The Production, Crew, and Cast of Conan the Barbarian: More than Meets the Eye

by Lo Terry on March 8, 2024
  • The epic saga of Conan the Barbarian (1982), with its blend of raw power, mystical lore, and a cast that would become legends in their own right, deservedly carved a niche in the hearts of audiences and set a precedent for the genre. However, beyond the legendary battles and the quest for vengeance, lies a tale of artistic passion, challenges surmounted, and the indelible impact of a cast that defined an era.

    Here, we seek to not only celebrate the monumental achievement of Conan the Barbarian but to also delve into the captivating stories that unfolded behind the scenes. From the forging of swords to the construction of ancient temples, from the physical transformation of actors into heroes and villains to the creative genius that guided their journey, we explore the myriad facets that contributed to the film’s enduring legacy.

    Join us as we embark on this journey through time, exploring the impact of Conan the Barbarian’s cast on modern cinema, and unveiling the behind-the-scenes tales that shaped this masterpiece. Witness how a film became a legend, and how its legacy continues to inspire the realms of fantasy and adventure in cinema and beyond.

    The Cast of Conan the Barbarian 1982: A Cast That Defined An Era

    In the pantheon of cinematic legends, few films boast a cast as iconic as that of “Conan the Barbarian.” This 1982 masterpiece not only redefined the sword and sorcery genre but also served as the crucible for some of Hollywood’s most illustrious careers. Let us embark on a journey through time, tracing the paths of Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, and Sandahl Bergman, whose stellar performances breathed life into this epic saga.

    Conan The Barbarian The Production, Crew, and Cast of Conan the Barbarian: More than Meets the Eye

    Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan: The Dawn of a Titan

    Before Arnold Schwarzenegger became synonymous with the role of Conan the Barbarian, he was already a legend in the world of bodybuilding. Despite his undeniable physical presence, Schwarzenegger’s transition into acting was initially met with skepticism. Early roles, including his portrayal in “Hercules in New York,” offered a glimpse of his potential, yet it was his casting as Conan that truly showcased his capabilities as an actor. 

    The decision to cast Schwarzenegger was significantly influenced by the iconic art of Frank Frazetta, whose stunning depictions of Conan defined the character’s visual identity in the public consciousness. Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Conan brought Frazetta’s illustrations to life, embodying the character’s raw power and primal ferocity. In a way, his performance was itself a physical manifestation of Conan that felt as if the character had leaped directly from Frazetta’s canvas and Howard’s text onto the silver screen.

    Thanks to his success as Conan, Schwarzenegger was all but immediately catapulted into Hollywood royalty, with roles in “The Terminator,” “Predator,” and “True Lies,” falling to him. Yet, it remains that his portrayal of Conan is an enduring cornerstone of his legacy on-screen, a performance that set the bar for action heroes.

    Conan The Barbarian The Production, Crew, and Cast of Conan the Barbarian: More than Meets the Eye

    James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom: A Voice That Shook the Earth

    James Earl Jones, with his already storied career, brought a gravitas to “Conan the Barbarian” that elevated the film beyond its genre confines. Known for his roles in “Dr. Strangelove” and as the voice of Darth Vader, Jones was no stranger to playing complex villains. As Thulsa Doom, he was the darkness to Conan’s light, a malevolent force with a voice that could command armies or whisper seductions. Jones’ portrayal was a masterclass in villainy, imbuing the character with an eerie charisma and moral ambiguity that made him fascinatingly watchable.

    His career, both before and after Conan, showcases a versatility and depth few actors achieve. From the fields of “Field of Dreams” to the depths of “The Hunt for Red October,” and the savannas of “The Lion King,” Jones has left an indelible mark on the world of film and theater.

    Conan The Barbarian The Production, Crew, and Cast of Conan the Barbarian: More than Meets the Eye

    Sandahl Bergman as Valeria: Grace and Grit

    Sandahl Bergman brought to “Conan the Barbarian” a combination of grace and combativeness that was rare for female characters of the era. Known primarily for her dance background, including performances in “All That Jazz” and “Xanadu,” Bergman’s transition to the warrior Valeria was seamless. Her portrayal was not just of a love interest or a sidekick; Valeria was Conan’s equal, a warrior whose skill with a sword was matched only by her fierce loyalty.

