From the Archive – Red Sonja (1985)

Red_sonja_film_poster

“A woman and a warrior that became a legend.”

Directed by Richard ‘Conan the Destroyer’ Fleischer
Starring Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenneger and Sandahl Bergman

Red Sonja (Nielsen), the mightiest warrior woman in the world, must battle against the evil Queen Gedhren (Bergman) – sporting a half-mask to cover the scar inflicted on her by Sonja years before – after she swipes the sceptre of gratuitous destruction from a temple guarded by a pack of scantily-clad warrior nuns (or something). Arnie is topped-billed as the sceptre’s official custodian, seeking its return, while Sonja froths and pursues because her sister was one of the slain nuns.

A series of battles follow, with Arnie sort of trailing after Sonja. There’s a momentary romantic distraction when Sonja tells Arnie she won’t sleep with him unless he beats her in a fight and they proceed to battle each other to a dead standstill (a very smart tactic in mid-pursuit). Then they raid Gedhren’s fortress, aided by a bratty prince and his faithful retainer, Sonja defeats Gedhren and the mountain falls down. Oh, and Sonja and Arnie hit it off.

What’s wrong with it?

In a word – well, two – Brigitte Nielsen. Basically cast because she’s a strapping six-footer with a cleavage (much like Arnold himself) and topped with an alarming red wig, Nielsen’s acting abilities are perfectly paired with the Austrian Oak c.1985. In conversation side-by-side, they are like a pair of fine paneled doors, and have about as much chemistry. The bratty prince is also very annoying, and there isn’t even much in the way of really good action until the last fifteen minutes. Sonja basically wanders vaguely through the film, running into a series of non-consecutive, not terribly interesting action scenes, before ending up – almost as if by chance – at the dénouement.

What’s right with it?

In a word – well, two – Sandahl Bergman, plainly having the time of her life playing the rather ineptly villainous Gedhren with camp glee, complete with snivelling, treacherous sidekick.

How bad is it really?

In a word – well, two – very bad. It may not suck on the sheer scale and magnitude of Conan the Destroyer, but it is pretty damned awful.

Best bit (if such there is)

The sword fight between Sonja and Prince Whatsisface (Arnie) is fairly amusing for the increasing exhaustion of the combatants, which probably makes it one of the most realistic broadsword duels of all time.

What’s up with…?

  • The warrior nuns and their easy-to-assault temple? Why are they keeping this thing in the first place? And if it needs to be kept in the dark, why haven’t they been keeping it in the dark? Did this only just occur to them?

Ratings

Production Values – Standard S&S fare, which is to say fairly duff. Rubber water monsters and dodgy outfits plus a couple of unfeasibly huge broadswords. 12

Dialogue and Performances – Even with the addition of the she-Arnie to the acting credits, this doesn’t quite reach the level of Conan the Destroyer, if only because it doesn’t have Grace Jones or that appalling d’Abo woman. 13

Plot and Execution – As is so often the case in S&S, the plot is paper thin and exists only to hang the set-pieces against. If the set pieces had been any good, then it might not have mattered so much. 16

Randomness – The film is a string of random encounters, with almost nothing being adequately explained. 15

Waste of Potential – The concept for this film must basically have been ‘Conan, but with a chick’, so we never expected that much. The film delivers just that. 10

Overall 66%

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