CONAN THE DESTROYER – Basil Poledouris
Original Review by Craig Lysy
The immense worldwide success achieved by “Conan the Barbarian” lead, to the surprise of no one, to an inevitably sequel. Producer Dino De Laurentiis hired director Richard Fleischer to revisit the mythic Hyborean world and offer us the classic mythic adventure. In the tale we see that at the bequest of the evil Queen Tamaris of Zamora, Conan is promised that his dead lover Valeria will be resurrected if he would bring to her the sacred Horn of Dagoth. In reality the duplicitous Tamaris plans to betray Conan and sacrifice her niece Jehenna to reanimate the god Dagoth with whom she plans to mate and generate a new progeny of gods. A colorful and eclectic cast lead again by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan) was assembled and featured the fierce Amazon warrior Zula (Grace Jones), virginal Princess Jehenna (Olivia d’Abo), the wise wizard Akiro (Mako), the comic thief Malak (Jeff Corey) and the treacherous Bombaata (Will Chamberlain). A parade of directors and a truly feeble script soured Schwarzenegger as he chose to not return for a third film. Never the less, fantasy films were at their zenith in the 80s and the film was a commercial success, doubling its $18 million production costs.
Most interesting is that Poledouris, who was asked to reprise as composer, would later comment derisively “the film has a completely different attitude – a rather ridiculous one at best.” Much of this may be attributable to a betrayal of resources as he was forced to write for a much smaller orchestra that lacked a chorus. One notices immediately an alteration in the soundscape to a less operatic tone given the dubious shift in the story’s narrative. Despite being so encumbered, Poledouris never the less managed to write some inspiring music, although the listener will notice immediately a lack of thematic continuity from the first film. Most of the great themes are absent or at best return as mere fragmentary echoes of their greater selves. There are two primary themes, which animate the film; Conan’s Theme, a bravado and heroic horn laden statement for our hero and the contrasting Queen Tamaris Theme, a menacing minor modal melody performed alla marcia. Three secondary themes also support the film’s narrative; the mysterioso and tri-tonal Toth-Amon Theme, which features a repeating four note line embellished with sparkling percussion, the Crystal Palace Theme, which is featured only once during Conan’s epic battle with Toth-Amon, and Valeria’s Theme from the original film, which speaks to Conan’s torment of loss. Included with these themes are a number of motifs that interplay during the film. Lastly, disc two includes four film versions of key cues, which in my judgment are inferior due to film editing to those presented by Nic Raine. As such I offered no additional commentary.
As in the first film, Poledouris supports the film’s introductory spoken narrative through the use of a stark percussive soundscape. As the credits roll we see Bombaata leading horsemen and a cart across desert plains. Suddenly from out of the textural percussion erupts the potent orchestral force of the horn driven Hyborean Theme, which again serves to establish the soundscape of this mythic age. Propelled by pounding timpani with tambourine accents we segue with a scene change at 2:20 into a glorious restatement of the heroic Conan’s Theme, where we see our hero praying at an altar. This epic and heroic cue is just a tour de force and a score highlight!
“Net Fight” is an astounding multi-thematic action cue. We see Queen Tamaris and her troops attack with nets and attempt to capture Conan and Malak. Descending tremolo strings usher in a fierce percussive attack sequence that features tuba, pounding timpani and kindred percussion. Rousing horn fare rises to play the Hyborean Theme as Conan slays one attacker after the next. Poledouris then introduces the Queen Tamaris Theme carried by full orchestra over an unrelenting percussive ostinato to drive the cue to conclusion. Wow, this is an action lover’s dream come true. Bravo! In “Valeria Remembered” a duplicitous Tamaris uses sorcery to entreat Conan to take up a quest with the promise to resurrect his lost lover Valeria. Poledouris demonstrates his genius in understanding the film’s narrative by using the orchestra to impart an ethereal tone to this scene where we see Conan entranced by a fleeting vision of his dead lover. Dolorosa violins introduce a stirring reprise of Valeria’s Theme, whose melodic line is taken up by a plaintive solo oboe. Wondrous accents of sparkling glockenspiel, celesta, shimmering harp glissandi, crotales, tubular bells and chimes serve to create a stirring passage of uncommon beauty. This is one of my favorite cues of the score. Just magnificent!
In “Shadizar” grand heraldic fanfare reprises the glorious processional Mountain Of Power Theme from the first film as we see Conan and Tamaris’ party ride into the fortress city of Shadizar. As they enter the Queens court we hear an eerie and portentous piccolo trumpet, plucked bass and finger cymbals imparting a sense that all is not as it seems. As Conan and his party reach a small encampment in “Town Source Music” Poledouris imparts a medieval sensibility through the use of a small ensemble of flute, two oboes, bass clarinet, bassoon, harps, dumbeck and finger cymbals. This is nicely done.
