Friday, October 19, 2012

The Clinch of the Titans or When Lord Kalidor Met Red Sonja

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in the news a lot lately and it hasn't been pretty.

First came the announcement that Arnie and wife of 25 years Maria Shriver were separating.

Next came the revelation that Arnie had fathered a child with the family's long-time housekeeper.

Maria subsequently filed for divorce.

Then Arnie published his autobiography, Total Recall, where he admitted to a "hot affair" with his "Red Sonja" co-star Brigitte Nielsen--while he was living with Maria, no less. The worst part? Arnie said bonking Brigitte made him realize how much he wanted to marry Maria!


I mean, what gal doesn't yearn to hear her man say, "Screwing so-and-so made me love you more!"

I repeat, ick.

Although Arnie has fond memories of his Danish cuddlemate, he doesn't think well of the 1985 sword and sorcery epic that brought them together. In fact, he rates "Red Sonja" as "the worst movie" of his career.

Considering that Schwarzenegger's cinematic rap sheet includes two "Conan" features, "Raw Deal", "Red Heat" (as a Soviet police officer), "Twins", "The End of Days" (where he battles Old Scratch), "Total Recall",
"Predator", "Batman and Robin" (as Mr. Freeze), "The Running Man", "Commando", "Jingle All the Way" and "Hercules in New York" (his debut, where Arnie was billed as "Arnold Strong" and his voice was dubbed), that's quite a diss.

Is "Red Sonja" really that bad?

I say any flick which features such sparkling dialogue as "If you yield only to a conqueror, then prepare to be conquered Little Sonja!" is a Velveeta banquet just waiting to happen.

But is "Red Sonja" truly worthy of Arnie's scorn? Let's review the matter in depth, shall we kiddies?

The Plot: Set during the "Hyborian Age", Queen Gedren schemes to get her mitts on a powerful Talisman (which looks like a big wad of glowing green chewing gum) which will allow her to be the boss of everything. She must be stopped within 14 days or the world is doomed. Why 14 days? Beats me. It's just a nice round number.

Our Heroine: Red Sonja, so named because she sports a bad '80's Cher wig that is indeed red. This is the cinematic debut of Danish giant Brigitte Nielsen.

Our Hero: Lord Kalidor (Arnie), a freelance mercenary who also sports a bad '80's Cher wig.

The Villain: Queen Gedren, played by Arnie's "Conan" cuddlemate Sandhal Bergman. Her character was deemed rather controversial because she had Red Sonja raped for refusing her sexual advances.

Comic Relief: This arrives in the pint-sized form of Ernie Reyes, Jr. as Prince Tarn. He's the boy ruler of a kingdom leveled by Queen Gedren. The prince is an obnoxious, sexist jerk who has the nerve to suggest Red Sonja be hired as his personal chef. Naturally, she ends up saving his life and the mini monarch learns about humility etc., etc. from her. For Reyes, Jr., "Red Sonja" would lead to even greater parts in such gems as "Surf Ninjas".

The Setting: "Red Sonja" whisks us off to the "Hyborian Age", a supposedly prehistoric period that features robots, close circuit TV and zip lines. This age has an undeniable Asian influence: Prince Tarn is Asian; his servant dresses like a ninja; Red Sonja is tutored by a wise old Asian master (who refrains from calling her "Grasshopper") and there is a large statue of a Buddha-like figure who appears to be going potty. Despite medieval surroundings, explosives and robotics are used. The governing system appears to be a loose patchwork of principalities where travelers must pay "tributes" to pass through. These "tributes" don't conform to any unified set of fees; at one point, some meanie insists Red Sonja "tribute" him in the "tender" way only a woman can (Red declines and quickly dispatches him). Oh, and swords talk.

