“Alex, why haven’t you done Conan the Barbarian yet? You dipped back into 80’s fantasy and you pretended it didn’t even exist.” Gosh, nagging voice that is the non-existent anthropomorphic collective of my laughably small readership, I guess it’s because absolutely everyone else already has. For the few people living inside shoes that haven’t seen any of the Conan movies already, there are plenty of better critics who have already chipped in their two cents on it. For those who have seen the films, there’s not much to say. They all sucked, we liked the ones in the 80’s anyway, and the new one is a travesty that everyone threw rotten fruit at the second it hit theaters. There’s really nothing to say about those movies anymore. Hoooooooweeeeeeeeveeeeeeer. Just because I don’t plan to review any of the Conan films doesn’t mean I’m not going to acknowledge their impact on sword and sorcery as a genre. The first Hyborean stories were written by Robert E. Howard in the 1930s, meaning that they may have been the very first romanticizing of that age – any earlier and people would have actually been using swords, wearing sandals, and believing that the crusty old man on the hill really did have dark magical powers. As such, despite taking a while to catch on, fantasy films eventually did start to take off – we got a pair of Conan films, we got the (terrible) Red Sonja film, we got the pile of shit that was Barbarian Queen, and…. …We got The Beastmaster. Something tells me you knew this was coming. Now, while there’s no way I can say this movie isn’t a ripoff of Conan (youthful, shirtless barbarian has his tribe murdered by an evil cultist with a penchant for sacrificing his followers, and then must seek revenge – sound familiar?), it has enough personality to stand out amidst the murky, tan-colored sea of 80’s fantasy. What stands out right away about this film is the bizarre… directness of the dialogue. It’s almost hard to describe how weirdly fast-moving the conversations are, especially in certain areas. The beginning, in particular, has a deliciously silly scene with the cult leader, Maax (played by Rip Torn), which goes a bit like this: “The prophecy says some baby will kill me. So kill all the babies!” “You should rethink that.” “Hmm, nope. Time to kill the babies, fetch my knife.” “I’m actually not gonna let you do that.” “Poppycock! You can’t stop me.” “Actually I sorta can, I have an army.” “Oh.” Normally a decision to butcher some babies would warrant a scene that lasts longer than five minutes, but nope – it doesn’t take long at all for this issue to get worked out and for the movie to get underway. While this is the worst instance of this rapid-paced dialogue it’s far from the only one, and a lot of the pacing in Beastmaster is disruptive at best. However, as I said, it means well and it has a bit of charm. The Beastmaster himself, played by Marc Singer, resembles an extremely buff hybrid of William Fichtner and Mark Hamill, which actually manages to work better than it sounds like it should. He’s more articulate than Ahnuld and while he’s a bit naïve and boisterous, he actually manages to make a likeable protagonist – even when he’s being a bit, ehh, boyish. Also a pioneer of the Xavier temple-press. Anyway, the Beastmaster (Dar is his name, by the way) was the royal son that Maax wanted to get in the first place (inevitably failing), and he escapes the kingdom as a child to be brought up as a barbarian in a peaceful village. Fortunately Dar has some weird, not-exactly-explained magical powers that allow him to commune with, befriend, and share senses with, animals. After his village is completely destroyed — we see a lot more of this — The Beastmaster‘s mostly-animal cast starts to emerge. These companions involve, most notably: Sharak, a kickass eagle who happens to be worshipped by (and knows he’s worshipped by) a sect of extremely weird and super-badass bird cultists. Ruh, a kickass black tiger who, fun fact, was actually dyed black for the film. He died two years later from the toxins used in the dye. Bummer. And two absolutely adorable ferrets, named Kodo and Podo, who have so much personality they are capable of holding entire scenes with no human actors present. SUH KEWT. There’s also a sweet all-white dog, but he, um… doesn’t last long. Thus, with Dar and his animal buddies assembled and ready to go, the Beastmaster sets off to get revenge for his destroyed village, knowing nothing of his lineage. He meets a few people along the way, from loyalists to a long-collapsed kingdom to the playful and deceptively badass slave girl Kiri (portrayed by the scalding Tanya Roberts). Together with his ever-increasing band of human and animal compatriots, Dar fights back against the rising cult of Maax (who just loves sacrificing children, for the record, in case you were wondering whether or not he was a very naughty boy) and struggles to reinstate the kingdom of the man he does not know is his father. Not everything is fun and adventure, of course – in a somewhat interesting twist for a world like this one, Dar’s psychic abilities get him labeled a freak and an outsider for being who he is, no matter how hard he tries to help. So, I guess, technically we can consider this a combo of Conan and X-Men in its own odd way. While the characters (and especially some of the animal buddies) are really charming and there are a few memorable scenes (the rampage with the chemically mutated suicide-soldier springs to mind), the storyline of this is, while it’s not as dully simple as some other 80’s fantasy (don’t you give me that look, Barbarian Queen), nothing to really write home about. It’s the little injections of excitement and amusement, the small scenes that lend little to the story but a lot to the movie, that made The Beastmaster such a highly-valued film in its time. It even manages to hold up for recent viewers, which says a lot about how awesome it was in ’82. Sorry, I… what was I talking about? So, let’s pan back – was The Beastmaster good? Yes, it was. It was definitely good for the standards of those times, especially with its genre considered. Is it good by today’s standards? Certainly less so: It’s not without its flaws and it’s by no means a perfect movie. But it did spawn two sequels and a show… the first of which I’ll be tackling next in Dungeons & D-Listers! See larger image The Beastmaster (Special Edition) New From: $26.98 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.