:25) is a short doc with various interviews discussing the character's comics and literary origins
  • Art of Steel: Sword Makers & Masters (HD 14:40) is an interview with sword master Kiyoshi Yamasaki
  • Conan: The Archives (SD 11:47) 
  • Conan: From the Vault (HD/SD 10:22) is an EPK-style piece with cast and crew interviews not seen in decades.
  • Conan the Barbarian: The Musical (HD 3:01) 
  • Visual Effects Comparison (SD 1:17) 
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • John Milius Cameo (SD 00:53)
    • The Death of King Osric (SD 4:17)
    • Wolves Outtake (SD 00:24)
  • Still Gallery (HD) 
  • Trailers features three theatrical previews

Conan the Barbarian is not a film that will likely please everyone equally, but for fans of fantasy-adventure epics, this 1982 actioner from John Milius is a classic of the genre, one with a devoted following. The sword-and-sorcery flick stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in his breakout performance as the titular character, along with the great James Earl Jones as his nemesis Thulsa Doom. The genre favorite raids the 4K Ultra HD temple with a beautiful Dolby Vision HDR presentation and an excellent Dolby Atmos soundtrack that brings new life and excitement to this cult classic. Featuring many of the same bonus material from previous home video releases, this UHD limited edition package offers a few new surprises with over an hour of new interviews and a new audio commentary on top of a beautiful isolated score track, making this a Highly Recommended addition to anyone's 4K library.

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about the gear used for this review.