A new documentary series, simply entitled Arnold, recently premiered on Netflix. The three-part film chronicles the life and career of Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you go back to the earliest part of the bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-Governor's film career, you will find his two Conan films and the related Red Sonja. The 1985 movie starred Brigitte Nielsen as the red-headed warrior and composer Ennio Morricone was brought on to provide the score. That score has been given its very first vinyl reissue by Quartet Records in a limited edition.
Red Sonja's origins are slightly convoluted. She comes from the world of Conan, the famous barbarian created by Robert E. Howard for pulp stories in the 1930s. Conan was Howard's most enduring creation and had stayed in the public eye on and off over the years. In the early 1970s, Marvel Comics writer/editor Roy Thomas convinced the company to license the character and began a Conan comic series, Conan the Barbarian. In issue #23, published in 1973, Red Sonja made her debut appearance in a story written by Thomas and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. She was loosely based upon another Howard character, "Red Sonya," who appeared in a 1934 story and was a 16th century Russian warrior (thousands of years after the fictional Hyborian Age where the Conan stories occur). The new Sonja proved to be popular with fans and eventually found her way into her own short-lived comic series. She would continue to be featured in Conan's comics series, as well.
As Conan's popularity continued to grow as a result of the Marvel series, two films were produced starring then-newcomer Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role: 1982's Conan the Barbarian and 1984's Conan the Destroyer. Rights issues then emerged before a third Conan film could be made. Seemingly undeterred, producer Dino De Laurentiis secured the film rights to Red Sonja to continue the series. (Due to the vagaries of licensing, the Red Sonja and Conan properties are separate to this day.) Model Brigitte Nielsen made her acting debut as Sonja and Schwarzenegger also joined the cast. However, the producers could not legally call him "Conan," so he instead became known as Lord Kalidor. The movie also starred Sandahl Bergman (All That Jazz, Xanadu), Paul L. Smith, and Ronald Lacey. It was directed by Richard Fleischer, who had also directed Conan the Destroyer.
The film follows Red Sonja on her quest for revenge against the evil Queen Gedren, who is responsible for the death of her family. Along the way, she encounters Lord Kalidor, who becomes her ally in the fight against Gedren. The film features battles, sword fights, and fantastical elements, attempting to capture the spirit of the original Marvel comics as well as Robert E. Howard's original pulp tales.
Released on July 3, 1982, Red Sonja received mostly negative reviews from critics. The film was knocked for its weak script, lackluster performances, and uneven pacing. It didn't garner much box office success, grossing only $6.9 million, which wasn't even half of its production cost. All of this dented Red Sonja's popularity for a time and she appeared less in the comics. As time went on, she did resume making more regular appearances, and when Dynamite Publishing acquired her comic license in 2005, they greatly expanded her franchise across numerous titles and hundreds of issues. That run continues to this day. She has also appeared in novels and on television, and there have been efforts in the past few years to get a new film made.
One aspect of the original movie, however, was not viewed unfavorably: the score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone. Even after nearly 30 years of scoring, Morricone was still at the top of his game. During this period, he collaborated with several prominent directors, including Brian De Palma, Giuseppe Tornatore, and Roland Joffé, among others. His compositions in the mid-1980s showcased his ability to adapt his rich musical style to fit the specific needs of each film. Just the year before, he had scored Once Upon a Time in America and would go on to compose for many more films before the end of the decade, including The Untouchables and Cinema Paradiso. For Red Sonja, Morricone combined elements of classical orchestration with a touch of traditional folk music. He paired traditional orchestral instruments with electric guitars and synthesizers, giving the music a contemporary aesthetic appropriate to the decade. Morricone also incorporated vocal choruses into the music. While it not considered the height of the composer's efforts, it is a fun and worthwhile listen.
The soundtrack album was released originally in 1985 in a truncated fashion as two suites. An expanded edition appeared on CD in 1990 on Varese Sarabande and in 2010, Perseverance Records expanded it further. Quartet released the most comprehensive presentation last year by adding one track to the Perseverance's main stereo sequence and also mono cues from the film. This new limited LP edition contains the 20 stereo tracks comprising the score from Quartet's CD edition. It marks the first vinyl reissue of the score and has been produced and mastered by Chris Malone.
The vinyl LP is limited to 500 copies and is available now. If you would like to give Morricone's sword and sorcery score a try, we've got the full tracklisting and ordering links below.
Ennio Morricone, Red Sonja: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Quartet Records QRLP41, 2023)
- Prologue (1:28)
- Main Title (2:22)
- The Talisman (1:11)
- Temple Raid (1:58)
- Touch It (1:12)
- Sonja and the Sword Master (1:53)
- Varna's Death (2:02)
- The Gate of Brytag (1:49)
- Sonja vs. Brytag (1:15)
- Fighting the Soldiers (3:37)
- The Talisman II (1:10)
- The Chamber of Lights (2:02)
- Sonja Teaches Tarn (1:32)
- Treasure in the Cavern (2:08)
- Sonja and Kalidor (1:46)
- A Fair Fight (1:52)
- Entering the Castle (2:11)
- Sonja Defeats the Queen (1:31)
- End Credits (3:44)
- Sorcery (0:51)