There was a time--long in the past, the Hyborian age, perhaps—in which I would have enjoyed this film. In this time I was closer to 14 years old, of less discerning film tastes, and at a maturity level that assured that any movie with boobs and swords was going to be my favorite of all time.
Good news, fellow adolescent film viewers, this film contains both swords and boobs. The swords? They hack and slash throughout. The boobs? When they’re not being concealed by Brigitte Nielson’s leather bodice, exist only in a mystifyingly unnecessary scene that I’ll talk about later. Of course, these are nice additions, but they don’t show up in quantities sufficient enough to drown out the robotic acting, bad effects, and poorly-explained plot. This is the film’s downfall.
But let’s look closer.
Red Sonja, the fire-haired, amazonian statured, warrior-woman has a rough past. Her family? Killed. Her home? Burned. Her innocence? Taken by force.
Why has this happened? Why was this young woman's life so brutally destroyed? Because she wouldn't be Queen Gedren's prom date.(It's actually a much darker reason than that. But why ruin our light-hearted mood with things like rape?)
That's right. Opposite Sonja we have Queen Gedren, evil lesbian dominatrix from the kingdom of darkness. She's recently stolen an all-powerful talisman and is up to no good.
The rest follows predictably, Sonja's got to hack her way through the countryside, get to Gedren, and restore peace to the world. Easy.
This film is, as most Sword and Sorcery flicks are, very light in plot. The typical narrative consists of an inciting incident, usually something that requires revenge, a long bit in the middle where the warrior, or team of warriors, travel to their destination, crossing through several contrived set pieces along the way, and the final confrontation, usually at a massive, evil castle, a dark mountain, or some sort of hell portal.
The inciting incident of the movie has been explained above. Sonja rejects Gedren's advances, and subsequently watches her world burn. Of course, we don't see any of this happen. In the opening scenes of the film, Sonja is told, BY A GHOST, what has just happened to her. It's an odd storytelling choice, one might even say a poor storytelling choice. Rather than let us feel the loss and sorrow associated with the death of one's family, we're treated to a fuzzy, emotionless montage of murder and arson, all courtesy of a droning, female Ghost-Obi-Wan stand in.
Before I go much further, I'll need to say some quick words about the fighting in the film. (1.) There's a lot of it. (2.) It all involves people getting slashed or stabbed with broadswords. (3.) Minions fall by the dozens in these battles, but our main characters ALWAYS emerge unscathed. (4.) They're all basically the same.
Therefore, whenever one of these scenes occurs, I'll save both of us time by simply writing, "THEY FIGHT."
So, using this new shorthand, the plot goes something like this:
Gedren steals the all-powerful talisman from a group of female monks - THEY FIGHT.
Oh hey! Sorry to interrupt, but Conan shows up! This movie does exist in the same continuity as the previous Conan films, so it's not too odd that he'd appear. He serves the purpose of "sending off" the spin off. He's the one that's prominently on the DVD cover, although he only serves a supporting role in the film. Really, he's only here to transition this movie into a new continuity of the Conan series, to aid a smooth transition between the Arnold era and the planned era of Brigitte. Oh, and he looks badass and he swings a big sword. What more could you ask of him?
Back to the plot! Conan (calling himself Kalidor, presumably for copyright reasons) meets up with Sonja and informs her that her sister (one of the female monks from earlier) is dead. Sonja grabs a magical singing sword (don't worry, it's never referenced again) and begins her journey to the dark land.
After meeting with her dying sister and vowing revenge, she comes upon a recently conquered land (Gedren's power is increasing, thanks to the talisman), and its ruler, a boy-king named Tarn. His royal attendant, Falkon, is here as well. In short, nothing much happens in this scene, we're just introducing these two comic relief characters who will undoubtedly show up later.
Oh no, we've entered the land of King Brytag and he demands a toll: THEY FIGHT.
Some bandits are threatening Tarn and Falkon: THEY FIGHT.
Back to Gedren in her evil palace. She's got a female love-slave, a giant spider-pet, and her very own alchemist. Wishing to know what the good guys are up to, she shouts for her alchemist to show her on a magic mirror. The giant, smoky mirror poofs into activity when--wait, is that a naked lady in the mirror? Why is she dancing? What's going on?--oh, there they are. Sonja, Tarn, and the gang are headed to--
You want to know about the naked dancing lady? It's not explained. Never. I guess the magic mirror has one of those porny screen savers. The alchemist probably just forgot to delete it when Gedren came back.Maybe the dancing naked lady was there for her. Who knows, it was probably just an excuse to get some boobs into the movie. Gotta keep the key demographic happy!
You'll notice that the movie has been going on for a while now, and without any kind of romance subplot. Wait no further! We are treated to a steamy scene in a cozy cave between--Sonja and Tarn? He's, like 12 years old! Regardless, I think there's more going on in this scene that just a simple fencing lesson.
Sonja: You were disarmed because you hold the hilt too tight. Grip gently, see?
Tarn: Gently, I see, like this? [moves her hands to his...hilt]
Sonja: Your Highness learns fast.
The (abrupt) End of Part One
I'd love to sit and talk about this movie for another couple hundreds of words, but it's getting a bit late. So I'll leave the review there, end it on a sexy note. Come back next time when we'll see the thrilling conclusion to Red Sonja.
Will she avenge the deaths of her family members? Will the talisman be destroyed? Will Arnold show up again? Will we be as bored as we were for part one?
These questions and more will be answered in PART TWO.