Conan the Destroyer: Limited Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Mar 06, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Conan the Destroyer: Limited Edition (4K UHD Review)


Richard Fleischer

Release Date(s)

1984 (January 30, 2024)


Dino De Laurentis Corporation/Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: A

Conan the Destroyer (4K Ultra HD)

Buy it Here!


[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review is by Tim Salmons. The AV and special features portions are by Bill Hunt and Tim Salmons.]

Conan the Destroyer, the sequel to the successful and slightly controversial Conan the Barbarian, was a conclusion that producer Dino De Laurentiis and director Richard Fleischer unsurprisingly came to in the summer of 1984, but the results were less than satisfactory to many of those who saw it. To this day, it lives on in internet memes and Youtube Arnold quote highlight reels, though some would contend that it’s on par with many sword and sorcery titles of the era, including Clash of the Titans, The Beastmaster, and The Sword and the Sorcerer. What that means is that it doesn't necessarily hold up particularly well (let us not forget that the original Conan the Barbarian, beloved as it is, has its small share of less than stellar moments), but it still manages to pull off an entertaining romp of its own.

Conan, along with his fellow thief friend Malak (Tracey Walter), have been tasked with a quest by Queen Taramis of Shadizar (Sarah Douglas) to help the young and beautiful princess Jehnna (Olivia d’Abo) in restoring the horn of the god Dagoth, by escorting her to the castle of Thoth-Amon where the Heart of Ahriman jewel must be retrieved in order to locate the horn. In exchange, Taramis vows to resurrect Conan’s long-dead beloved, Valeria (Sandahl Bergman in the original film). Aiding them is captain of the guard and loyal protector of the princess, Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain), and Zula (Grace Jones), a fierce warrior freed by Conan from torture and certain death. Along their journey, the princess falls in love with Conan, not knowing that the queen is secretly double-crossing him, having given Bombaata orders to kill him once their task is complete.

Despite its problems, I find myself enjoying Conan the Destroyer more than I perhaps should, which surely sounds like heresy to many. Every bone in my body keeps telling me that this is a much lesser film, and there are many moments throughout that you can easily point to as reasons why, but it still makes for an entertaining experience, despite its myriad of flaws and unintentionally funny moments. In the age of the fan edit, it’s one of many films that’s received its share of re-cuts to try and shape something better out of it. Surely there’s something to that.

It’s certainly not the classic that its predecessor is, but there’s plenty about it worth enjoying, ironically or otherwise. This is still peak-Arnold Schwarzenegger territory in that he’s perhaps in the best shape of his career, and unlike the previous film, shows off much more of his body. Grace Jones is also a wonderful addition. Her exploits on and off screen are well-documented elsewhere, and she’s certainly among the reasons why many laughed at this film during release, but she makes for a great contrast to not just the other characters, but to the Conan world as a whole. Wilt Chamberlain seems a little lost in his performance, but Olivia d’Abo is the most surprising of all. Many films of this ilk feature young princesses who are often one-dimensional, whiny, and down-right annoying. D’Abo’s princess is given a minor amount of depth and comes across as actually charming, and there’s certainly something sad about her being rejected by Conan at the end of the film, despite the controversies of their age difference in real life. She’s absolutely beautiful, but there’s also a soulfulness to her that works well for the part.

Of course, the lesser elements at play involve the comic relief (or lack thereof) provided by Tracey Walter, who comes across as little more than a fifth wheel. Perhaps it’s due to us missing Subotai from the first film, but regardless, he often feels out of place and is more at home with this type of humor in shows like Best of the West (by the way, where’s our DVD and Blu-ray release of that little gem?). Sarah Douglas is barely in the film to even make much of a mark, though to her credit, she carries her scenes well as Tamaris. In fairness, some of her material was deleted from the final film, including a sex scene between her and Conan. But the biggest difference between this and the first film is the lessening of bloodshed, which is definitely felt. It’s still there, but it’s much tamer and less brutal than the original film, which generated some mild controversy at the time. The story itself is humdrum, or almost Krull-ish in nature, but it’s serviceable enough.

At the end of the day, both Conan films, along with Red Sonja, act as a trilogy of sorts, despite the latter having nothing to do with the Conan storyline. When I was a kid, the three films were always lumped together and often shown back-to-back on television, which is perhaps why I think of them as being cut from the same cloth. It’s dwindling returns for many, but Conan the Destroyer is severely underappreciated in many ways, although it’s blatantly obvious why it was not welcomed with open arms at the time.

Conan the Destroyer was shot on 35 mm photochemical film by cinematographer Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and The African Queen) using Arriflex 35 BL cameras with J-D-C anamorphic lenses, and it was finished on film at the 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio for theatrical exhibition. For its first-ever release on Ultra HD, Arrow Films has commissioned a new 16-bit 4K scan of the original camera negative by NBC/Universal, which was digitally restored and graded for high dynamic range in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and presented on a BD-100 disc.

