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The Beastmaster is a classic sword-and-sandal, but classic doesn't necessarily mean good
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Well, it's been a while since I've done one of my "Films No One's Talking About" reviews, so I figured I'd talk about a movie that I finally got on DVD: The Beastmaster.
Now this one has gained quite the cult following over the years. Years ago, it was a favorite to be shown on TNT and HBO. But the reason I've decided to talk about it is because of what the movie means to me personally.
Everyone has certain movies that helped define their childhood. The Beastmaster is basically one of those for me. I make no illusions about it being a great and wonderful movie. But for a young boy, interested in fantasy and story-telling in general, there's a lot to be said about a movie like The Beastmaster.
The story follows a young man named Dar (Marc Singer), the son of an imprisoned king (Rod Loomis). Prophesy says that the son of King Zed (yup, King Zed) would be the one to kill Maax (Rip Torn) (and yes, you pronounce both "A"s), the priest of Ar. (Yup, Ar.) We know Maax is evil because he likes to sacrifice children to Ar. We know Ar is a stupid god because he wants Maax to kill the children so there will be no more people left to make more children.
Anyway, Maax sends his ugly witch to abduct and kill the baby. You know, because it worked so well for King Herod. But before the task is complete, a peasant happens upon the midnight ritual—probably out taking a pleasure cruise at night through eel-infested waters or something—and kills the witch. He raises the child and learns that Dar has the ability to commune with the animals.
After Dar's village is attacked, Dar, who's obviously going to be the only survivor of the attack, goes on his own quest to avenge the death of everyone he knows. Along the way, he makes animal friends, though not in a Disney way. He also meets and sort of stalks a young woman, Kiri (Tanya Roberts) who tells Dar that she is a slave of Maax.
Seriously, there is so much in this movie that can fertilize a young imagination. The acting is a bit wooden at times, but you've got a man who can see through the eyes of an eagle and telepathically control just about any animal around. (Except humans, because apparently the sepeciesist gods don't consider us animals.) There's a ring with a surreptitious eyeball. There are strange creatures that can apparently eat a man by wrapping their wings around them.
It's quite the fantastical setting.
When I was a kid, the scene with the winged creatures was always my favorite scene. It's bizarre and creepy and imaginative. It creeped me out, and scared me, and stuck in my head. In fact, whenever I watch Titan A.E., the scene with the giant bat creatures always makes me think of this movie because of that specific scene.
That being said, it's a sword-and-sandal fantasy and can be lost in the sea of competition. Plus, sword-and-sandal is definitely not for everyone. It's not my favorite type of fantasy, in fact, but I can get behind some of them.
Now, when you see the faces of the witches, it's quite a temptation to categorically say "what a load of donkey dung!" They're really quite poorly done by today's standards. But if you take the rest of the movie on its own terms, it's really not that bad. Again, some of the performances are a bit wooden. (Seriously, has Marc Singer ever done any other kind of performance?) I think they were going for stoic, but there's a dramatic disconnect that can simply make it feel like they're not even trying. And much of the story is rather typical for this kind of movie.
Personally, I'm a little torn about how to rate the movie. Watching it again this time, I can clearly see so many of the movie's flaws, but I also remember watching this one as a kid and loving it. In the end I think my rating would have to be a 7 / 10, though I will admit that that rating is likely inflated because of my nostalgia. But that doesn't invalidate it.
The Beastmaster is rated PG, but in case you consider showing this to your kids, be warned. If it were released today, it would be rated much stronger. It has violence—though mostly bloodless—disturbing imagery, and even a couple scenes with fully bared, un-obscured breasts. Not a lot, but it's definitely there. Plus, Tanya Roberts' legs appear to be absolutely essential to the movie, so her outfit comes down only low enough to cover her butt if she's standing fully upright and not moving. However she's rarely standing that still throughout the movie, so you get a lot of free shots.