    While her subsequent career, including a role in “Red Sonja,” did not reach the stratospheric heights of her co-stars, Bergman’s impact on the film is undeniable. Her Valeria remains a beacon of strength and complexity, inspiring generations of female characters to break free from the chains of convention.

    The collective brilliance of Schwarzenegger, Jones, and Bergman, under the visionary direction of John Milius, forged “Conan the Barbarian” into a cinematic legend. Their performances—Schwarzenegger’s physicality, Jones’ malevolence, and Bergman’s agility—created a tapestry of narrative depth that has endured for decades. 

    As we reflect on their journey, it becomes clear that “Conan the Barbarian” was a moment in time that captured the essence of adventure, the allure of power, and the eternal battle between good and evil.

    Behind the Scenes of Conan the Barbarian: Swords, Sorcery, and the Pursuit of Authenticity

    In the shadow of colossal sets and amidst the clangor of steel, the making of Conan the Barbarian unfolded, a tale as epic and fraught with challenges as the saga of Conan himself. This journey behind the scenes reveals the Herculean efforts, the moments of levity, and the sparks of creativity that fueled the creation of a film that has carved its indelible mark on the landscape of fantasy cinema.

    Conan The Barbarian The Production, Crew, and Cast of Conan the Barbarian: More than Meets the Eye

    Forging Conan’s Craft of Swordsmanship and Strength

    Central to Conan’s portrayal was the embodiment of his prowess in combat and his physicality. Arnold Schwarzenegger, stepping into the role of the iconic Cimmerian, underwent a transformation that was both physical and martial. Under the tutelage of Kiyoshi Yamazaki, a master of sword and karate, Schwarzenegger not only honed his physique through rigorous training but also mastered the art of swordplay. 

    The creation of Conan’s swords, including the revered Atlantean and the Father’s Sword, was also an endeavor of considerate craftsmanship. Forged from the visionary sketches of Ron Cobb, these weapons were extensions of Conan’s very essence, embodying his journey and growth. The Father’s Sword became a symbol of Conan’s destiny, while the Atlantean Sword, unearthed in a tomb laden with cryptic inscriptions, served as a bridge to his past and a beacon for his future.

    Although filming Conan the Barbarian was an endeavor that tested the limits of cast and crew alike. Yet, within the demanding schedule and the physical exertions, moments of unexpected humor provided respite. The set of the Orgy Chamber, envisioned as a den of decadence, provided such an unlikely setting for a tale of levity. Schwarzenegger, ensconced in the chamber’s central pit for the application of body makeup, found an unexpected tranquility. Surrounded by the chamber’s otherworldly excess, he drifted into sleep, soothed by the gentle application of makeup—a stark contrast to the physically demanding scenes awaiting him beyond the chamber’s confines. 

    A Trial by Fire: The Construction and Endurance of Conan the Barbarian’s Sets

    The sheer attention to detail, the embrace of physical training and practical effects, and the resolve to overcome production challenges culminated in a film that is both gritty and authentic. The decision to move the production to Spain, embracing the skills of local artisans and the natural landscape, enriched the visual narrative of Conan’s world. This commitment to realism, coupled with the creative solutions born of necessity, ensured that the essence of Howard’s creation was not elevated, offering audiences a portal into a realm where the boundaries between legend and reality blur.

    • Conan The Barbarian The Production, Crew, and Cast of Conan the Barbarian: More than Meets the Eye
    • Conan The Barbarian The Production, Crew, and Cast of Conan the Barbarian: More than Meets the Eye
    • Conan The Barbarian The Production, Crew, and Cast of Conan the Barbarian: More than Meets the Eye

    In accordance with the vision of John Millius, the construction of the Mountain Temple of Set, a set piece that required the support of 1,500 extras for the climactic battle, was a feat of engineering and creativity. Without the benefit of construction drawings, the team relied on ingenuity and determination, creating one of the largest sets ever built for a film. This endeavor, emblematic of the production’s challenges, from location hardships to budget constraints, underscored the indomitable spirit of the crew and their dedication to bringing the world of Conan to life.

