Red Sonja (1985)

CapeHalf a capeHalf a tent

Conan the Barbarian didn’t originate in a comic book, but he spent time there, and it was during his tenure at Marvel that he acquired the spinoff character Red Sonja, “She-Devil with a Sword”.

The casting was obvious: have her played by Sandahl Bergman. Unfortunately, they didn’t do this: they cast Brigitte Nielsen as Sonja, and put Bergman in a supporting role, as the villain. (This was apparently Bergman’s own preference.) And they put Ahnuld in another supporting role. What the wtf? This is supposed to be part of the Conan mythos, and they cast two of the three leads of Conan the Barbarian as other, unrelated characters. Or at least, supposedly unrelated. Ahnuld’s “Kalidor” is pretty transparently supposed to be Conan. But I guess they couldn’t use that name for rights reasons.

The problem with adding Conan to the cast is that every time he barges in and helps fight the bad guys, he undercuts the herohood of our eponymous hero (I resisted the temptation to say “titular” there, and I hope you appreciate that) and converts her back into a little lady who needs saving. Feh.

It’s a bad case of Hollywood-think. Ahnuld is bankable, Ahnuld is the big star, people want to see Ahnuld, so he gets top billing, he gets his face bigger than Brigitte’s on the poster, and as much screen time as they can find excuses for. Damn it, this story isn’t about Ahnuld! Everything that strengthens the Hollywoodness of the deal weakens the resulting film.

(Maybe I shouldn’t use the term “Hollywood” in this context. The guilty party is actually Dino de Horrendous, and it was filmed in Italy. Whatever, the thought process is the same.)

Brigitte Nielsen does make a decent enough sword-swinger, and has the overall build for the job, but could have benefitted from a bit more time in the gym before taking the part. And she isn’t repulsive, in her young pre-surgery state, but the ridiculous mullet that her red wig is whittled into does detract a bit. (There’s a reason why the mullet is known as the Hairstyle of the Gods — you have to be more than human to pull it off.) On the plus side, she does wear halfway reasonable costumes, rather than the chainmail bikinis she was usually shown wearing in the comic books.

Costumes and sets are actually kind of a strong point in the film... it’s a common trait of many de Laurentiis films to have gorgeous design, even when everything else is cheap and tacky. Sandahl Bergman’s outfit for the final showdown is quite cool, in a rather anachronistic way.

The plot, unfortunately, is rather tired stuff. Fill in the blanks: the   glowing green MacGuffin of Doom   is going to   destroy the world   if we don’t stop the evil   Queen Gedren   within   13   days. For this task,   Red Sonja   will assemble a ragtag group which includes   an obnoxious child prince   and   his one remaining faithful servant  , and   rock-climb   their way into   Gedren’s fortress  ...

Yeah, bad news: there’s a cute obnoxious child character. But wait, there’s good news: as cute obnoxious child characters go, this is actually one of the coolest. Faint praise, yes, but it could have been much worse.

There are assorted monsters and magical hazards, and opponents to swordfight, and cool visuals like a bridge made from a monster skeleton, and sexual tension based on “I can only give myself to a man who can defeat me”, and thirst for vengeance, etc etc. The usual shit. The writing is generally pretty damn lame, especially when the young prince and his semicomic sidekick are involved.

The best thing in this movie is Sandahl Bergman. It looks like in a real life swordfight, she could not only take Brigitte Nielsen, but quite likely Ahnuld as well. Not only that, she’s about the only person in the cast who comes across like a real actor! Despite having just as little depth in her acting background as Ahnuld, Brigitte, and the kid.

So what we have here is a mediochre and undistinguished sword & sorcery adventure tale with a few bright spots that may make it interesting for some, but can’t begin to compare with the film it’s spun off from, Conan the Barbarian. Which is to say, in the sword & sorcery genre, it’s above average.

...Now if you think any of the above sounds bad, wait til you get a load of this: they’re remaking this movie next year, with Rose McGowan as Sonja. I cannot think of anyone in Hollywood less naturally suited for a sword-swinging role. I think she even once described herself as athletically suited for sitting on a porch and sipping mint juleps.

No wait, that production is out. Now they’re remaking it with someone else... maybe Amber Heard. She’s only have to gain about 25 pounds of muscle for the part...

No surprise, that also fell through.