The Quest: After a group of sheet-draped nuns/high priestesses/vestal virgins/sorority sisters are slaughtered by Queen Gedren's army for trying to destroy the Talisman, one manages to escape, but just barely. She's Red Sonja's sister, Vanna. After Lord Kalidor finds her dying of a cross-bow wound (she was hit with a perfect bull's-eye while fleeing on a zip line-- don't you hate it when that happens?), she begs him to find her sis and warn her about the impending doom.

Red Sonja, recovering from her attack and the murder of her family and the burning of her house, is visited by a spirit who gives her the strength to battle the forces of evil and avenge the crimes of Queen Gedren. On her own, Red Sonja decides not to "give herself" to a man unless he can beat her in a fair fight. This complicates her love life, especially when she meets up with Lord Arnie. But with only 14 days to save the world, there's no time to waste making out.

Anyway, Red Sonja ventures hither and yon to track down Queen Gedren and destroy the Talisman. Only women can touch the darn thing, did I forget to mention that? Well, only women can touch the darn thing. On her journey Sonja meets up with various assorted bad guys, soldiers and rake hells, which she coolly dispatches with the skill of a Samurai warrior. Perhaps the oddest villain she comes up against is a robotic sea monster(?!) that is disabled by poking its eyes out. Always at the last minute, Lord Arnie shows up, but Red Sonja appears to be perfectly capable of handling herself, thank you very much.

The Love Story: With their bad Cher wigs, thick-as-waffle-batter accents and gigantic proportions, Lord Kalidor and Red Sonja seem made for each other. But while Arnie and Brigitte sizzled off screen, their movie characters never mesh. Perhaps it was their mutual lack of acting talent, but you never believe that Red and Kalidor have the hots for each other.

The closest "Red Sonja" gets to a love scene is when Lord Kalidor muses, "So, the only man that can have you, is one who's trying to kill you. That's logic." Then Arnie unsheathes his big, pointy sword and Red, clearly unimpressed, unsheathes her big, pointy sword (which talks, by the way) and our two would-be cuddlemates engage in a duel that unsubtly doubles as both foreplay and a noisy tennis match--Arnie and Brigitte swing and grunt like there's no tomorrow. Their battle of the sexes ends in an exhausted draw and you half expect one of the characters to pant, "Was it good for you, too?"

The End: Despite all the obstacles put in her way, Red Sonja emerges triumphant. She kills Queen Gedren, destroys the Talisman, ditches Prince Tarn and finally locks lips with Lord Kalidor without knocking his (or her) Cher wig off. Cue the exit music and we are done.

The Damage Report: The unbeatable combination of wooden acting, bad hair and nutty dialogue preordained that "Red Sonja" would be a cinematic suppository of the first order. Gigantesque Brigitte Nielsen won the coveted Golden Raspberry Award as "The Worst New Star" of 1985. Although Sandhal Bergman was justly nominated for Worst Supporting Actress, she lost out to Nielsen again (who took home the dishonors for "Rocky IV"). Remarkably, Arnie's Lord Kalidor was completely shut out of the Worst Actor category, where Rob Lowe (in "St. Elmo's Fire") emerged the winner. Does all this indeed prove "Red Sonja" is Arnie's worst film?

Not by a long shot.

"Red Sonja" may be the worst film of the "Conan" trilogy, but "Conan the Barbarian" was a rotten movie to begin with (see my post "We Don't Need Another Hero"). Therefore, by the law of averages, "Red Sonja" couldn't help but be putrid. The only question was what level of intensity of putrescence would rise to.

As it turned out, pretty damn high.

However, if Arnie is being honest with himself, he'll admit the worst movie of his career was husband to Maria Shriver. Not only did he cheat on her before and after they married, he lied about fathering another woman's child and even wanted to have OPEN HEART SURGERY without telling his wife. When Arnie decided to run for governor for California, Maria gave up her broadcasting career to campaign for her hubby, even defending him from charges of infidelity and groping (which were both true). In the end, Maria proved to be Arnie's biggest political asset and he repaid her by being a selfish jerk.


Lord Kalidor would never do that to Red Sonja.

Her talking sword wouldn't let him.