The Beastmaster is a moderately low budget B-movie that gained a cult following through repeated showings on HBO in the early and mid 80's. It was so popular, that it spawned a pair of sequels and a syndicated TV series that lasted for a couple of seasons. Though the acting isn't first rate, and the script is a little bit hokey in parts, this film manages to transcend its limitations and is actually an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
For those of you who somehow managed to miss this on its many cable showing, The Beastmaster concerns an evil priest, Maax, wonderfully overacted by Rip Torn. In order to foil a prophesy, (will these evil priests never learn?) Maax decrees that the King's unborn son must be removed from his mother's worm, branded, and then sacrificed. The king won't have anything to do with that of course, so he banishes Maax to the wastelands. That night, a witch enters the King's rooms and magically transfers the royal embryo into a cow. (I hate when that happens!) She then take the cow into the forest, removes the child, and brands him. A passing farmer sees this and kills the old hag before she can kill the child. He takes the boy to his village and raises him as his own.
The child, Dar (played by the muscular Marc Singer,) is taught to fight by his step father. As a young man, Dar realizes that he can communicate with animals, but keeps this ability secret.
While working in he fields one day, Dar's village is attacked by a hoard of barbarians, lead by Maax. The entire village is raised, and Dar is the only survivor. Armed only with his step-father's sword the young man goes out into the world. He soon befriends a black eagle, a black tiger, and a pair of (regular looking though they do have some black on them) ferrets, and together they search for revenge against Maax and his evil cult.
You can tell from watching this movie, and the creators admit it in the commentary, that its trying to be an epic film. With barbarian hordes, sacrificial pyramids, wild animals and eerie setting, the film is attempting to be bigger than its $4½ million budget. It manages to succeed to a certain extent.
The large battle scenes are chaotic have an authentic feel to them, and the film is rich with atmosphere. The sets are wonderfully decorated, with the villages, dungeons, and primitive cities all looking sufficiently dingy and old rather than looking like sets. There is a good amount of action, and the momentum doesn't let up once the plot starts rolling.
It does have its failings though, with the most significant being that the acting is rather standard throughout the film. John Amos does a good job as Seth, a royal trainer and apparently the only black person in this mythical world, but his performance is the best. Dar's love interest Kiri is played by the attractive Tanya Roberts. This was her first role after staring in the final season of the Charlie's Angles TV show, and she wasn't really convincing. Her slave/warrior woman act just didn't have a lot of emotion in it, and seemed fairly run of the mill. The same can be said of star Marc Singer. I found his lack of emotion after seeing his entire village slaughtered, not to mention his dog, a little odd, and he never seemed really filled with a need for vengeance. One final critique is that the individual fights in the movie look staged and over rehearsed too.
Even with these limitations, the movie is a lot of fun. There are a lot of battle to keep things interesting, and the film has a good amount of humor to keep things light. While no Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Beastmaster is an eminently enjoyable action flick that's well worth checking out.
Anchor Bay has done a fantastic job with the audio on this disc. The big Hollywood studios should take note. They offer viewers the choice of 6.1 DTS-ES, Dolby Digital Surround EX, and Dolby Surround, and they all sound great. I spot checked all the tracks, but viewed the movie in DTS, and it was excellent. They made great use of the rear channels which immerse the viewer in sound. Much of the incidental music is piped to the rear and it works well there. When the witch dies at the beginning of the film her eerie cackling can be heard behind you which is a little spooky. There weren't any obvious audio defects which made this a first rate soundtrack.
The video 1.85:1 anamorphic image on this disc also looked very good. I didn't have the original version with me for a direct comparison, but this version is head and shoulders above the previous release. Anchor Bay had a good print to work from apparently, and touched it up well. There were no spots or dirt on the print. The colors look great, with a lot of definition and good contrast. The only defect I noticed was that there was minor digital noise noticeable in the sky if you look for it. Otherwise a very good looking transfer.
This Special Edition of The Beastmaster has a good number of extras included with it. The most inpressive is The Saga of the Beastmaster. Running nearly an hour in length, this featurette gives an in depth look at the filming of the movie. They interview the major players involved with the movie includeing Don Coscarelli. Paul Pepperman, Tahya Roberts, and Marc Singer, all of who give interesting anecdotes about the movie. It is a fun extra, and incorporates much (if not all) of the footage that appeared on the origianl edition's featurette.
Like the first release, there is an easter egg. If you click on the symbol on the Talent Bio's page, you'll be treated to two minutes worth of outtakes including more shots of Tanya Roberts nude.
There is also a commentary with writer/director Don Coscarelli and writer/producer Paul Pepperman, which is a lot of fun. They go into detail about the filming, pointing out goofs and giving other behind the scenes information. They also talked about the genesis of the project, trying to make an epic movie on a budget and working with the animals. An entertaining commentary.
In addition to those two bonus features, there is also a trailer, a still gallery, talent biographies and even the entire screenplay in .pdf format that can be accessed through a computer with a DVD-Rom drive. A very full DVD.
This may not be the grand epic that the creators envisioned, but The
Beastmaster is still a lot of fun. The story is a bit hokey,
and the acting is generally wooden, but this movie is still an enjoyable
way to spend an evening. The presentation on this DVD is excellent
too, this is a disc that puts a lot of large studio releases to shame.
The video and audio are very good, and the extras are unexpectedly generous.
A movie worth checking out. Recommended.