The storyline goes something like this. There’s this young boy in a tribal village and these raiders swoop down and kill everyone, except this boy, who is the only one to survive. He watches his friends and family killed. The leader of the raiders takes a sword that the boy’s father has made.
After he grows up, the boy, now a mighty fighter, goes looking for the man who killed his family. To pass the time until he finds him, he has a hobby of freeing slaves. Eventually he finds the man who killed his family. This man now has a grotesque mask and he’s seeking a particular young woman who is descended from a line of kings. He needs her blood perform this ritual in which he raises this dark sorceress or goddess or something. The barbarian is protecting her, but she gets kidnapped by the villain. There’s a final fight in a citadel and the villain has the princess chained in a spread eagle position to perform the ritual, and there’s this fight on this bridge over a chasm, and…
…and the name of this barbarian…just in case you were wondering,…it isn’t “Conan”.
The name of the movie isn’t Conan the Barbarian, either. The movie I’m talking about is Wolfhound, and in spite of the way I used the common plot elements to make it sound like the recent Conan movie, there’s not much similarity between the two. Wolfhound is a far superior film. Not perfect by any means, but far superior.
It’s a Russian film, and stars Aleksandr Bukharov in the title role. It also stars Oksana Akinshina as Princess Knesinka Helen. I didn’t catch all the names of the characters, and the credits aren’t in English on my copy, so I’ll not try to list the entire cast. They’re listed here and here if you’re interested.
And before we go any further, let me state that I am not, repeat, NOT saying that anyone associated with Conan the Barbarian (2011) plagiarized Wolfhound in any way, nor do I mean to imply such.
Rather, my point is what two different production companies can do with similar source material. I took the common plot elements from the two movies to use in the lead-in for this post. There are some major differences that bear mentioning. Wolfhound’s companions actually do something useful. (His name, which is the only one he has, comes from the fact that the man he’s hunting has a wolf’s head tattooed on the back of his hand.) The magic is often understated and subtle, and in contrast to the magic in Conan, used for healing. There are gods and godesses (as near as I could figure out) directly helping Wolfhound, with the primary goddess encouraging him in a path of love and forgiveness at one point. At least I think so. Not something you would see in a Conan story.
The movie, the version I have at any rate, had English dialogue overdubbed. It was perfectly understandable most of the time. Unfortunately, the sound track overpowered the dialogue in a few places. Since everyone else in the house was trying to sleep, there was a limit to how loud I could turn the sound up, and as a result I missed a few bits of dialogue here and there. I’m not sure who the woman (goddess perhaps?) who appears more than once to give Wolfhound aid and advice actually is. But like I said, this is a Russian movie, and her identity might have been obvious to the original audience. It wasn’t hard to figure out her part in the story, though.
The comparisons to Conan are pretty depressing. There is more action, more (and better) fighting, more philosophy, more romance, and more story in Wolfhound than in Conan. In fact, the only thing Conan had more of was bare breasts.
As I said, Wolfhound is not without a few flaws. Several of the fight scenes were choppy and poorly edited. Wolfhound has a pet bat which gets directly involved in the fighting at the end, something I found to be ridiculous. There’s scene when the princess’s party rescues a woman accused of witchcraft or something along those lines which was a bit over the top. The movie is based on a Russian novel, and from what little I’ve been able to discover, the film and the book don’t have a lot in common. Some things seem to be universal in the film world.
But even with the flaws, it’s a much better film than Conan. The special effects are good; not great, but good. The story hangs together better. The characters don’t, for the most part, act in illogical or inconsistent ways. They grow and change, but their motivations are understandable.
And it’s definitely a Russian movie. Sacrifice and fate are concepts that are addressed more than once. The outlook is bleaker and more fatalistic in places than even the darkest US film. For instance, the city of Galirad, home of Princess Knesinka Helen, lies under a curse and breaking the curse comes to play a large role in the story. The city is cold and overcast, even though it’s summer. As the Princess leaves for her wedding to a nobleman, the contrast between the city the meadow outside the walls is striking. It makes the motivation for what some of the characters do later understandable.
Wolfhound gives us a glimpse of what Conan could have been, what it should have been. Sadly, I doubt anyone in Hollywood is paying attention.
I’ve included a trailer from YouTube. There are several of them, and this was the best I could find.