“Zula – Bombaata Fight” is a complex cue that features a battle between Zula, who wishes to join the party, and Bombaata who rejects her offer. A sparkling ostinato and timpani set the stage for battle that when joined is supported by primitive percussion. Following her defeat, we hear her tender theme on solo cor anglais with tambourine accents as Conan accepts her offer to join the quest. A variant of the Hyborean Theme supports the party as they ride through the countryside. As they top a ridge and behold the Crystal Palace we hear an introduction to the tri-tonal Toth-Amon Theme, which features a repeating four-note line embellished with sparkling percussion. This mysterioso theme is decidedly otherworldly and perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery. In “Bird – The Princess” Poledouris again employs a small ensemble consisting of flutes, oboes, glockenspiel, crotales, harps, celesta and suspended cymbals to create a wondrous mysterioso passage. We see the wizard Toth-Amon transform himself into a magical bird, which flies across the lake, captures Jehenna in his talons and then transports her to his palace. His ethereal tri-tone theme plays on harp with flute counters as he lays her to rest in a crystalline bedchamber. At 2:25 we segue into “Boating” where our party realizes Jehenna is missing and boards a boat to travel to the Crystal Palace and rescue her. An intimate small ensemble perform a mysterioso tri-tonal sound with low register ponticello strings, sparkling harp glissandi, celesta, vibraphone, bells and alto flute. I must say that these two fantasy cues are perfectly conceived and testimony to Poledouris’ genius.
In “Ice Palace” portentous tremolo strings and glockenspiel evoke trepidation as the party swims through an under water passage to gain entry into the palace. As they gain entry and begin their exploration a lyrical sting line emerges with harpsichord and glockenspiel accents. Slowly the melodic line deepens, becoming menacing until the ethereal Toth-Amon Theme emerges as we see him descend into the chamber of mirrors. “Chamber of Mirrors” is a dramatic and potent action cue, which features Conan battling a transformed Toth-Amon. As he enters the chamber a clock-like variant of the Toth-Amon Theme plays, reflecting his domain. In a repeating line the melody begins an ascent in register, serving to raise tension. Woodwinds play Conan’s Theme as curtains rise to reveal multiple images of Toth-Amon that emerge from their respective mirrors and coalesce into a single monstrous entity. At 1:46 horns signal the battle is joined and we hear the lumbering Chamber of Mirrors Theme, a slow, methodical and powerful low register repeating six-note line with a three note metallic echo. Horn counters for our hero interplay and crescendo at 3:28 when the monster proves impervious to Conan’s sword. At 4:38 as all seems lost, Conan discovers that breaking a mirror wounds the beast and so proceeds to smash all of them. His horn-laden theme is now ascendant with sparkling percussion as he turns the tide of battle. We slowly build to crescendo as Conan slays the beast. Doloroso woodwinds signal a mortally wounded Toth-Amon who has returned to his human form. As his life ebbs we hear his theme slowly fade to nothingness. Wow, what a classic piece and score highlight!
In “Eating the Elite” thundering timpani and potent low register bass emoting a strong repeating six-note motif signal the attack of the Queen’s guard who kidnap Jehenna. Conan pursues and wages combat with her kidnapper in an epic battle. Poledouris provides an aggressive interplay of Conan’s Theme, the six note-repeating motif of the guard and the Queen Tamaris’ Theme. It is a stunning piece abounding with great action writing! At 3:21 a percussive bowed tam-tam and vibraphone segue into “Crypt Rocks” where the party encounters a temple. The cue features a beautiful passage of rich Rozsa-esque string writing with a decidedly religioso sensibility. In “Door Lift” as the party navigates temple passageways there is tension in the strings with rhythmic glockenspiel accents. We hear echoes of the first film’s “Wheel Of Pain” in a toiling bass ostinato as Conan uses his strength to forcefully lift the massive door. At 2:20 we segue into “Dragon’s Head – Conan the Destroyer” as the party enters an inner chamber with a dragon’s head. We hear trepidation in the woodwinds, which now take up the melodic line that plays over a violin sustain with accents of block percussion. Lush strings with celesta now take up the increasingly lyrical melodic line as Jehenna moves to place the crystal in its mount. As she does, woodwinds join and the music builds with increasing emotional potency. At 4:47 as the dragon head lifts to reveal the chamber that houses the Horn Of Dagoth, foreboding bass, celesta and chimes sound and usher in the lyrical string line that builds to a stirring climax as Jehenna grabs the horn. We conclude the most lyrical passage of the score with woodwinds, which are joined by lush lyrical strings and sparkling percussion as she exits the inner chamber. This is no doubt a standout cue of sublime string writing and stunning beauty. Bravo!
