#10: CONAN THE BARBARIAN (Basil Poledouris)

October 05, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Although Basil Poledouris has composed more than 80 film scores, none is more impressive than 1982's Conan the Barbarian. For those who like epic, militaristic soundtracks, this makes for compulsive listening. It's the score that elevated the composer from the B-list to the A-list, freeing him from working on films like The Blue Lagoon and giving him the opportunity to compose for movies like Robocop and The Hunt for Red October. (Inexplicably, he did Return to the Blue Lagoon in 1991 - nine years after Conan.)

The most recognizable track on the album is "Anvil of Crom" - this is the thundering theme that plays over the opening credits and returns later during the orgy battle. "The Orgy" is a beautiful piece of music that (at least to me) evokes Ravel's "Bolero." These are the standout selections, but the rest of the soundtrack flows effectively, recalling scenes from the movie and never becoming tiresome. Conan the Barbarian is one of two dozen instrumental soundtracks I can listen to in its entirety, never skipping a track. There's enough variety and force in Poledouris' compositions to keep the listener involved.

Conan the Barbarian is not among my Top 100 movies, but I consider it to be a worthwhile and entertaining motion picture. However, the music is a strength, and I suspect that I would be less kindly disposed toward the film if it possessed a lesser soundtrack. There are times when music can make a tangible impact, and this is one of them. On its purely musical merits, it may not be one of the best 10 scores of the past 35 years but, when placed in the context of its motion picture source, it leapfrogs quite a few "better" soundtracks.

Poledouris returned to score Conan the Destroyer, but not even his efforts could save that dud. His music for the sequel lost the inspiration he showed in its predecessor, and he curiously chose to re-use little of the material from Conan the Barbarian. Conan the Destroyer could have used a lot more of "Anvil of Crom" and a lot less Wilt Chamberlain.