    But perhaps no other scene exemplifies the ambitious scale and the inherent risks of the production as the burning of the Temple of Set. This pivotal moment, where a set worth 20 million pesetas was engulfed in flames, was a gamble that showcased the team’s commitment to realism and spectacle. The meticulous planning and the flawless execution underscored the production’s ability to overcome logistical nightmares, transforming them into cinematic triumphs.

    The Cutting Room Floor

    The post-production phase presented its own labyrinthine challenge, as editors C. Timothy O’Meara and Stanford Allen were tasked with distilling the essence of Conan’s saga from a vast expanse of footage. John Milius’s expansive vision, rich in depth and detail, was meticulously refined, balancing the director’s narrative ambitions with producer Dino De Laurentiis’s pragmatism. This delicate balancing act of editing was pivotal in shaping the film’s final narrative, ensuring that the essence of Conan’s journey was conveyed with clarity and impact. 

    Through the lens of these stories—of swords forged in the fires of creativity, of laughter echoing through the halls of decadence, of flames that consumed temples but not spirits, of narratives carved from the raw material of imagination, and of stone and steel that rose to meet the sky—the making of Conan the Barbarian is revealed as an odyssey of monumental scale. It was a journey marked by the pursuit of authenticity, the bonds formed in the crucible of creation, and the unwavering dedication to bringing Robert E. Howard’s vision to life. This behind-the-scenes saga, much like the film it birthed, stands as a testament to the power of storytelling, the resilience of the human spirit, and the indelible legacy of Conan the Barbarian.

    From Comics to Screen and Back

    The 1982 film Conan the Barbarian served as a spectacular visual homage to the legendary figure first brought to life by Robert E. Howard and subsequently immortalized in the pages of comics since 1970. While the comics predate the film, the cinematic portrayal of Conan played a crucial role in catapulting the character into a new era of popularity, ensuring his legacy would endure across various mediums.

    Marvel Comics’ relaunch of Conan in 1970 rekindled interest in the sword-and-sorcery genre, laying the groundwork for the film to bring Conan’s world to a broader audience. Frank Frazetta’s iconic artwork also became emblematic of Conan’s universe. His iconic blend of savage beauty and  dynamic energy solidified the character’s visual identity and influenced not only the comics but also the visual style of the film. 

    After the film’s success, the world witnessed resurgence in the comics’ popularity, with the character’s adventures reaching new heights of creativity and depth. This cyclical influence strengthened Conan’s presence in popular culture, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between the comics and the film.

    It is on the back of this legacy that newer comics like the ones being produced by Heroic Signatures and Titan Entertainment can delve even deeper into the Hyborian Age, exploring themes of power, survival, and destiny.These stories expand the universe introduced by Howard and the film, offering readers a chance to explore Conan’s world beyond the cinematic experience. Through these comics, fans can engage with old characters and meet new ones, each adventure contributing to the tapestry of the Hyborian Age.

    Conan’s enduring popularity in the pulps,  paperback books, comics, games, television and movies  highlights the character’s lasting appeal. The comics have not only kept the spirit of Conan alive but have also introduced his tales to new generations. This legacy underscores Conan’s significance as a cultural icon, whose stories of adventure, resilience, and defiance continue to resonate with readers and viewers alike.

    As the sun sets on the Hyborian Age, the legend of Conan the Barbarian—embodied by its unparalleled cast and immortalized through its cinematic and literary contributions—continues to cast a long shadow over the realms of fantasy and adventure. 

    We invite you, the custodians of this enduring legacy, to continue the journey with us. Engage with fellow enthusiasts through comments, share your adventures on social media, and delve deeper into the forums dedicated to the Conan franchise. Your insights, theories, and discussions breathe life into the world of Conan, keeping the flame of the Hyborian Age burning bright in the hearts of a new generation.

     Explore the vast world of Conan through the vivid pages of comics and the rich tapestry of merchandise available. Each story, each artifact, serves as a portal back to the Hyborian Age, allowing you to keep the legend alive and vibrant. Whether you are a seasoned warrior of the saga or a new traveler on this path, there is always more to discover, more to explore, and more to conquer.

  • Lo Terry

    In his effort to help Heroic Signatures tell legendary stories, Lo Terry does a lot. Sometimes, that means spearheading an innovative, AI-driven tavern adventure. In others it means writing words in the voice of a mischievous merchant for people to chuckle at. It's a fun time.

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