Swords, sorcery and Schwarzenegger – the 1980s were a time of high adventure when it came to fantasy films. You could never call Red Sonja a great piece of art, but if you grab this adventure by the reins and kick-in your heels, then you’ll have a great time at the movies. It’s silly as hell, but there’s a lot of fun crammed into its tight 90 minute running time.
Based on the work of Robert E. Howard, this Hyborian Age spin-off is a more family friendly effort than John Millius’ majestic, Conan The Barbarian and it’s more akin to that film’s sequel – which was also directed by Richard Fleischer. It ups the fantasy and cuts down on the violence, delivering a pulpy and fast paced slice of action cinema.
Model turned actor, Brigitte Nielsen made her screen debut as the titular heroine and she has the requisite physicality to deliver the action sequences and is able to go toe-to-toe and sword-to-sword with co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger (playing a character who might just as well be Conan). Sonja is on a quest to avenge the murder of her family by the Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman) and along the way she encounters spoiled prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes, Jr.), his loyal manservant Falkon (Paul L. Smith) and the brooding Kalidor (Schwarzenegger). There’s magic, monsters and a serious amount of swordplay.
The hero’s journey in Red Sonja may be ripped straight from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces and it’s easy to guess how it will all turn out, but there’s fun to be had with the action sequences and quirky characters. Produced by the legendary Dino De Laurentiis with a hefty $18 million budget, Red Sonja looks stunning. The film’s Italian locations are beautiful and the sets and production design are glorious. However, Red Sonja’s crowning glory is a sumptuous operatic score from the mighty Ennio Morricone – it’s perfection.
Critically mauled and a box office bomb on its release in 1985, Red Sonja has aged very well – despite its bruised reputation. Schwarzenegger sees the film as a blight on his career while Dino De Laurentiis took its failure and that of Michael Cimino’s The Year Of The Dragon as an omen – and decided to give his screen adaptation of Red Dragon the title Manhunter. That film also underperformed.
Red Sonja is no masterpiece but the film displays a lot of craftsmanship on the technical side, while the actors deliver some fun performances. There was an abundance of Sword and Sorcery fantasy films in the 1980s and while Red Sonja may not be one of the best – it’s surely one of the best looking.
The new blu-ray release of Red Sonja from Studiocanal features a new 4K remaster from the original 35mm negative – have I mentioned the film looks amazing? The disc also includes a feature-length documentary on poster artist, Renato Casaro called The Last Movie Painter, a mini doc on Arnold Schwarzenegger, an interview with Assistant Director Michel Ferry and a piece called Red Sonja vs. Kalidor – The Making of a Misunderstanding.
This is a great release for a film which has often been over-looked.