At long last, 'Conan the Barbarian' comes to Blu-ray. I'm sure most of you reading this will already be familiar with the film, so I'll be brief. It's magnificent. The land of Hyboria is brought to vivid life, the action is brutal and exciting, Basil Poledouris' score is simply breathtaking, James Earl Jones is evil incarnate, Arnold punches a camel... Sure, it's also clunky and dated in that charmingly 80s way, and there's some unintentional comedy on offer (not least from Arnie's "UARGHAAAARGHNYUARGH" moments). But it's such a spectacle that almost all of its shortcomings are forgiven.
As for the new hi-def transfer, it's sort of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that, for the most part, this presents a very pleasing and filmic viewing experience. There are no DNR issues to report (at least none that I could detect), and film grain has been rightfully preserved. This is quite a soft-looking film by nature - the same goes for most 80s movies - but there is still a decent amount of fine detail to be spotted.
BUT, the bad news: edge enhancement. It sticks out like a sore thumb, I'm afraid, and can be very distracting in certain scenes. Just watch the early sequence where Thulsa Doom lops off Conan's mother's head. When the young Barbarian looks unbelievably at his now motherless hand, his fingers are surrounded by jarring, thick white bars.
So a little disappointing, but certainly not a deal breaker. As previously stated, it generally looks fine, and is the best the film has looked since its orginal release. I have no complaints about the revamped HD sound, however. This is Poledouris at his most thunderous/tender/epic/enchanting, I could go on.
I guess the extras do deserve a mention. Everything from the previous special edition DVD has returned, along with three new docos - one covering the art of sword making, another comprised of early interview footage featuring Schwarzenegger and James Earl Jones, while the last takes an interesting look at the history of the Conan character. It's a good collection of bonus features which should please most 'Conan' fans. Of course, the main draw here is the legendary commentary provided by Arnold and director John Milius. Just... give it a listen.
All in all, this is a worthy upgrade over the DVD (and as another, more enthusiastic review has noted, it is now uncut in the UK providing you change your player's Disc Menu Language setting prior to putting the disc in). Universal will be releasing a new extended cut in the States this August, and their transfer may well best Fox's effort here, but for those who desire the original cut in its best quality yet, I highly recommend this.
Artwork's a bit crap though, isn't it?
EDIT: Should have done this ages ago, sorry, but it turns out that Universal's US release used the exact same transfer. The only difference between them is that Universal's doesn't have the "Wild Blueberries" scene (where Conan and Subotai have that heart-to-heart talk) which takes place just before the climactic battle. So the UK release is actually longer for once.
Also, it turns out that there ARE audio issues. I still stand by my original score, but check out the comments for more info.