“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Theatrical Release: 1985 / Director: Richard Fleischer / Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brigitte Nielsen ... / DVD released 06 July, 2004 at Warner Home Video / Features of the DVD: Closed-captioned, Colour, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC „
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Red Sonja, a sword & sorcery epic from 1985, was originally planned to be another vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Conan Part III. But when that didn't get off the ground, a different movie, based on Red Sonja, a character from the Conan comics, was made. However, the formulaic plot closely followed that of Conan, and Arnie, relegated to co-star (although you wouldn't know it from the poster) is Conan in all but name.
The basic plot
Sonja's family are murdered by the soldiers of Queen Gedren, after Sonja, in a way we never really understand ("Gedren wanted her for herself" intones the voiceover - is that sexually, or just as a friend?) rejects her, and Sonja is apparently violated by the Queen's solders. Years later, Sonja hates men and lives in a sword-fighting academy while her sister (who apparently escaped the cull) is a priestess in a temple protecting the Talisman, a glowing green spiky orb that can only be touched by women and grows more powerful in the light. As it happens, the priestesses decide to "send it into eternal darkness forever" just at the moment that Gedren's army turn up to steal it. Sonja's sister, Varna, happens to be the only one to escape. She is spotted, shot in the back by a crossbow as she's zooming across a chasm on a conveniently placed pulley-rope, right into the arms of Lord Kalidor (Conan, basically) who was supposed to be present at the Talisman's destruction but wasn't, due to a rope bridge falling down.
Sonja's sister dies, but not before Kalidor finds Red Sonja and brings her to her sister. Varna tells Sonja she must destroy the Talisman, so off she goes on the quest, with Kalidor following along behind, after being rejected as as companion, because Sonja doesn't like men. Eventually they get along, fall in with a brat prince and his faithful servant, and head off to destroy the Talisman, which crazy Queen Gedren has been using to destroy stuff, and is so powerful now it's on the verge of destroying the whole world.
What's right about it
As a child, and I'm talking like 8 years-old, I ADORED this movie. Brigitte Nielsen as Sonja was my perfect woman, and Arnie as Kalidor/Conan was the man I wanted to grow up to be. I thought the story was great, the characters cool, the queen dangerous and the monsters terrifying. I even didn't entirely hate the kid. Red Sonja existed in my fantasy world and I dreamed of living in it. I used to wander around in the forest below my house, chopping at things with sticks, being a bada&s like my heroes. I must have watched the movie twenty times.
Then, recently, after reading a couple of bad reviews of it, I went and watched it again on Youtube. And, well, hmm....
What's not right about it
Firstly, it's rubbish. The plot is as formulaic as they get - a girl who's family are killed by a tyrant sets off on a quest along with a handful of oddball companions to get revenge, on the way having to destroy a very dangerous object. It's straight out of Lord of the Rings.
Secondly, the acting is abysmal. We all know Arnie can't act. He never could, he just looked cool in certain roles. Here we have Brigitte Nielsen doing her best impression as a female version. She looks cool, but she's as wooden as he is. And the kid, Prince Tarn, makes it three. Everything from the delivery of the dialogue to the expressions of anger and surprise. It's so school play its unbelievable.
Then there's the dialogue, cheesy and cringeworthy at times. The fact that people sword fight without actually touching each other. Add that to the plot holes, and the imcomplete plot. What is the Talisman? Where did it come from? Where did Kalidor come from? Where's his kingdom, his army? The fake monsters, the bad decisions made by the characters. It all adds up to a poor, poor film.
Red Sonja, for all its faults, is fun. It's a swashbuckling, cheesy epic that you can't help but smile at. It's not all bad - some of the scenery (filmed mostly in Abruzzo, Italy) is beautiful, and there's a certain charm in Prince Tarn's conversion from brat to (more-or-less) nice boy. Not all of the acting is bad - Paul E. Smith as Falcon is good, and Sandahl Bergman (who played Arnie's love interest in the Conan films and who actually turned down the role of Sonja for fear of being typecast) is decently evil as Queen Gedren. The cheesy chemistry between Kalidor and Sonja is kind of enjoyable, in a Saturday-evening-the-week-before-Christmas kind of way.
