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Weekly Alibi Beef + Cheese = Hearty TV Dinner


By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 29, 1997:  Sam Raimi is laughing all the way to the bank. And why not? His syndicated shows "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" are both certified smashes garnering huge ratings, a loyal viewership and dozens of pale imitators. Since Raimi's shows debuted a few seasons ago, syndicated fantasy programs have been crawling out of the woodwork--from the silly "Sinbad" to the dull "Tarzan" to the embarassing "Robin Hood." You can now add "Conan" to that growing list.

It's not as if Raimi (the quirky director behind the Evil Dead movies) invented the sword and sorcery genre. But to take a spin around the dial these days, you'd sure think he had. Sinbad is busy zipping off one-liners while Robin Hood battles space aliens and other preposterous anachronisms. The mistake that so many of these other shows have made is the degree to which they force comedic elements into their scripts. Raimi and his cohorts realized, early on, how silly the entire fantasy genre was. They decided not to take it seriously, to have fun with the whole thing. All the rip-off shows, however, have concluded that viewers just want their adventure shows loaded with goofy puns. "Conan" is little exception.

"Conan" the TV series picks up where Conan the Barbarian, John Milius' 1982 hit film, left off. German bodybuilder Ralf Moeller picks up where the 1982-era Arnold Schwarzenegger left off--incomprehensible accent and limited acting talents firmly intact. Moeller, a 6-foot, 6-inch slab of meatsteak with a human head unconvincingly sutured to the top, at least looks right for the part. Unfortunately, producers have seen fit to turn "Conan the Barbarian" into "Conan the Freedom-Fighting Do-Gooder" and saddle him with a retinue of colorful sidekicks. There's Otli, the sarcastic dwarf. There's Vulkar, the big, lusty Viking-like warrior. And let's not forget Zzeben, the acrobatic mute. Together they travel the land righting wrongs and battling computer-generated monsters.

In the first episode of the series, Conan kills a mummy for control of a big-ass sword, battles not one but two evil wizards and meets a grizzled Mickey Rooney (what in holy hell is he doing in ancient Cimmeria?). Producers haven't bothered to go all the way back to Robert E. Howard's short stories here, instead plundering elements from the original movie and filling in the rest with wan gags, bad guys in goofy helmets and, when all else fails, some big CGI monster.

"Conan" is shot on the cheap in the jungles of Mexico. The special effects are bargain basement. Guest stars include such heavyweights as Paul LeMat and Mariette Hartley. To its credit, though, "Conan" does pack more fantasy and swordplay than any of its competitors. With its spider women, bloody swords and cheesemont acting, this "Conan" has more in common with its filmic predecessor than with any of Mr. Raimi's efforts.

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