Red Sonja is a Swords and Sorcery film from 1985 starring Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Taking place in the Hyborian Age (the same universe as Conan the Barbarian), during the opening of the film, we are told that Red Sonja became a legend in her quest for justice & vengeance. Queen Gedren wants Sonja for herself but is denied. Sonja grabs Gedren’s weapon and hits her in the face, scarring her. Queen Gedren retaliates by murdering Sonja’s family and letting her men rape her. Quite the first 2 minutes of a movie.
Sonja escapes and trains in the art of swords, while Gedren steals a dangerous talisman that has the power to destroy the world. Sonja’s sister manages to escape the attack at the temple of the talisman )(apparently not all of her family was murdered) and finds the warrior Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who she begs to take her to her sister, Sonja. The talisman cannot be in the hands of the evil queen.
The adventure takes off from here. Called Red Sonja due to her red hair, she meets more companions along her adventure: The annoying Prince Tarn and his servant, Falkon. Kalidor shows up and leaves a few times. The crew makes their way to Queen Gedren (who is evil for the sake of being evil) and ultimately saves the world from annihilation.
Surprisingly, I found the film more interesting than Conan the Destroyer. Red Sonja is far from a good movie, so maybe that is saying more about how terrible Conan the Destroyer really is. The fights and set-pieces are fun enough to watch and there are no overtly terrible rubber costumes.
The first issue is shown right from the beginning.
Brigitte Nielsen cannot act in Red Sonja.
Nielsen was a supermodel who is acting in her first film; so it makes sense that her lines are delivered very flat. She was essentially cast because she is 6’1″ and looks the part. This maybe would be fine if Red Sonja was a sidekick, but she’s the main character. The story isn’t very compelling, so Nielsen’s inability to act stands out that much more.
The other glaring issue is Kalidor. I don’t mind the character so much. I actually find Kalidor has more charm and personality than Conan, especially when comparing to Conan the Destroyer version. Kalidor’s role in the film is just, odd. He disappears from the group for segments of their journey, only to save the day before leaving again. In the final battle, he’s nowhere to be seen.
Looking around the internet on the making of this film is a bit hard to source, but it seems like Arnold Schwarzenegger was only supposed to make a cameo in this film. When it hit the big-screen, even he was surprised to see that he is essentially a co-star.
Arnold had a multi-picture deal with the producer, Dino de Laurentis, but de Laurentis had lost the rights to Conan. Wanting to create another Conan film, he found — Red Sonja a comic book property that happened to take place in the Hyborian Age, the same world as Conan. Red Sonja’s rights were secured and this odd film was made that is basically a Conan movie in all but the name…that also doesn’t star Conan.
So is this really an Arnold Schwarzenegger film? I mean, he is the largest person on the movie poster. But he’s clearly a sidekick.
I rate on a 5-Star Scale:
1 – Awful – Stay Away
2 – Bad – Didn’t like it
3 – Okay – Mixed bag
4 – Great – Really enjoyed it
5 – Amazing – Must watch
Red Sonja gets a 2/5.
Red Sonja definitely has its issues, but I actually chuckled at a few jokes and enjoyed some of the battles (I particularly enjoyed a fight with a mechanical sea dragon). I’d be fine with keeping it on the TV in the background but wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again.
We’ve finished the Arnold Schwarzenegger Hyborian Age films. So look forward to both a new Arnold Video on my YouTube Channel, as well as the first review in what I’m calling the “Top-Tier Arnold” collection, with Commando.