Beat sheet for 'Conan the Barbarian' film, and other notes
Conan the Barbarian Week at Interstellar Intersection continues. Come back later for a retro review of the “Conan the Barbarian” movie from 1982, and follow @InterstellarPOP on Twitter to read an analysis of some of Robert E. Howard’s classic Conan stories.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
As a journalist who also has formal training and an extensive background in fiction and screenwriting, I often break down the films I watch into beat sheets. I screen some of my favorite and classic films from the comfort of my living room, and then I use the beat sheets and notes I’ve compiled to study structure and story.
Below is a beat sheet, with added notes, from a recent viewing of the 1982 “Conan the Barbarian” film. The movie was released theatrically by Universal Pictures in the United States on May 14, 1982, so it just turned 38 years old.
Please note that while most of the work published to the Interstellar Intersection website is considered journalism, the beat sheet and notes below from my recent “Conan the Barbarian” screening is not journalism — this piece is meant strictly for entertainment purposes.
Don’t read beyond this point if you’ve never seen the movie but wish to avoid spoilers, or if you can’t handle some foul language. The notes shared are raw, presented as they were written in real-time with a modest amount of editing to help with length and clarity.
If you’d like to learn more about beat sheets, or how they're used for screenwriting, please email email@example.com. I’ll be happy to provide you with a template or additional information.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
The music by Basil Poledouris in the opening credits makes you want to grab a Pict and throw him through a plate-glass window. It’s so intense.
Opening image/theme stated: We learn of Crom, and that all you can trust in this world is the steel of a good blade, as mentioned in conversation between young Conan and his father.
The setup: Doberman dogs in hats work for Thulsa Doom, who is a Kull of Atlantis villain, but he is somehow in this movie which takes place in the Hyborian Age. Thulsa Doom’s soldiers attack young Conan’s Cimmerian village. They kill Conan’s dad and nearly all of the other adults.
Inciting incident: When first meeting Thulsa Doom, he says nothing. He just gives a cold hypnotic stare before lopping off the head of Conan’s mother. Conan and the other children who survive the village attack are enslaved.
Conan grows up, spinning his wheel of misery from childhood to adulthood.
Conan is now a gladiator of sorts, beating up other fighters as his legend grows. He begins to realize his sense of worth, according to Akiro, who at this point is an unseen wizard narrating the movie’s events.
Sidebar: Conan is asked what is best in life. The Cimmerian’s reply is: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women.” Perhaps the best movie quote of all time?
Conan is freed from being a slave in the middle of the night.
Conan finds an old sword in a crypt. He uses his newfound weapon to kill some wolves that were giving him a hard time previously. Conan makes himself a nice fur outfit before meeting a witch who seduces him.
“There’s warmth and fire” the witch says, luring the Cimmerian inside her hut. The witch crawls around on carpet in front of a fire, and then has coitus with Conan. She goes psycho when she orgasms, scaring the shit out of Conan. Conan throws the screaming witch into the fire and watches her burn.
The next morning, Conan hears Subotai, who is chained up outside the witch’s hut, bitching about being hungry. Soon, Conan and Subotai discuss their gods, talking over a meal like they’re breaking down a Chicago Bears versus Green Bay Packers matchup.
Now they're going to a city where there is an elephant in the middle of a market, which is pretty cool. Conan learns of a nearby snake cult, which operates from a local tower. “Two, three years ago, they were just another snake cult,” a merchant says. What does that even mean?
Conan, who is drunk, crashes into a camel and then punches the poor creature.
Conan and Subotai prepare to sneak into the snake cult’s tower, where they meet Valeria for the first time. Members of the snake cult are heard chanting from inside. “Do you want to live forever?” Valeria says, for no particular reason.
After scaling the tower to break in, Conan and Subotai descend into a snake pit which is filled with rats, bones, and other assorted shit. Meanwhile, Valeria disguises herself in a snake cult costume.
A disrobed woman prepares herself (?) to be fed to the giant snake in the pit. Down below in the pit, meanwhile, Conan finds a standard that officially ties the snake cult to the murderous Thulsa Doom.
The giant snake is awoken by Conan’s presence, resulting in Conan and Subotai battling and killing the snake. Miraculously, no one from above hears the fighting. The disrobed woman jumps to her death, then Conan and the gang escape from the snake cult and their tower after stealing jewels while hell breaks loose.