I can't recommend it, because for someone approaching it from an adult view having never seen it before will abhor it. Yet, for me, with the memories I have of it and the Saturday afternoons of my childhood, its worth five stars. Therefore, I'll comprise, and give it three.
Red Sonja is 89 minutes long and while you probably could buy it on Amazon, I really wouldn't bother. Just watch it on youtube or wait for it to be on TV again.
1984 was a very good year for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The sequel to Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Deestroyer, did well, and was surpassed by his second film of the year, and one his best ever, The Terminator, which is a cult film. So, in 1985, hot off the back of these two successful films, the director of Destroyer Richard Fleischer reenlisted the talents of Arnie for Red Sonja, in what was to be a huge flop, and an unsuccessful attempt at recreating a similar feel to the Conan films.
Red Sonja witnesses the murders of her parents and brother, and the capture of her sister at the hands of Queen Gedren. Gedren is in the process of harnessing the power of the Talisman, an orb capable of using the sun's power to destructive purposes. Sonja's sister manages to get a message to the musclebound Lord Kalidor to reach Sonja, which he does. Thus follows Sonja's mission to track Gedren and her forces across the land until he can get her revenge. She meets various friends and foes along the way. Will she exact her revenge?
The Cast and Performances
So, Brigitte Nielsen in the title role here as Red Sonja is convincing as a fighter, but there wasn't really much there in terms of acting prowess. The part of a grieving woman was handled with not enough emotion in the right way - mere stubbornness and anger throughout was not enough for a convincing performance. Arnie plays the part of Lord Kalidor, but merely stands back and watches for the majority of the film, and doesn't really get involved too much, wielding a broadsword from time to time and tracking Sonja on her quest. Two disappointing performances, which actually highlights a low level of control and care from director Richard Fleischer for me.
Fleischer reunites Arnie with Sandahl Bergman from Conan the Barbarian. Here, she plays Queen Gedren, and is actually quite convincing in the role of an evil, power hungry Queen. Good turn. The remainder of the cast is distinctly average, with no big names to mention, and no surprises there, as the film is not really something to shout about or something likely to land you a big role in the next film.
Maybe I am being a bit harsh, but maybe not. In comparison to the two Conan films, Red Sonja is very below par. I was not impressed by this at all. The choreography, I have to say, is quite impressive in parts, but it is almost like Fleischer is trying to recapture some magic from Conan by creating a virtually identical plot. The tale of revenge would have been a little better had Arnie not been in the film. If I am honest, it was almost like Conan had come back to stand and watch someone retracing his own steps in terms of revenge for someone murdering the family, and he was more a spectator, helping out every now and then when needed.
The special effects are limited, as are most from the mid-1980s in terms of sorcery and the death toll. This is not so much of a negative comment, more a reflection of what was available at the tiome. However, the bad acting makes the decent special effects look no more than mediochre.
When producer Dino De Laurentiis asked Arnie to play the role of Kalidor, the actor agreed reluctantly. He had just finished filming The Terminator, and there was another script in the pipeline, that of Commando, also to be released in 1985. Schwarzenegger was reportedly annoyed that he was given top billing for what he saw as a low support role, and this does go some way to explaining the vibe you get from the muscleman throughout the film.
All in all, this is a film that probably should not have been made. Forced out due to the success of the two Conan films, it would have been better waiting a while and perhaps selecting cast members that had not previously been in Conan. There was confusion due to the presence of Arnie and Sandahl Bergman, and I kept wondering if there actually was a link between Sonja and Conan. I was mistaken, and watched the film through the once, and once only. I may watch it agin some day, but only if there is nothing else on. A shame, because I would have expected better from the team at hand, from the producers and director all the way to the actors and actresses.
