Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thor The Conqueror (1983)

Okay, I admit it. I used to play Dungeons & Dragons. I used to be addicted to the twenty-sided die. Well, actually, I used to be addicted to the idea of Dungeons & Dragons. I had the manuals and all the tangential supplies. What I didn't really have were any friends who were interested in playing (I know, boo hoo). There was some toe-dipping from time to time, but by and large, I was the only person I knew (or knew well enough) who was interested in this type of game. Consequently, I would collect roleplaying games, create characters for them, and then do absolutely squat with them. Eventually, I broke the habit, and I just don't think I could get into LARPing today, so that whole facet of my childhood is now nothing more than some odd (and oddly entertaining) memories. Memories the Sword and Sorcery subgenre were hand-crafted to goose. Sometimes it doesn't work that way, though. 

After traipsing ceaselessly across the mountains of...some area (pause for laughter...), Gant The Annihilator (Angelo Ragusa), his unnamed wife (unless I missed it, and this is somewhat telling), and Etna (Christopher Holm) the sorcerer arrive just where they need to be-a forest clearing. After Gant's wife humps off behind a tree to give birth alone, the dyspeptic band is ambushed by Gnut (Raf Baldassarre, credited as Raf Falcone) and his primitive Baseball Furies/Kiss Army. Thor's parents are killed, but Thor and Etna escape. Years pass, and Etna has raised Thor (Bruno Minniti, credited as Conrad Nichols) to be a boorish mouth breather (and warrior). Thor kills a pack of cannibals and essentially rapes one of their captives (as Etna watches creepily), and he's all set to start his big quest. If Thor is to be "the greatest chief of all time," he must find his father's old sword (which transformed into a snake and slithered off during the prologue). Let me tell you of the days of high adventure (well, not quite).

Thor The Conqueror (aka Beastmaster 2, aka Thor Il Conquistatore) is an entry in the oeuvre of Tonino Ricci (aka Anthony Richmond), and like so many epics of Italian cinema, it owes its existence to a much better film. I won't ruin it by telling you which movie that is, but I have faith that you can guess it (hint: it's not Beastmaster). But let's start at the beginning. Barbarian characters rarely (if ever) have happy origins. They do not come from loving homes, and their parents rarely survive the film's opening scenes. As an example of the callousness of the world the characters inhabit as well as a reason why the fullgrown antihero (they seldom fit the mold of traditional hero) is as hard and badass as he is, the character's pre-developmental derivation is as important to who he is as any events in his quest or choices he makes while on it. The protagonist is, for all intents and purposes, born in blood (but aren't we all?), and his life will be centered on its shedding.

Barbaric characters also usually come with a prophecy of some type already attached. They are preordained to greatness. Thor is no different. He is destined to be a leader. To say the least, this is difficult to believe when the first time you see him as an adult, he's tearing into a raw fish he's just caught. This is not the behavior of regality (maybe my standards are high). Nonetheless, Etna seems pretty damn sure this Lamas-ian bulk is The One. The question that occurred to me is why should we bother with a film at all if our main character is destined to come out on top? If the prediction was to be less specific, say, not mention who would be the greatest, or state that the titular person will be the greatest IF he can conquer his mightiest foe and complete a series of arduous tasks, the uncertainty (but come on, not really) of his triumph would provide some aleatory tension, but this is almost never the case. Yet we continue to watch, and characters like Thor have been popular for centuries. 

Let's be clear about this, though. Thor is not a nice character (not that he needs to be one). He is not even a likeable character. But for this movie, he's the only one we have. Thor rapes two women, the second of which, Ina (Queen of the Virgin Warriors, played by Maria Romano), follows Thor around like a lapdog subsequently and pulls his fat out of the fire. Thor takes another virgin bride later in the film (basically making him a bigamist, kind of), and his mentor Etna is no box of chocolates, either. The mage states flat out that the "female is stupid," and commands Thor, "don't treat the woman so gently." In fact, the level of misogyny in this film is distressingly high. Naturally, the world these characters live in is phallocentric, but even in other films of its ilk, women are not treated so barbarically (sorry) as they are herein, and even if they are, they usually display some vestige of backbone. Ina comes close in the film's back half to the extent she proposes a plan to Thor, and he pays attention, but she's little more than a baby factory for the conquering male.

Thor's life is surrounded by magic, but he himself cannot be a magical being nor partake in magic as anything other than a tool, a means to an end. Actually, his type of character typically abhors magic and those who practice it. Magic's inability to be gripped like a weapon makes it untrustworthy. And magic appears to have the same attitude towards Thor. It seemingly attacks him (through its acolytes) whenever the opportunity strikes, as if the world of magic fears Thor's completion of his quest. Etna tells Thor rather bluntly that he did not teach him magic so that Thor has no reason to abandon and/or kill him. Despite this, Thor must find his father's magic sword, and later he will rely heavily on magic to both save him from a crisis and complete his journey. He hates and fears what he needs. It's an interesting dichotomy, but its investigation remains incomplete in this film.

As an abhorrent character, Thor excels. Nevertheless, his title says it all. He is a conqueror, and his job is to conquer. He conquers his foes. He conquers the magical world. He conquers nature. He conquers women. He conquers other men. It's an intriguing way to rationalize Thor's odious nature, but like so much else in the film, it remains completely unexplored. 

There is no urgency to the film's narrative at all, and every scene feels almost arbitrary. There is no central villain to provide escalating obstacles for the protagonist. At least not until the end, and even then, the finale feels offhand and dismissive. There is just an endless series of clearings in a forest where some villains attack Thor (and the men all astonishingly wear the same helmets, though they remain completely unlinked overtly by the film's story), he kills them, and he moves on to the next clearing. It's a structure heavily reminiscent of early video games (and even some current ones, I'm sure). However, unlike a video game, the viewer of Thor The Conqueror does not get to participate in (nor does one take any real satisfaction from) Thor's victories. The best way I can describe the film is like mile markers. You see them, they pass by, they are all inherently different, but they really only say the same thing for as long as the trip takes.

MVT: The action in the film is plentiful and (if nothing else) energetically acted out. Ricci even keeps the frame opened up and resists fast cutting, so the viewer can always tell what's going on and where. The problem is they all seem like the same fight, and they quickly get old.

Make Or Break: The prologue sequence is long and drawn out, and all it does is sets the viewer up for the lack of creativity coming down the pike.

Score: 4.5/10

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