The Beastmaster (1982) / Adventure-Fantasy
MPAA rated PG for violence and nudity (a strong PG-13 today)
Running time: 118 min.
Cast: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos, Josh Milrad
Director: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman (uncredited, but very loosely based on the book, "The Beast Master", by Andre Norton)
Review published May 12, 2012
The Beastmaster is a modestly budgeted sword-and-sorcery epic that garnered some mild popularity in television reruns over the years (particularly on TBS, where it would seemingly appear every other week). Certainly, for those who love the genre, it's a bit of a campy cult classic, though for more traditional filmgoers, the barebones, nonsensical script, poor lighting, and lackluster acting leaves much to be desired, not to mention the inherent hokeyness at seeing such things as TV-vet Marc Singer (V, Go Tell the Spartans) ca-cawing at an eagle in order to issue a command.
The storyline follows the hero, Dar (Singer), who had been the son of a king snatched away from his mother's womb by a witch under the employ of the evil magician named Maax (Torn, Coma), who had been prophesied, Oedipus-style, to be killed by the son of a king (to which he takes to slaughtering all of the young'uns he can). The intended infanticide is thwarted by a goodly peasant, who raises Dar as his own, and harnesses the boy's skill in fighting, farming, and many other skills, though it is soon discovered that Dar has the uncanny ability to communicate telepathically with whatever animals reside nearby.
But the peasant's village is decimated when the evil forces known as the Jun, in cahoots with Maax, come crushing through, killing everything in their path. Without a home and out for revenge, it's up to Dar to avenge the fallen, along with some newfound animal friends in the form of a panther, an eagle, and two ferret thieves, to bring down the forces of evil before they slaughter any more innocents. Also joining Dar is a hottie of slave girl in Kiri (Roberts, Sheena), valiant warrior named Seth (Amos, American Flyers), and in Seth's care, the son of the imprisoned king, Tal (Milrad).
Marc Singer may sometimes come off like a macho Mark Hamill at times, but he gives the part his all, bulking up to an incredible degree to make Dar the lithe but resourceful brute appearance he needs. Tanya Roberts can barely emote, and merely exists for a couple of nude shots and to give our hero something more to fight for than honor. Rip Torn goes wildly over the top in a fairly underwritten role that's just a moustache-twirl shy of pure boo-hiss melodramatics. Some of the special effects are iffy (the panther is a very tame tiger with a bad black dye job), and many of the costumes and make-up effects are not easy on the eyes (Maax's hook nose makes him look more akin to Muppets' Gonzo than human, and he inexplicably sports a tin grin), but the handling of the animals is quite good for the limited specs. The score by Lee Holdridge (Splash, Mr. Mom) will have older viewers recalling the theme song to the old "Battlestar Galactica" TV show.
Capitalizing on the Dungeons and Dragons/Conan the Barbarian craze of its era, the multitudinous outdoors shots of desert-area California are merely an excuse to save money by not having to build elaborate sets (towns are obvious matte paintings) or pay pricey location shooting fees. There is a quaintness to the production and intent of the film that makes it difficult not to like it just a little, but it still remains undone by the inept script and one climactic battle too many in this relatively lengthy 119-minute endeavor.
-- Followed by Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991) and Beastmaster: The Eye of Braxus (1999). Also made into a television spinoff in 1999.
©2012 Vince Leo