The DVD is available from amazon.co.uk for £2.40.
This review may also be posted on ciao.co.uk.
Thanks for reading.
The Sword and Sorcery fantasy genre is cruelly ignored by film-makers year in year out. I love fantasy movies and am literally foaming at the mouth at the thought of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy making its way onto our cinema screens later this year. However, it seems that movie makers have a really tough job actually making anything remotely worth viewing half the time when they dabble in this area. Take Red Sonja for example. Please TAKE Red Sonja and bury it someplace where terrestrial television schedulers will NOT find it again. How many times have they broadcast this pile of trast now exactly? Surely this must rate as one of the worst movies ever made and that is saying something when you look at the competition. It stars Bridgit Nielson and Arnold Schwarzenneger and unless you like to watch pumped up muscles and even more pumped up bossoms(hers are slightly bigger than his), it has virtually no redeeming features. Neither of these two could actually string a word of English together without a struggle at the time and as a result the delivery of the already naff lines is abysmal. Neither could act their way out of a paper bag at the time either(Arnie did improve at least) and again that is MORE than evident throughout this movie. Add to this a laughable plot, some truly odious characters(who you are meant to like), sets designer by drunk art students and fake rubber beasties and you are in for a real treat..NOT. For those still interested the 'plot' goes something like this... An evil princess/sorceress/witch(?) played by Sandahl Bergman has got hold of a magic talisman and is trying to destroy the world. Why she would want to do this is anyone's guess as usual, but she does and no one is very happy about it. This is the cue for a flame-haired feminist warrior by the name of Red Sonja(Nielsen) to step in and save the day. Along the way she hooks up with Arnold Schwazenneger who takes rather a shine to her and having beaten her
in combat lays claim to her heart. Cue a dumb love story undercurrent which is frankly ludicrous and is snuffed out as soon as it starts..I think the makers forgot that it began. The pair wave their swords about a lot, fight human and beastie opponents alike...the funniest...oops sorry...most exciting being where they fight a gigantic water snake/dragon thingumy which rather than just biting them in half flails around like a haddock in a bath tub and gets poked repeatedly with a big sword for its troubles...this scene lasts for EVER. Eventually they get to the Princess/Sorceress's castle and wave their swrods around a bit more to save the day. Erm...they wander around waving their swords about and save the day...that is the plot...sorry, shouldn't be so long-winded. Like I said, its abysmal. Nielsen's English is so bad that its like she is speaking in slow motion and she is obviously reading off a cue card for most of the movie. Arnie was better in Conan and thats saying something, but to be fair, he really doesn't have much to work with here. The sets look hilariously bad in parts and the script is truly, truly awful...In fact turn the sound off altogether and you'll have a better experience - trust me, you really will! This is a real lamer, nothing more, nothing less and certainly not something to waste your time on even if you are a fan of the genre or the cast. Give it a WIIIIIIDE berth. :o)
This film regularly appears in the lists of the worst films of all time, along with such masterpieces as Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space". It doesn't deserve to be in such company, it's far worse than Plan 9. At least Plan 9 can keep you glued to the screen by its sheer unbelievable badness. I defy anyone to actually watch Red Sonia right to the end. This film, directed by Richard Fleischer, was rumoured to have been created as a vehicle for Brigitte Neilsen (Red Sonia of the title) to show off her newly enlarged boobs. I have no idea whether or not this is true but it can be the only possible excuse for its existence. I would tell you the plot but to be honest it doesn't really have one. It is your standard Swords and Sorcery tale of revenge. Neilsen's family has been slain at the orders of the baddy (played by Sandahl Bergman) and she sets out to avenge their death, aided along the way by Arnold Schwarznegger. The story meanders along in a meaningless way, interspersed with the standard obligatory sword fights. There have been much better films of this sort. Even Conan and Highlander could be considered works of art by comparison. There is a saying, "Life is too short to drink poor wine". This also applies to poor films. Don't waste your time.