Ahoy there mateys! I am not a big movie watcher but sci-fi month of 2019 started this trend with total recall (1990), sphere (1998), and galaxy quest (1999). The First Mate has seen practically every movie of the 80s and 90s and we were recently discussing our childhood memories of The Beastmaster (1982). In honor of Wyrd and Wonder 2020 we decided to watch it for the first time in over 30 years. So you get one from me and a bonus additional review from me crew. Please note that I write like I talk and the First Mate writes like he thinks. Hope you enjoy!
Side note: No movie plot here from me and there will be spoilers. I will assume that everyone else previously saw this movie.
From the Captain:
Ye know the film be bad when the best acting in it comes from the ferrets. Seriously. Apparently, I may never have actually seen the whole movie. I certainly don’t remember all the nekkid boobs and butts. I don’t remember the beginning. I don’t remember the end. I remember a pyramid. The tv version must have been mightily truncated. Though I don’t think that made it a good parts version.
Basically the childhood impressions of this movie were of a falcon and the ferrets. I really wanted to talk to animals when I was young. Still kinda do. So I have false memories of the main character (Dar, to borrow Milliebot’s word, the blandtagonist) talking to his animal companions. Upon rewatch, he holds his head like he has a migraine and occasionally ye get a bird’s eye view with bad visuals. Seriously Dar is lame and just wanders around. He is supposed to be tracking down the evil Juns for revenge and never looks for them.
The only two humans that are kinda ok are Rip Torn (Maax) and John
Amos (Set). Actually as soon as I saw Amos, I immediately felt recognition. He is the only actor that felt familiar in the movie. Even their performances could not make up for the most boring script ever. The girl sucked. The kid sucked. The death guards were laughable though the cod pieces they were were epic.
This is the movie full of implausibilities. The castle gate that the “heroes” can magically climb over only in one direction. The wagon that is filled with straw that doesn’t catch on fire despite the flaming torches on every corner. Just how far they let the slave girls go on their day off. Chock full of crap.
But the best part was the false ending where I was so glad to be done, only for the First Mate to tell me that there was still 20 minutes left. Ummm what? I had forgotten all about the evil Juns by this point. But hell, so did the protagonist. The Juns horde had to show up at the very end to have a crazy battle against the four major characters. And of course they almost lose until they are saved by the deus ex man-eating bat-people at the last minute. But wait, there was more. Stupid kid got arrowed and was going to lose his arm. I did not care. Dumb Dar leaves his birthright to be with the animals and his dumb woman has to chase after him.
The only thing I ended up caring about were the ferrets. And the only tense moment was when daddy ferret sacrifices himself for Dumb Dar who wasn’t worth it. But I did get to see two cute baby ferrets at the end. Horrible stupid movie that I will never watch again. What was I thinking as a kid? Arrrr!
From the First Mate:
For a goodly amount of years I’d been puzzled by director Don
Coscarelli’s badmouthing of this film. As a child, my siblings and I
absolutely adored it and it was one of a handful of films that we
never tired of watching (Clue, The Princess Bride, and
Young Dragons: Kung Fu Kids II being the others). My memories
are of it being fast paced, full of action, emotionally resonant, and
having just the perfect balance of creepiness to humor. My memories
are lies, and Don Coscarelli is right.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Beastmaster is that
it came out in the same year as Conan: The Barbarian, 1982.
Why this is so surprising is that The Beastmaster has every
appearance of a cheap Conan knock-off, of which there are
seemingly hundreds. The look of the film is drab, dark, and largely
uninteresting. It’s really interesting to compare The
Beastmaster to another 1982 sword and sandal film, The Sword
and the Sorceror, and kind of marvel at how the far inferior
director, Albert Pyun, was able to make a significantly better looking
film than Coscarelli on half the budget. Truly shocking that the
director who gave us the mind trip that was Phantasm is so
hobbled visually here.
But a film is not simply it’s visuals. The plot? Very mundane and
repetitive. Our hero, Dar, basically keeps visiting the main city of
Aruk, mostly looking for a slave girl. He’s also kinda sorta seeking
out the Jun Horde for revenge, but he seems to have a very
lackadaisical attitude towards that pursuit. And then there’s the
whole child sacrifice angle revolving around the high priest Maax and
the pyre on top of the ziggurat in the center of Aruk. But mostly Dar
enters the city, does something, and leaves. And repeat. And repeat.
Even as a child I found it a little odd that the seemingly climatic
battle against Maax atop the ziggurat concludes twenty minutes before
the end of the film. It’s almost like the Jun Horde was completely
forgotten about. Certainly our heroes forgot about them, so why
wouldn’t the writers?
But there are animals! Yes, the ferrets are positively adorable. And
the tiger continually licks at its makeup. And there’s that amazing
scene where a 3lb falcon carries a 50lb child into the sky. Given the
proximity of the actors to the tiger and the various things they had
the ferrets do (like plunging into the quicksand), I’m going to assume
that neither the insurer nor the ASPCA had much of a presence on set.
Need I mention the acting? Rip Torn as high priest Maax is, of
course, the standout. He’s just in a completely different movie.
Totally evil and crazy and over the top with every single line. John
Amos does great as Seth, though he’s not really in the film all that
much. I’ve always liked Marc Singer, but his laid back charm is
largely wasted here. Perhaps the less said about Tanya Roberts’
performance the better.
It’s not hard to see the potential of a good film hiding in The
Beastmaster. A warrior seeking revenge against a cult leader is a
perfectly fine plot to hang a low fantasy adventure. It’s basically
the plot of Conan: The Barbarian and that worked out just fine.
The sets and locations here are absolutely fine; they’re just shot in
the most boring way possible. Most of the actors present are talented
and seem very willing to throw themselves into the production. And
the unique charm of the magical connection with the animals should be
the special element that takes it over the top. Perhaps Coscarelli is
right and he was thwarted from making the movie he wanted by stupid
Perhaps the siblings and I loved The Beastmaster because it
resembled fantasy and didn’t require us to pay too close attention.
There are a couple of set pieces, but mostly it just kind of ambles
from place to place with animals and the occasional crazy rant from
Rip Torn. It was perfect background for our own adventures.
I wonder if I can get the Captain to watch The Beastmaster 2:
Through the Portal of Time.
Side note: The Captain decrees that should any copies of Beastmaster movies come aboard both the scurvy crew member who disobeys orders, their disreputable loot, AND those who watch it shall join ol’ Davy Jones Locker.
x The Captain