Monday, February 6, 2017

Red Sonja

Red Sonja of Rogatino first appeared in Robert E. Howard's The Shadow of the Vulture, published in The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934. The tale is set in 1529,during the Siege of Vienna. The story is historical fiction with no fantasy elements.

In 1973 Roy Thomas extracted Red Sonja from the time of the Ottoman wars in Europe and dropped her into the Hyborian Age (Conan's era) in a chain-mail bikini. Twelve years later Roy Thomas's comic book character appears in the film adaptation of Red Sonja brought to us by the same outfit that made Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. Red Sonja is the third and final installment in a trilogy of sword-and-sorcery films produced by Dino De Laurentiis.

Shot in Celano, Italy on a 17,900,000 dollar budget that seemed to keep dropping slightly with each subsequent film. A number of the same actors from Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer appear again here and Richard Fleischer (Conan the Destroyer) directs Red Sonja as well.

The plot is more direct and simple than the previous two movies but nonetheless effective. Brigitte Nielson stars as Red Sonja, the sword-wielding heroine who is imbued by a goddess with the boon of supreme martial prowess after her parents are murdered by the evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman,who also played Valeria in Conan the Barbarian). Gedren wanted Sonja for herself, but when Sonja permanently disfigured Gedren, the decadent queen handed the girl over to her soldiers for them to rape. There isn't a lot of backstory here as to why Gedren came to kill Sonja's family or why the sadistic queen lusted after Sonja in particular. Gedren just shows up with her army and mayhem ensues. Next we see Sonja blessed by the goddess and she is off with sword in hand in pursuit of vengeance--which is fine with me-- cut to the chase, I say.

Red Sonja is joined by a mysterious barbarian warrior named Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger). I am sure Laurentiis and company thought having Arnold along again was a good investment and I am guessing they were right. The two warriors are accompanied by young Prince Tarn ( Ernie Reyes Jr.) and Falkon (Paul Smith). Fleischer is back with  his poor attempts at humor here with the child, Prince Tarn, berating and insulting his bumbling loyal subject, Falkon ,throughout the movie.

The heroes are on a quest to retrieve a powerful magical orb from Queen Gedren and stop her from destroying the world. Of course, Sonja has Queen Gedren's death on her mind and that is what makes this a sword-and-sorcery movie to begin with -- vengeance!

There is some great  action here, notably the sword fight between Red Sonja and Brytag (Pat Roach). Roach also played Thoth-Amon in Conan the Destroyer.Though, I don't think it was derivative, this scene could have easily come from one of the Red Sonja paperback novels written by Richard L. Tierney and David C. Smith,published in the early 1980s.

There is something special in the cinematography that makes the interior sets have a grainy look like an oil painting. I am reminded of Frank Frazetta's work here. I am not very familiar with the process of shooting film, so I can't comment on this aspect of the movie that I found to be so pleasing to the eye. This made the look of the film much more appealing to me than Conan the Destroyer.

Like Conan the Destroyer, I had pretty much written this movie off as goofy and insincere when I was a  teenager in 1985.  This is another film that I have warmed up to with the passage of time,even to the point that I have enjoyed multiple viewings of Red Sonja.

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