Red Sonja (film)
Theatrical release poster by Renato Casaro
|Directed by||Richard Fleischer|
|Produced by||Christian Ferry|
|Written by||Clive Exton
George MacDonald Fraser
|Based on||Red Sonya
by Robert E. Howard
by Roy Thomas
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Edited by||Frank J. Urioste|
|Box office||$6.9 million|
Red Sonja is a 1985 Dutch-American sword and sorcery action film directed by Richard Fleischer. The film introduces Brigitte Nielsen as the title character with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Ronald Lacey, Ernie Reyes, Jr., Paul L. Smith and Pat Roach in supporting roles. The film features the sword-wielding Marvel Comics character Red Sonja, created by Roy Thomas, who first appeared in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian series (#23) in 1973. The film's character of Red Sonja was based on Red Sonya of Rogatino, a character created by Robert E. Howard appearing in his short story "The Shadow of the Vulture" (1934). The film acknowledges that it was "based on the character created by Robert E. Howard" in the introductory credits.
As in Howard's stories of Conan, the film takes place in the Hyborian Age, a fictional prehistoric time that had been depicted previously in the films Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. The film was shot in Italy, on location in Celano, Campo Imperatore and the rest of Abruzzo, and in Stabilimenti Cinematografici Pontini studios, Rome.
Sonja, a young, red-haired woman, is raped and left for dead by the soldiers of Queen Gedren, a despot who murdered Sonja's parents and brother after she scarred the queen's face in rejection of her sexual advances. Answering her cry for revenge, the red goddess Scáthach appears to her and gives her heightened strength, stamina, agility and fighting skills on the condition that she never lie with a man unless he defeats her in fair combat. She trains under a sword master called "The Grand Master" and is distrustful of all men besides him. At a nearby temple, Varna, Sonja's sister, is a member of an order of priestesses who are preparing to banish a mystical light-powered relic, the Talisman, that created the world and all living things. The Talisman can only be used and touched by women – men vanish if they touch it – and has become too powerful to control. However, Gedren's army and her aide-de-camp Ikol intervene and slaughter the priestesses and shield maidens before they can imprison it to permanent darkness.
Varna watches Gedren steal the Talisman before escaping, but is mortally wounded. She is discovered by Kalidor, the Lord of Hyrkania, who goes to find Sonya and bring her back to Varna. Before dying, Varna tells Sonja to find the Talisman and send it into darkness before it ravages the world with storms and earthquakes. Kalidor asks to accompany her, but she rejects the offer. After witnessing the Talisman in use, Sonja arrives to the now-ruined kingdom of Hablock. She meets the young Prince Tarn and his servant Falkon, who say that Gedren used the Talisman to completely decimate Hablock when Tarn refused to surrender. Tarn, demanding vengeance, announces that he will crush Gedren and invites Sonja to work for him as a cook. She politely declines before being told that Gedren is based in Berkubane, the land of Perpetual Night.
Arriving at the mountain gate, Sonja fights Lord Brytag after he refuses her passage for not paying him a 'tender tribute'. When she kills him and takes his key, his troops surround her; Kalidor, who has secretly been following her, attacks their rear, allowing Sonja to escape. Sonja comes across Tarn again, being tortured by bandits. She frees Tarn and kills the bandits with Falkon. They decide to stay together and travel onward toward Berkubane. Gedren's wizard uses a large magic dish to show the approaching party; Gedren recognizes Sonja and orders that she be brought to the fortress unharmed. Using the Talisman to conjure up a storm, she forces Sonja's group to take shelter in a watery cavern where an "Icthyan Killing Machine" is unleashed upon them. Kalidor appears and helps Sonja blind the beast so they can escape.
