Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Red Sonja (1985)

After Conan the Destroyer didn't completely destroy the franchise despite the best intentions of the sequel's director Richard Fleischer, he was left with only one choice: make yet another Conan movie, but without the name rights. Oh, and make Arnold a supporting character for some reason. And so Fleischer went to Italy ready to make a movie, but without a lead, and presumably without a plot.

Arnold's even got a bigger picture on the poster.

Enter Brigitte Nielsen, local giantess, to the rescue. Fleischer saw her in a magazine and I assume the thought process was "she is tall and hot. She'd be PERFECT!" Just like that, the 21 year old Dutch model [Insert dyke joke here] who barely spoke English was on her way to Hollywood! Well actually Italy, but who's counting?


The ghost of Christmas Past grants Sonja awesome abilities.

Our story begins a long time ago when teen Sonja's house is burned down. Apparently some evil femme warlord wanted sex with the teen Sonja but she said no. Kind of a rude girl for Hyborean times: whatever happened to honoring your parents and local warlord? Sonja is left to die when some kind of weird-ass local deity shows up to hand Sonja super powers. Instead of like, getting training or something, the god just makes her awesome. Seems like kind of a cheat. Couldn't she have just sent her to a trainer with a good reference?


The zipline was always a popular attraction at Hyborean Summer Camp.

A few years later, a bunch of women are waiting for some important guy to show up so they can do an important ceremony, but before they can do the ritual which involves getting rid of a doomsday device, Gedren (Sandahl Bergman, who has also already been in a Conan movie), the warlord who wanted Sonja, shows up to kill these women and steal their doomsday device. Oh, for some reason, the device can only be operated by women: a man who touches it is zapped out of the film stock entirely. I assume he popped into whatever movie was playing next door at the time with hilarious results. One of the nuns escapes, but while she's getting away on an ancient zipline, one of Gedren's goons shoots her with a crossbow bolt. Yeah, I don't know why they have those things either. Conan himself shows up to treat the injured girl, but for legal reasons we're calling him "Kalidor." Anyway, the girl says she has a sister named Sonja. Kali promises to find her and bring her to the dying sister.

It's pretty incredible that this 3rd rate Conan movie actually has Conan in it.

Meanwhile, Sonja gets trained by a traditional Oriental Weapons-Master type who wears a ridiculous outfit. Didn't that deity say she didn't need this step? She's evidently completed her training, and gets to pick one weapon as a prize. In a bizarre moment, one sword for some reason starts calling Sonja's name. There is never any explanation or purpose for this. Before leaving, Sonja gets lectured by the wise man about how she should stop being such a man hater; Sonja responds that she doesn't hate him, but he laments that he is too old. Hold on, buddy, viagra is less than ten thousand years away!

Seriously where is this movie supposed to be set?

In the meantime Kali arrives and meets up with Sonja near a statue of what I can only assume is a "shitting Buddha", and explains her sister is dying. The sister, who is still coherent but is minutes from dying, lays out the plot before keeling over. Kalidor offers to help, but Sonja hates men SO MUCH she leaves without him, promising to deal with Gedren herself.

Doomsday device or giant kryptonite egg? You decide.

Sonja follows a giant ominous cloud to find out that Gedren used her doomsday device on a nearby kingdom, reducing it to two people. Yes, this is a low budget film. The two in question are Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes Jr., who would go on to star in Surf Ninjas) ), an annoying little brat whose kingdom just exploded, and his loyal sidekick Falkon. Even though Sonja saves Tarn from falling into some convenient lava, he cracks wise about his new army needing a cook, and Sonja barely restrains her irrational hatred of men enough to not kill them.

Oh, look, it's the comic relief and his fat sidekick.

Sonja proceeds further into Gedren's kingdom, where she runs into... the same two guys??? Is this going to be one of those Jacob's Ladder deals where it turns out she really died at the beginning and this is hell? She saves the little Prince again, and this time he minds his manners enough that Sonja agrees to travel with them. What is it with the 1980's and incredibly annoying child sidekicks?

Okay this is getting a little risque.

Is it me or did she just save those morons from Dr. Cox?

Kali shows up again, and Sonja swordfights him in some sort of twisted courtship where she is only willing to have sex with someone that beats her in a sword fight. The fight ends in a draw when both Sonja and Kali get exhausted and collapse. Sonja finally lets Kali join up with the group. You know this movie would be about half as long as she would just let people join her the first time.

You'd think great swordfighters would have better stamina.

So Sonja, Tarn, Falkon, and Kali make their way towards a final showdown with Gedren, pausing only to fight robots in caves (I'm not even kidding). Will Sonja avenge her family's murder? Will Sonja ever learn to love again?

"Hey guys, are you sure we're going the right way?"

This movie is pretty crap. This is coming from someone that enjoyed Masters of the Universe. Its biggest strength is that it's short and PG-13 enough that you can show it to a child over and over until they are no longer effected by violence and hate men and foreigners. Sonja is supposed to be this bad-ass but it's obvious from 15 minutes in that she's eventually going to end up married to Conan/Kalidor, wearing some sort of metal apron and cooking him dinner. Seriously Barbarella was more of a feminist than this chick and she had sex with literally every man she met.

Gedren pets her puppet-operated hilariously giant spider.

On the other hand, Gedren is a barely subtextual lesbian S&M weirdo who actually seems to have no interest in men. In addition to asking Sonja for sex, causing her to get a facial scar, when at her evil lair she turns on a mystical television to track Sonja's progress. Before it tunes in on Sonja, it has about 15 seconds of a topless girl dancing. The Queen's wizard rolls his eyes but isn't particularly surprised. So our choices are evil lesbian or good woman who claims to hate men but is obviously destined to end up with the manliest man ever.

Beyond its confused message, the film is just boring. It's short, but there's a lot of standing around and the plot is so bare bones that it's more fitting to be an hour long cartoon than a full length feature.

The acting is just terrible, but I really feel for Brigitte and company. Why are they even making her speak English when they are just going to ADR everything she says? But her phonics are pretty epically bad. "Gedren? WHERE ARE UUUUU?" I struggle to think of any movie where it was less necessary for two characters to be speaking English. I felt pretty bad for them.

Phonics the Red Sonja way!

A note on the music: it was done by Ennio Morricone, a legitimately awesome composer who has been in the business for over fifty years and has nearly 500 composing credits. The actual main theme is excellent, but the movie somehow manages to botch even this by playing it throughout the first act, even when it's not appropriate to what's on the screen. Pretty huge waste of talent, considering how much better it is than the rest of the movie.

Memorable Quotes:

Tarn: Why does she fight so hard? She doesn't want to win.

Sonja: No man may have me, unless he's beaten me in a fair fight.
Kalidor: So the only man who can have you is one who's trying to kill you? That's logic.

Arbitrary Rating:

2.5 Fish Without Bicycles out of 5

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