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Candid Photos From "Conan the Barbarian" (1982)

This post is barely gaming adjacent, but the Conan stories have informed much of my fantasy gaming since my first forays into the hobby. I've seen the John Milius adaptation more times than any other movie (probably over 50 times, though most of those viewings were on VHS or HBO as a teenager). The 1982 Conan film was the first R rated movie I saw in a movie theater (age 12). The first convention game I ever played in was one in which I played the barbarian himself. The first convention game I ever ran as game master was an adaptation of Howard's "Beyond the Black River." For good or ill, I've spent a lot of time in that fantasy world.

When I stumbled on an online trove of about 400 candid photos from various sets of Conan the Barbarian shot by somebody on the crew, it was oddly visceral for me. It generated a warm feeling getting to see these actors and sets from new angles, both in character and out, in situ and behind the scenes. Seeing Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and James Earl Jones in costume and on set but smiling and letting their guard down between takes was somehow like getting to catch up with old childhood friends. I'd seen all of the publicity stills and official on-set photos countless times over the years, but these new photos wiped away that sheen of familiarity and gave me a little frisson of peeking behind the curtain afresh.

I'm typically not a fan of "behind the scenes" documentaries and the like when it comes to demonstrating how special effects and what not are actually created. I skip DVD extra features that concentrate on the mechanics of green screens, CGI, and the dangling of actors on wires. I watch movies to be immersed in the fictive dream of the world it's presenting. You don't go to a magic show to see how a trick is performed; you go to be amazed and transported. For instance, the original cache of photos I stumbled on had dozens of shots of the mechanical snake, but I only included one here for that very reason. I don't want my imagination cluttered with a bunch of stage hands mugging with a giant fake snake...I want that snake to live in my imagination as the menacing, fully alive presence it was intended to be.

I've pared back the several hundred photos to a few dozen here, cleaning them up and applying some basic color correction. I wish I could credit the original photographer, but as of now I have no idea who he was on the crew (I'll amend this to give proper credit if I can find out).

For now, though, let me show you photos of the days when they made a movie about high adventure...

John Milius on the set for the Temple of Doom finale.









I had no idea it was this cold on the set in this scene.







This sequence was cut from the movie. I understand why: Milius conveys the same information more powerfully when one of Thulsa Doom's followers jumps to her death from the ledge above. This "sacrifice" becomes redundant.


















Director John Milius with producer Buzz Feitshans.

Producers Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella De Laurentiis.






Producer Raffaella De Laurentiis, a striking beauty in her own right.


















The amazing Ron Cobb, artist and cartoonist by trade, one of he art directors for the Conan production. 








































I've been carrying a torch for Sandahl Bergman for 38 years.






















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