“Cutlery Interruptus” features the party forced to battle the temple priest and his guard. Poledouris provides robust and primal action writing propelled by a pounding timpani percussion line joined by tuba, bass, a string ostinato and metallic percussive accents. At 1:58 we segue into “Akiro’s Magic” where he engages and wins a magical duel with the temple priest. Spritely woodwinds, a string sustain and an at times comic-light-hearted underscore for the scene. The cue concludes with fragmentary statements of Conan’s Theme that emerge from the melodic line as the party successfully escapes.
With “Dagoth Ceremony” Nic Raine chose to provide us with Poledouris’ original intent, which was to augment the orchestra with choir. Most interesting is the choice to support the film’s most dramatic scene with a reprise of his Bolero-like music from the original film’s “The Orgy”. The use of what is essentially a dance to support Jehenna’s sacrifice and Dagoth’s transformation runs askew of normal scoring convention and provides a fascinating example of playing music against film imagery. “Impaling the Guard” – “Dagoth’s Death” is a binary cue that supports the film’s culminating scene. Heraldic horn fare and a string ostinato signal the death of the High Priest from Zula’s spear. Pounding timpani and dramatic horn fare evoke the horror of the now reanimated and monstrous Dagoth who impales Tamaris – a well-deserved end! Poledouris did not score the final battle between Conan and Dagoth until Conan’s triumph, announced at 0:51 with a horn crescendo from which arises his theme. We conclude the film poetically with the very moving “Farewell Valeria”, much of which was regretfully excised from the film due to editing. The cue features an extended statement of Valeria’s Theme, which is presented as conceived in its unedited form. The music opens with dolorosa strings and a lonely echo of Conan’s Theme as Conan declines Jehenna’s entreaty to become her consort. A solo oboe takes up Valeria’s Theme at 1:19 for a most tender yet restrained expression until 2:21 when the melodic line swells to climax with heartbreak as Conan contemplates life without her. This is a magnificent piece that brings a quiver with each listen. Bravo! “Drum Postlude – End Credits” completes the film and features a fine suite. We open with Conan’s Theme, transition to Queen Tamaris’ Theme now fortified with a fierce string ostinato before an exotic bridge of woodwinds and percussion return us to Conan’s Theme. What a satisfying conclusion to the score!
Universal Studios conceived Sword and Sorcery: The Adventures of Conan as a stage show loosely based upon the mythic Conan the Barbarian character. The play features a skinny young man and a young woman intent on plundering a temple of its treasures. Although greeted by a good wizard, the woman steals a large red gem set in a statue there-by releasing a trapped evil wizard. The evil wizard summons his guards, who swordfight against the man and woman and good wizard. Our heroes seem to prevail, but the evil wizard resurrects his guards and the battle is renewed. When a fireball destroys the good wizard, the young man picks up a magical sword that turns him into Conan. Armed with his new strength and magic sword, Conan slays the guards, and then throws the evil wizard into a pit. Yet the evil wizard re-emerges from the pit as a giant, fire-breathing dragon, which Conan and the woman finally defeat.
“Introduction” opens with bright heraldic fanfare and glockenspiel, which ushers in lyrical woodwinds with horn accents. The tempo assumes a confident march like sensibility before ethereal woodwinds and twinkling glockenspiel herald the entry of our heroes into the magical realm. Poledouris evokes a sense of wonder and awe, especially at 2:26 when choir and twinkling percussion swell the melodic line and take the cue to a truly dramatic and glorious climax. Wow! “Winds of the Woods” opens portentously with a low register string sustain which surrenders to pastoral woodwinds and shimmering celesta and glockenspiel. Strings soon join and we bear witness to a lush and wondrous lyrical melodic line that is just breath taking. At 1:40 celli shift the lyrical flow with a sense of foreboding before restoring the shimmering melodic line that concludes dramatically. This is a sublime cue of uncommon beauty and a score highlight! “Mordor’s Four” opens with a repeating ascending woodwind line that plays over a lyrical string line with harpsichord accents. At 0:40 a repeating line of horns and sparkling percussion ushers in full choir. The melodic line, now supported by strings, shimmering glockenspiel and timpani percussion intensifies the repeating motif until a climax is achieved at 1:33. As the jewel’s theft releases the evil wizard, low register strings and horns introduce danger, now amplified by a returning chorus. A choral sustain initiates an aggressive counter melodic line carried by a string ostinato and horns, which dramatically restores the opening repeating motif. The music continues urgently and with dramatic power by horns and strings playing a repeating and escalating seven-note motif, which interplays with our heroes theme carried by violins. Poledouris continues to amplify the tension atop timpani, struck metallic percussion and potent horn play to close the passage. Wow, this is one dramatic cue.