Sonja accepts Kalidor's company after learning he is a descendant of the lords who entrusted the Talisman to the priestess temple. He flirts with her, so she warns him that "no man can have her" unless he can defeat her in a sword fight. Kalidor challenges her and they fight to a draw. The party arrives at Castle Berkubane and, to protect Tarn, they convince him to stay behind and guard the front entrance. Ikol, realizing Gedren is insane when she refuses his pleas to stop utilizing the unstable relic, plans to escape the castle with bags of Hablock's gold. Sonja confronts Gedren in her council chamber while Kalidor and Falkon deal with her guards in the castle's dining hall. Ikol is stopped by Tarn at the entrance and meets an unpleasant end.
No match for Sonja, Gedren flees to the Chamber of Lights where the Talisman is stored. Now powerful beyond control, the Talisman causes the floor to split open and reveal a chasm of molten lava beneath the castle. Sonja and Gedren duel in the Chamber; Sonja runs Gedren through with her sword, sending the evil ruler plunging into the lava below. Sonja throws the Talisman in after her, destroying it and starting a chain reaction that tears Castle Berkubane apart. The heroes manage to escape as the castle is consumed by the rising volcano. Prince Tarn and Falkon eventually depart to rebuild Hablock while Sonja and Kalidor halfheartedly spar again before kissing.
- Brigitte Nielsen as Red Sonja
- Arnold Schwarzenegger as Lord Kalidor
- Sandahl Bergman as Queen Gedren of Berkubane
- Paul L. Smith as Falkon
- Ernie Reyes, Jr. as Prince Tarn
- Ronald Lacey as Ikol
- Pat Roach as Lord Brytag
- Terry Richards as Djart
- Janet Agren as Varna, Red Sonja's sister
- Donna Osterbuhr as Kendra (High Priestess)
- Lara Naszinsky as Queen Gedren's handmaid
- Hans Meyer as Red Sonja's father
- Francesca Romana Coluzzi as Red Sonja's mother
- Stefano Maria Mioni as Barlok (Red Sonja's brother)
- Tutte Lemkow as Wizard
- Kiyoshi Yamasaki as Kyobo
- Tad Horino as Swordmaster
- Sven-Ole Thorsen as one of Lord Brytag's bodyguards
- Erik Holmey as Lord Brytag's bodyguard who battles Red Sonja before she kills him
In Conan the Barbarian, Sandahl Bergman played Valeria, a thief and the love of Conan's life. Bergman was offered the role of Red Sonja, but turned it down, choosing instead to play the villainous Queen Gedren. De Laurentiis met with actress Laurene Landon and was set to offer her the role of Red Sonja until he discovered she was in an earlier film called Hundra; fearing that it was too similar, de Laurentiis decided not to give her the part. On a 2015 episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, soap opera actress Eileen Davidson revealed that she auditioned for the role and was actually runner-up to Brigitte Nielsen. It took Laurentiis almost a year to find an actress "Amazonian" enough to play the title character; he was still looking, eight weeks before the scheduled production, when he saw Brigitte Nielsen on the cover of a fashion magazine. The 21-year-old native of Helsingør, Denmark, in Milan for a modeling job, soon found herself on a plane heading for Rome and a successful screen test.
The musical score of Red Sonja was composed and conducted by Ennio Morricone.
Track listing for the first release on LP
- Symphonic Suite for Chorus and Orchestra - Part I (16:37)
- Symphonic Suite for Chorus and Orchestra - Part II (18:42)
Track listing for the CD release
- Prologue (01:24)
- Main Title (02:22)
- The Talisman (03:15)
- Temple Raid (01:39)
- Touch It (01:03)
- Sonja and the Sword Master (01:49)
- Vanna's Death (02:00)
- The Gate of Brytag (01:47)
- Sonja vs. Brytag (01:14)
- Fighting the Soldiers (03:36)
- The Chamber of Lights (02:02)
- Sorcery (00:46)
- Sonja Teaches Tam (01:33)
- Treasure in the Cavern (02:07)
- Kalidor and Sonja (01:43)
- A Fair Fight (01:50)
- Entering the Castle (02:12)
- Defeats the Queen (01:36)
- End Credits (03:42)
The film received generally negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 15% based on 27 reviews, with the site's critical consensus stating, "Dull, poorly directed, and badly miscast, Red Sonja is an uninspired conclusion to Schwarzenegger's barbarian trilogy." Schwarzenegger commented, "It's the worst film I have ever made." He joked, "Now, when my kids get out of line, they're sent to their room and forced to watch Red Sonja ten times. I never have too much trouble with them."