Break into Act Two: “Do you want to live forever,” Valeria says again, this time during the escape. This is becoming a recurring thing, apparently.
Conan and Valeria knock boots for the first time. That’s three women Conan has now bedded since the movie started. We still have yet to see Thulsa Doom again. At this point, James Earl Jones, who is the voice of Darth Vader, still hasn’t spoken — which seems ironic.
B story: After they climax and play with their stolen jewels, Conan and Valeria get tanked. That’s when soldiers come and pick up Conan and Valeria to take them to King Osric, who hires them to kidnap his daughter back from Thulsa Doom.
Valeria seems to know a lot about Thulsa Doom and pleads Conan not to take the job from Osric. She wants to take her jewels and run — literally. Not wanting Valeria to follow him into the clutches of danger, Conan disappears in the night without informing Valeria of his plans. He will pursue Thulsa Doom and capture the princess on his own.
Fun and games: Time for slow-motion montage shots of Conan on horseback, with the standard he found, which he now wears as a necklace.
The Children of Doom are first shown — they’re a bunch of fuckin’ hippies, following Thulsa Doom around like he’s Charles Manson.
Akiro is seen for the first time, proclaiming himself a wizard. He yells at Conan from his hut. He’s got a cool bone necklace. The sun sets. We still have yet to see Thulsa Doom again. I want to hear Darth Vader — I miss his voice. That’s not creepy, right?
Akiro and Conan hang out around the fire, when it’s really dark and windy, even though they are literally next to Akiro’s hut and can go inside whenever they please.
Conan leaves the next morning, riding into a makeshift hippy village on the back of a camel while carrying flowers. Conan lures a sexually confused male priest away from the hippies so that he can knock the priest out and steal his clothes.
Sidebar: For some reason Conan has to keep showing his necklace to Thulsa Doom’s minions but no one else has one? And then a sentry seizes Conan’s necklace in exchange for allowing Conan to climb a flight of packed steps to watch King Osric’s daughter snake-dancing?
Midpoint: Finally, Thulsa Doom is seen again, and he speaks, saying “I have watched you for a thousand years” along with some other stuff that sounds wise and foreboding.
The bad guys close in: Conan is captured by Thulsa Doom’s lieutenants and sentenced to be crucified on the Tree of Woe, but first Conan has to watch a hippy girl jump from a cliff to her death because Thulsa Doom wishes it.
All is lost: Conan chomps down on some vulture meat while crucified, stuck to the Tree of Woe, which is in the middle of the desert. Subotai and Valeria find Conan and free him from the tree. Valeria bargains with Akiro to save Conan’s life, as he’s been gravely injured.
Dark night of the soul: Back at Akiro’s hut, he loses his cool in the night and the color of the sky begins to change. Akiro prays and Valeria saves Conan’s near-dead body from being whisked away by spirits shown with crude visual effects.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Break into Act Three: Conan is reborn after crucifixion, kind of like Jesus.
Cannibal soup anyone? Oh, and there’s an orgy (kind of).
Sidebar: They’re in the desert, and while most of Thulsa Doom’s minions are scantily clad, a group of his soldiers are dressed like they’re Norse models for Columbia Sportswear who are about to climb a mountain in the Pacific Northwest.
Thulsa Doom turns into a snake.
Good thing Conan, Valeria and Subotai are wearing some cool camouflage warpaint while they sneak around. That’ll keep them hidden until they’re ready to reveal themselves to the cannibal-snake-loving orgy.
The princess hisses at Valeria. No matter, Conan is going to spill the big cauldron of cannibal soup and open a can of whup-ass on Thulsa Doom’s finest. One of them has a really big hammer and knocks down a pillar.
Thulsa Doom turns one of his pet snakes into an arrow and literally fires it from his bow, striking Valeria and filling her with venom. Poor Valeria pleads for Conan to keep her warm as she dies in his arms.
Valeria gets a Viking-like funeral, as her body is burned. It seems like something Crom would respect and pay attention to.
The next day Conan prays to Crom, sort of, and asks for revenge.
Sidebar: Valeria says “Do you want to live forever?” three times in the movie, including as a ghost in the film’s closing sequences when she helps Conan defeat one of Thulsa Doom’s lieutenants.
Conan beheads Thulsa Doom and tosses his head down a flight of steps.
Final image: Conan starts a fire meant to burn down Thulsa Doom’s temple.