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Entries in Beastmaster/The [1982] (1)

Friday
Feb082013

The Beastmaster (1982)

Fauxnan the Darbarian

You must unlearn what you have learned.

--Yoda

Look elsewhere if you want a fair review of The Beastmaster. I'm about to cheat, big-time, so let's not pretend otherwise. Okay?

Okay.

Part of my Don Coscarelli interview prep involved marathon-ing his filmography. This took place over a long weekend of 3am double-features and toddler-nap-time half-viewings--culminating in a Sunday evening showing of Beastmaster. My wife, who is of a younger and decidedly less forgiving generation than I, sheepishly agreed to substitute DVR'd episodes of Glee for Marc Singer in a loin cloth and tiara.

Who wouldn't do that, really?

Singer stars as Dar, the titular Dr. Doolittle of pre-history. While he was still in the womb, a hideously deformed witch magically transplanted him into a yak for smuggling out of his father's kingdom. Dar was birthed in the wilderness and set to be sacrificed to an evil deity, but a wanderer killed the sorceress and raised the boy as his own. In later years, Dar realized he could communicate with animals and, following a positively Skywalker-esque raid on his village by the second-unit cast of Mad Max (known as "Junns" here), he takes to the desert with a motley crew of critters to seek justice.

Dar's powers are amazing: he can see through the eyes of an eagle, summon a black tiger to aid him in battle, and tame Tanya Roberts' feisty beaver with little more than a well-arched eyebrow.

Sorry, did I mention that I may have had awful parents? While watching the movie again, I told my wife of a youth spent with Beastmaster playing on an HBO loop while I pretended to be a psychic, veterinary barbarian. Needless to say, she was horrified by the child immolation, melty-faced devil-harpies, and the flashing of Kiri the slave girl's muffleupagus (twice). She questioned how my folks could have not only allowed a five-year-old to see this thing, but repeatedly and under their supervision. I could only mutter something about the PG rating meaning something different "back then", and promising to hold off on exposing our son to Dar's magical quest until at least age six.

Back to the story. Dar spies Kiri bathing in an oasis and immediately falls in love. Unfortunately, she is enslaved by the minions of Maax (Rip Torn), an evil priest who also happens to have sent sent the yak-witch to kill Dar as an infant. The would-be lovebirds are separated by (yet another) Junn attack, and Dar sets about trying to free Kiri from bondage while also breaking Maax's hold over the good, frightened people of his land. Along the way, he teams up with a ten-year-old kid named Tal (Josh Milrad), and his bodyguard/teacher/love-interest,* Seth, played by John Amos. Good times.

Here's where the unfairness comes in. Every film has a colorful back story that the audience is rarely privy to (in whole or in part). Having watched The Beastmaster as an adult, with an embarrassed-looking, frequently groaning spouse, I came to the conclusion that Coscarelli had tragically misfired with this one. I was prepared to write the movie off as a goofy excuse to play swords in the desert on the studio dime. And that's precisely how I should have framed this review.

However, Don's side of the story is that he was at the mercy of forces greater than he in several key aspects of production--resulting in his having to be physically removed from the editing room. I can only hope this happened before the locking of Dar's sword-swingin', cosplay-porn montage, 'cause I really want to keep on respecting Coscarelli as a filmmaker.

So, do I give Beastmaster a pass now that I know why it doesn't hold up for a thirty-five-year-old the same way it did for a five-year-old? Or do I go by the final cut's merits alone and warn away anyone who doesn't already have some kind of nostalgia for these characters? It's not like the movie is completely without merit: the climactic nighttime battle between Dar, the Junns, and a race of eight-foot-tall vampires (not kidding) is really well put together, and would've been borderline exciting had I cared about--or not expected--the outcome. But I have to be honest with newcomers who have no idea why Marc Singer was so incredibly awesome in the early 80s.

The painful truth is that The Beastmaster doesn't work. It makes sense in the most rudimentary A-to-B-to-C story sense, but so do dozens of other like movies that are much more worth your time. As a curiosity and as a do-it-yourself-MST3K kind of experience, you can't go wrong. Otherwise, you've been warned.

*Wildly inappropriate speculation? You bet! Unwarranted wildly inappropriate speculation? Watch the movie and get back to me.