For reasons best left unexplored, I have taken it upon myself to watch all of Arnold Schwarzenegger's theatrical releases, in more or less chronological order. Having had my formative movie watching years in the 80s to early 90s, I've always had a soft spot for Arnold and, although he's never exactly been a role model, he makes consistently entertaining movies. Watching his movies smacks of a guilty pleasure, the sort you're not really supposed to be enjoying. Just as I have come to terms with the fact that I like Duran Duran and am now okay with that, I also must own up to genuinely enjoying Arnold's movies for the most part.
I've been trying to watch these with as fresh a perspective as possible, which is aided by the fact that I haven't seen several of these for 20+ years and have never seen a few of them. Oddly enough, I'm finding that the frequent flaws in his movies are less directly the result of Arnold's acting chops, but more often the craft of the movie itself. I'm sure that many concessions had to be made to keep them within Arnold's performance envelope, but I'm trying to cut him some slack where the script or director seem to be as much to blame. Given that, I also can think of several movies where he really phoned it in and I'll not shy away from calling that out when I see it. It'll be fun to see if I can pick out any actual progression in his acting ability over 40+ years of movies.
So, without further ado, here begins my journey, related in the order I recently watched them...
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Simply put, this is an excellent movie and one of my dearest favorites. It's a perfect storm of obsessive director, ambitious young stars, and one of the greatest film scores ever written. I've loved this movie since I first saw it in the theaters at the tender young age of 13, it's one of only 6 movies I own the soundtrack to, and it still works for me today. There's something charming in how eager this movie is to please and how every piece of it pulls together tell you a tale of high adventure. Above all else, this is storytelling at it's finest, an important element all too often overlooked these days.
I was struck by how good Arnold is in this. Sure his accent is thick, some of his expressions are downright goofy, and he's not exactly showing any range, but he's perfect for the role. I think 95% of that is Milius's doing, but he did such a thorough job explaining the character and the scenes and really working out the dialogue that Arnold *is* Conan. You never doubt that for a moment, so the occasional oddity seems part of the charm of Conan himself, and it doesn't disrupt the immersion as can happen with Arnold's later work. Our heroes are a bodybuilder, a surfer, and a dancer... with effectively zero acting experience? Milius proved to be the best coach and mentor the main trio of actors could have hoped for.
Special nod to Basil Poledouris and his epic score. As Millius has noted, with so many stretches with little to no dialogue, the music really had to tell the story. Without the music, no one's watching this 30 years later and you don't have to look any further than the 2011 reboot for proof. It isn't just excellent background music, it reaches out to you in a way few other than John Williams can do, and drives the emotional pace of the film. It's two days later and I still have many of the themes stuck in my head. If only he could have kept up that pace in the sequel.
Ahnold Quotient - 9
No argument this movie is completely over the top, but Arnold's not yet doing "Arnold" so that keeps this from pegging the meter
Rewatchability - Yes please
One of those films that I want to start up again the moment the credits end. Heavy rotation on this one to be sure.
Next up, Conan the Destroyer... I recall this having a severe drop in quality from the original and consistently bad supporting performances. Maybe I've lightened up since then? Regardless, I'm high on Conan at the moment, so a crappy Conan movie is better than no Conan movie.