The World According to Arnie – Red Sonja (1985)
Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. When the dim light bulb lit up and this Arnie review series was born, I constructed the list of the films I would need to watch. Looking over the list, I was surprised to see that I hadn’t seen six out of his first eight films. Being a completist (and an idiot) I went against sound reason and my better judgement and started way back where it all began, in the early 70’s with ‘Hercules in New York’. With ‘Red Sonja’, I have finally come to the last of the early Arnies I haven’t seen. And all hail Crom for that, because it’s absolute garbage.
As a young girl, Sonja’s parents are murdered and she is brutally raped (always a delightful way to begin a film aimed at kids) by the soldiers of Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman). Visited by some sort of angelic being who blesses her arm with skill to wield a blade, or something, I wasn’t really paying attention, Sonja grows into a gigantic, awkward, talentless Danish broad named Bridgette Nielsen. Harbouring an understandable hatred and distrust of men, she trains with some ancient Chinese (therefore non-threatening?) bloke, until such a time as he tells her “the student has become the master” and proceeds to hit on her. Meanwhile Queen Gedren has acquired some super weapon maguffin which if left out in the sun too long will become powerful enough to destroy the world. Kind of like a solar powered nuclear weapon I suppose. Sonja then journeys to Castle Burbukane to avenge her family and destroy the infernal machine, or glowing orb, or… who cares?
Along the way she meets the required comedic sidekicks, a little Asian brat who is supposed to be a prince, and his manservant, a fat bloke who wields a club that’s oddly shaped a bit like a dong. As in, he holds the shaft and beats you around the head with the testicles. Quite frankly, during fight scenes, it’s distracting seeing some poor bloke walloped in the face with a pair of nuggets. Arnie also pops up, as
Conan Kalidor to repeatedly save Sonja by wrestling a giant metal fish, leaping down from somewhere and yelling really loudly, and murdering countless hoards of extras.
I would like to say this right now, and although I won’t dwell on it, it is something that really annoyed me about ‘Red Sonja’. Apart from one quick uninspiring shot from distance, THERE ARE NO BOOBS UNLEASHED IN THE ENTIRE FILM. Seriously, what the hell am I watching this for if it’s not to eyeball some funbags? It’s certainly not the acting, or the story. If I was director Richard Fleischer, I would have learnt from the mistakes I made on ‘Conan The Destroyer’, and filled the empty corners of the screen with sweater puppies. They would’ve have helped the audience overlook the blaring continuity errors, like Sonja leaving the prince to rebuild his kingdom, then coming across him down the road, when there was no way that he could have leapfrogged her even if he was intending to go anywhere. That said, the kid being tortured by the “ruffians” is a pretty funny visual.
The acting (for want of a better word) is embarrassingly awful all round. But particularly from Nielsen and Bergman, who seemingly have a sidebet on who can show the least acting ability. Arnie has a constant look of bemusement on his face, either from the disbelief that he’s found himself in such utter dreck after hitting the big time with ‘The Terminator’, or that he’s actually co-starring with someone he can out act. Apparently Arnie took on the role because he felt obliged to the producer Dino De Laurentiis. He has since been quoted as saying "I tell [my kids], if they get on my bad side, they’ll be forced to watch ‘Red Sonja’ ten times in a row. Consequently, none of my kids has ever given me much trouble." And at the premiere, Maria Shriver told her husband "If this doesn’t kill your career, nothing will".
Thankfully for Arnie, and us, the debacle of ‘Red Sonja’ didn’t effect his career one bit, and was his last foray into sword and sorcery pics. He went on to make many classic films in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and after trawling through the human refuse of his early career, I can finally be comforted by the fact that Arnies next film is ‘Commando’, and it only gets better from there (for a while).
The World According to Arnie: