Retro Film Review: Kull the Conqueror (1997)


Croatian film industry in the years before the dissolution of Yugoslavia made good business by providing locations, extras, studios and other technical services to foreign film studios, including those from Hollywood. In 1990s all that came to an end with the wars. After those wars had ceased, few foreign studios bothered to return their productions to Croatia, preferring to do their business in more competitive locations like Slovakia and Bulgaria. One of the rare Hollywood films to be partly made on Croatian locations was Kull the Conqueror, 1997 fantasy epic directed by John Nicollela.

The plot of this film was originally designed for the third sequel in the fantasy saga started by Conan the Barbarian. The film was never made but producer Raffaela de Laurentiis nevertheless found the way to apply the story in another project inspired by the works of Robert E. Howard. In this film plot is set thousands of years before the time of Conan, in a mythical country called Valusia. Its ruler, King Borna (played by Sven-Ole Thorsen) went mad because of endless dynastic intrigues and had all of his heirs slaughtered. In the ensuing mayhem Kull (played by Kevin Sorbo), barbarian from Atlantis serving in king's guard, kills Borna in duel and becomes king himself. His rule is disliked by Valusian nobility, especially ambitious Taligaro (played by Thomas Ian Griffith) who simply can't stand barbarian on the throne. In the meantime Kull tries to seduce Zareta (played by Karina Lombard), beautiful slave from late king's harem. However, evil sorcerers intervene by planting exotic beauty Akivasha (played by Tia Carrere) near king. Kull quickly succumbs to Akivasha's seduction, which isn't that hard, because Akivasha is actually 3000 years old demon who wants to bring hell on earth. The only thing that can stop Akivasha is breath of god Valka. With the help of Ascalante (played by Litefoot), priest and Zareta's brother, Kull travels to far north in order to find that relic.

All those expecting Kull the Conqueror to be worthy of its legendary 1982 predecessor are going to be disappointed. Special effects are below late 1990s standards, while heavy metal music soundtrack by Joel Goldsmith destroys suspension of disbelief and is very irritating, especially during the fight scenes. Another problem is in Charles Edward Pogue's script, which obviously can't overcome contradictions of PG-13 rating in modern Hollywood. Fantasy plot is, therefore, too serious for the younger audience, but it looks too infantile without more explicit bloodshed and sexual contents. All those problems are, to a certain degree, compensated with humour. The acting is more than solid, especially in the case of Harvey Feirstein who appears in small but memorable episode. Skills displayed by Sorbo, Carrere, Griffith, Lombard and Litefoot are more than adequate for this sort of film. Same can be said for the direction by television veteran John Nicollela, so Kull the Conqueror is for the most part entertaining experience.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on May 11th 2004)

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