John Grant, who authored the film's entry in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), gave Red Sonja a negative review, commenting "Morally dubious (Gedren's lesbianism is depicted as one of her evil attributes) and worse-acted than words can explain, Red Sonja is a great embarrassment."
Siskel and Ebert gave the film negative reviews. Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert agreed the film was poorly made, but Ebert thought the film contained enough campy humor that he briefly contemplated that Red Sonja may have been intended as a spoof, with "dialogue that sounds like the actors have already read the Mad magazine parody of this film."
Leonard Maltin gave the movie 1.5 out of 4 stars and calling it "Spectacularly silly...It might amuse juvenile viewers, but the only real point of interest for adults is deciding who gives the worse performance, Nielsen or Bergman."
"Phantom of the Movies" Joe Kane wrote, "An unwise return by Schwarzenegger to his first hit property. Only, instead of sword-and-sorcery, this is 'grunt-and-groan'...he grunts while we groan. Yet it should be noted, in Arn's defense, that he manages to stay off-screen for more than half the movie. Though the fur and heads fly in a few scattered battle scenes, the title character is wooden...and the film itself is clankier than a knight's shining armor."
Awards and nominations
|Golden Raspberry Award||Worst Actress||Brigitte Nielsen||Nominated|
|Worst New Star||Won|
|Worst Supporting Actress||Sandahl Bergman||Nominated|
Comic book adaptation
Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation of the film by writer Louise Simonson and artists Mary Wilshire and Vince Colletta in Marvel Super Special #38. The adaptation was also available as a two-issue limited series.
A second Red Sonja film has been in development for some years. In 2008, Robert Rodriguez and his production company Troublemaker Studios were working on a version that would have starred Rose McGowan as the titular character. By 2009 however, the Rodriguez project had been scrapped, and as of February 2010, rights holders Nu Image are moving forward with another projected new film, to be directed by Simon West. Producer Avi Lerner has said he would like to see Amber Heard take the role of Sonja, after having worked with her on Drive Angry. Lerner says the film will shoot before the sequel to Conan the Barbarian. In August 2012 at the premiere of The Expendables 2 West said that the film was stuck in production. Christopher Cosmos has been hired as a screenwriter for the new film. According to Deadline, Millennium Films will finance and produce a new Red Sonja movie with Avi Lerner and Joe Gatta producing alongside with Cinelou Films’ Mark Canton and Courtney Solomon.
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- Red Sonja (1985) – Box Office Mojo
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- "Marvel Movie Madness! Part 20: Red Sonja". Rotten Tomatoes. 2011-06-23. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's On at Signpost, HarperCollins 2002 p264-271
- Maslin, Janet (1985-07-03). "Movie Review - Red Sonja - THE SCREEN: 'RED SONJA' - NYTimes.com". Movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- "Red Sonja". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- "Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'Red Sonja' | TheDailyBeast.com: Stars Who Slam Their Movies | Comcast.net". Xfinity.comcast.net. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- Jones, Emma. "Arnold Schwarzenegger, Red Sonja - Actors who hate their own films". Entertainment.ca.msn.com. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- Grant, John. "Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997): Red Sonja". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
- Marvel Super Special #38 at the Grand Comics Database
- Red Sonja: The Movie at the Grand Comics Database
- "Rose McGowan Explains Why Red Sonja Never Happened". ReelzChannel. Archived from the original on 2012-05-09. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- "Amber Heard For Red Sonja?". Empire Online. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- "Red Sonja Movie is Back on with a New Screenwriter". Coming Soon. February 27, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
- Busch, Anita (November 4, 2017). "Millennium To Produce Female-Strong 'Red Sonja' With Cinelou". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
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