Like its predecessor, Arrow Video’s 4K upgrade of Conan the Destroyer destroys its previous Blu-ray counterpart with a thoroughly film-like presentation. It’s impressive indeed, not exactly what one might call perfect, yet perfect for this film, and notably more nuanced and refined than the previous Blu-ray presentations. Every bit of detail in the negative is apparent on screen, enhancing skin, hair, and textiles. Photochemical grain is light-moderate to moderate, only occasionally appearing heavier depending on whether you’re seeing original neg or interpositive (including material run through an optical printer to create visual effects, titles, and transitions). There are a few shots here and there that exhibit softer focus, as has always been the case, though the image is remarkably clean and crisp looking overall. The contrast is mostly terrific, with inky blacks, good shadow detail, and bold highlights. Only occasionally do the blacks appear a bit crushed. Colors are well-saturated and accurate—particularly skin tones—though the film’s palette is somewhat biased toward Earth tones, as it’s intended to be. Most impressively, video data rates average between 70 and 100 Mbps (!), cementing this as an excellent UHD upgrade.

The film’s English audio is included on the 4K disc in the original theatrical mono in 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio format (the default option) as well as a new Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) mix, both obviously lossless. (Per Arrow’s restoration notes, the mono track has been remastered by Þorsteinn Gíslason and the Atmos mix was produced using the original DME mono elements at Deluxe Audio London.) The mono mix will certainly be the fan favorite choice—it’s pleasingly clean sounding, with clear dialogue and nothing untoward in terms of age-related defects. Meanwhile, the Atmos mix spreads the soundfield out across the front portion of the stage, and uses the surround channels mostly for music, while the height channels add just a dash of ambient fill. The Atmos also gains a pleasing bit of heft by way of LFE. Here again, the dialogue is clean and clear. But the Atmos mix really benefits the film’s score, which crashes through the listening environment in rich tones, with crisp brass, rumbling drums, and exceptional fidelity. Optional English subs are also available.

Arrow’s 4K Ultra HD package includes the UHD movie disc only (a Region A-locked 1080p Blu-ray containing the same options and extras is included separately). Being a boutique label release, no Digital copy code is included. The disc sits in a black Amaray case alongside 6 double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions, and an insert featuring the classic US theatrical one sheet on the front and a still of the cast on the reverse (an odd choice as this isn’t a clear case). Also included is a double-sided poster featuring theatrical artwork on one side and a still of Conan on the reverse, and an 80-page booklet containing cast and crew information, the essay Days of High Adventure by Walter Chaw, the location report Celluloid Deltoids: Behind the Scenes of Conan II by Paul M. Sammon, the essay King Conan by John Walsh, restoration information, and production credits. All of this comes housed in sturdy slipcase packaging with the same US theatrical artwork.

Special features include:

  • Audio Commentary by Richard Fleischer
  • Audio Commentary by Olivia d’Abo and Tracey Walter
  • Audio Commentary by Sarah Douglas, Kim Newman, & Stephen Jones
  • Audio Commentary by Paul M. Sammon
  • Isolated Score (2.0 LPCM)
  • Casting the Destroyer (HD – 5:12)
  • Cut from a Different Cloth with John Bloomfield (HD – 9:10)
  • Dune and the Destroyer (HD – 15:23)
  • Swords, Sorcery & Stunts (HD – 13:17)
  • Behind the Destroyer (HD – 10:00)
  • Conan: The Making of a Comic Book Legend (HD – 14:06)
  • Basil Poledouris: Composing the Conan Saga (HD – 17:17)
  • Theatrical Trailer #1 (HD – 2:23)
  • Theatrical Trailer #2 (Upscaled SD – 1:32)
  • Image Gallery (HD – 102 in all)

The extras for Conan the Destroyer are not quite as far-reaching or extensive as Conan the Barbarian, but this is nonetheless a very satisfying set of supplemental material. There are four audio commentaries, including a new track featuring Paul M. Sammon, author of the book Conan: The Phenomenon, who was on set during the filming. It’s another excellent listen as he offers more his first-hand production anecdotes, trivia, and other contextual information. (The track’s audio quality shifts occasionally, suggesting that it was recorded in different sessions and edited together.) Like the previous film, this release also offers the opportunity to listen to Basil Poledouris’ score for the film in isolation, playing alongside the film imagery in high-quality lossless stereo (LPCM this time around).

Also included are new interviews with casting director Johanna Ray, costume designer John Bloomfield, art director Kevin Phipps, stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, and John Walsh, author of Conan the Barbarian: The Official History of the Film. Conan: The Making of a Comic Book Legend interviews writers Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, while Basil Poledouris: Composing the Conan Saga speaks to the legendary composer. Last are the film’s trailers and an Image Gallery containing 102 behind-the-scenes photos, promotional stills, and poster artwork. Aside from the new material, all of this has been gathered together from various releases outside of the US. Not included from the original DVD release are the film’s production notes, while various Region 2 DVD releases included a still gallery of Conan the Barbarian comic books.

Arrow Video’s treatment of both Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer on 4K UHD is phenomenal. The films have never looked better, and with excellent supplemental materials and packaging options, long-time fans will be pleased, by Crom. Highly recommended!

- Tim Salmons (with Bill Hunt)

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