[box cover]

Red Sonja

Director Richard Fleischer must have seemed like a perfect substitute for John Milius in reinterpreting Robert E Howard's Conan mythos. He started with 1984's Conan the Destroyer and then did 1985's spin off Red Sonja. It's fitting because Fleischer directed 1958's The Vikings, arguably the best Viking film ever made (Conan is a Nordic figure), and 1954's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the best special-effects movies of its time. Yet Fleischer was nearly 70 by the time he made Sonja, and he spent the intervening years directing such projects as Mandingo and Amityville 3-D. Perhaps in those years he went tone-deaf — that's one explanation for why Brigitte Nielsen's performance is so terrible in her first starring effort. She plays the titular character, who — after her family is killed before her and is raped by evil Queen Gedren's (Sandahl Bergman) men — gets blessed by a spirit to have the greatest sword-wielding arm in the world to enact her revenge. And when Kalidor (top-billed Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a role that is essentially a reprisal of Conan, although that name was tied up in rights issues) finds Sonja's sister near death, he retrieves Sonja, and after talking to her dying sister Sonja realizes she must destroy a glowing green orb that could destroy the world (and sounds suspiciously like the ring of power) that only women can touch. It turns out that Gedren stole the orb, so Sonja gets to get her revenge and save the world. But on her journeys she's flanked by child Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes Jr.) and his servant Falkon (Paul Smith) after their city is destroyed by Gedren. Sonja can't seem to shake them, while Kalidor acts as Sonja's deus ex machina whenever she gets in over her head. A film that could have been great campy fun, Red Sonja is undercut mercilessly by Nielsen's staggeringly bad performance. Called on to emote or quip, she seems positively baffled by the English language; it's as if she learned her lines phonetically, but with no gift for conveying emotions. The film might have worked better had Sandahl Bergman took the role, but Nielsen (who became famous by being Sylvester Stallone's paramour) ruins most of the proceedings. And as such, some of the subtle undercurrents of perversity (Bergman's character is obviously Sapphic-centric) would be more fun had Nielsen understood them. She does have a great scene when she tells Kalidos that she can only be with a man who can beat her in swordsmanship, and the two engage in a lengthy swordfight/seduction — there the film starts to kick into gear and brings the energy up enough to almost make the conclusion rousing. Almost. Warner presents Red Sonja in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from an acceptable source-print, while the original audio is on a DD 1.0 track. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—DSH



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