Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 09 March 2005
Source Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
A Saturday-afternoon adventure favorite, The Beastmaster is a film that commands an unassailable position in the hearts of countless viewers; an enthralling, sweeping tale of swords and magic, heroes and villains, beautiful women and horrible monsters; a movie watched time and again, year after year, and passed on from one generation to the next. Even the back cover copy of Anchor Bay’s recent DVD release makes reference to the film’s enduring fascination with the persuasive words, “Admit it: You love The Beastmaster.”
The story is that of Dar, long lost heir to King Zed, a young man who believes himself nothing more than a well-muscled farm lad with a peculiar affinity for communing with animals. Forced to fend for himself after his village is destroyed by a marauding band of ruffians, Dar sets out on a quest to discover his fortune, and avenge the deaths of his loved ones. Along the way he uses his unique gifts to befriend a tiger (shamelessly painted black to resemble a leopard), two ferrets, and an eagle, and puts his unmatched strength to work righting what wrongs he happens upon.
From there, the plot escalates in typical hero-adventure style: Dar is enchanted by a beautiful woman, and endeavors to save her from an untimely demise; Dar befriends a fellow muscle-bound itinerant, and the two join forces to combat evil; and Dar is offered hint after hint as to his true identity, drawing ever closer to a definitive confrontation with his ultimate fate. And of course, there is a diabolical impediment to his efforts, a vengeful warlock named Maax (played by a delightfully eccentric Rip Torn), a man who wants nothing less than to eternally usurp King Zed’s throne, a scenario impossible to achieve without finding a way to dispose of Dar. And so the saga unfolds: the forces of evil and good working tirelessly to bring each other down, while we enthusiastically follow along every step of the way.
And though the basic plot points don’t stray too far from the countless other fantasy epics out there, The Beastmaster has an engaging, whimsical style all its own, a lighthearted approach to storytelling that flits from one colorful episode to the next. From Dar’s run ins with the emotionless killing machines of Maax’s Death Guards, to the horrifying sequence in the dank village of the Winged Creatures (keep an eye out for the presumed leader of these towering bat-like creatures digesting a human victim within his expansive wings), to the tense battle high atop the pyramid temple, each scene is rich with fantastic detail and pulse-pounding adventure. Believable and consistent special effects enhance the story at every turn, each effectively rendered creature, battle scene, and set piece contributing to the authenticity of this fully realized fantasy world.
Admittedly, some sequences drag a bit, particularly Dar’s ludicrous training montages that have him running through streams, swinging a thick tree branch over his head, and staring determinedly toward the horizon; and it’s impossible not to smirk each time Dar raises his voice to screech like an eagle, or has a heart-to-heart with one of his ferrets. But as the film progresses, and the story of The Beastmaster marches resolutely forward, we come to embrace each absurd moment as an integral part of the unapologetic and childish innocence of the film as a whole, and we treasure the fact that such a shamelessly entertaining movie exists at all.