The battle is joined in “The Fight” with pounding timpani and an ascending string ostinato propelling the music. A counter string ostinato ushers in repeating horn fare with woodwind flourishes, which intensifies the action. The opening timpani and string ostinato line returns and interplays with the now contrapuntal horn line. Pounding timpani joined by potent tuba, gongs and strings intensify to climax at 3:19 with an orchestral crash as the evil wizard is slain. I just admire how well Poledouris uses his percussion to power his action cues. Our heroes’ victory is short-lived as the evil wizard resurrects as a monstrous dragon in “The Dragon – Mordor’s Death”. Dark portentous bass full of foreboding open the cue and soon usher in an ethereal choir whose repeating statement is ended by an escalating series of sharp horn blasts. As our heroes’ theme sounds, trombones and snare drums usher in a choir, which chants with horn fare in an ascending line intensifying with dramatic power. As Conan battles the dragon we bear witness to an amazing choral powerhouse replete with astounding horn play. The melodic line continues to increase in potency and drama until climaxing at 3:02 with heroic trumpets, which announce victory! The cue concludes with a cacophonous choral and orchestral descent, which convey the dragon’s descent into the bowels of Tartarus. I am just awestruck by the emotional power of this cue! We conclude with “The Ending” where fanfare and strings perform a refulgent rendering of our heroes’ theme, which closes grandly with Conan’s Theme in a dramatic orchestral flourish. Bravo!
James Fitzpatrick, Nic Raine and the renown Prague Philharmonic have provided film score collectors a wondrous gift with this sterling world premiere recording of the complete score. The use of an orchestra of 90 musicians and chorale as Poledouris originally intended has served to at long last resurrect this score. I just cannot fully express my happiness nor contain my joy! The digital recording is pristine and of the highest order. Folks, while this score does not match the dramatic, epic and operatic power of “Conan the Barbarian”, it never the less provides us with several fine themes and motifs, which Poledouris weaves into a wondrous tapestry. The addition of an orchestral rerecording of “Sword and Sorcery: The Adventures of Conan” with chorus is also a most welcome gift. Shed of the dialogue and inferior quality of earlier editions, this complete recording is just stunning. While not directly referencing the “Conan the Barbarian” score except for the closing statement of the final cue, this work displays the awesome lyrical beauty and boundless power of Poledouris’ finest writing. I strongly recommend both scores as essential additions to your collection.
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- DISC ONE – CONAN THE DESTOYER
- Drum Prelude/Main Title (Original Version) (3:10)
- Net Fight (2:23)
- Valeria Remembered (1:34)
- Shadizar/Dream Quest (4:14)
- Akiro/Cavemen Fight/Elite Guard Riders (1:14)
- Town Source Music (1:54)
- Zula-Bombaata Fight (2:27)
- Bird/The Princess/Boating In (3:45)
- Ice Palace (3:37)
- Chamber of Mirrors (7:15)
- Princess Takes The Jewel/Forest Ride (1:28)
- Eating The Elite/Crypt Rocks (5:21)
- Door Lift/Dragon’s Head/Conan The Destroyer (7:11)
- Cutlery Interruptus/Akiro’s Magic (3:27)
- Dagoth Ceremony (Original Version With Choir) (4:41)
- Impaling the Guard/Dagoth’s Death (1:26)
- Pit Band (0:18)
- Farewell Valeria (3:13)
- Drum Postlude/End Credits (2:44)
- DISC TWO – SWORD AND SORCERY: THE ADVENTURES OF CONAN
- Introduction (3:19)
- Winds of the Woods (3:17)
- Mordor’s Four (4:41)
- The Fight (3:30)
- The Dragon/Mordor’s Death (3:32)
- The Ending (1:20)
- Main Title (Film Version – Bonus) (3:31)
- Akiro/Cavemen Fight (Film Version – Bonus) (0:55)
- Zula/Bombaata Fight (Film Version – Bonus) (2:27)
- Dagoth Ceremony (Film Version – Bonus) (4:41)
Running Time: 152 minutes 35 seconds
Prometheus XPCD-171 (1984/2011)
Music composed by Basil Poledouris. Conducted by Nic Raine. Performed by The City of Prague Philarmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Original orchestrations by Greig McRitchie, Jack Smalley and Steven Scott Smalley. Recorded and mixed By Jan Holzner. Album produced by James Fitzpatrick.