For anyone who has ever played D&D, been in a den with wood paneled walls, or glimpsed a TV set in the past thirty years, probably has caught a scene from the epic 1982 film, Beastmaster. The movie bestowed upon us from the obvious decade of outlandishness, and one of countless fantasy films to arise from the era.
“Born with the courage of an eagle, the strength of a black tiger, and the power of a God” Beastmaster (for those who don’t already know and can’t easily guess) tells the tale of Dar, royal son of Zed who is stolen from the womb to be sacrificed at the hands of evil sorcerer Maax. Luckily, a villager saves young Dar and raises the child as his own, training him to fight and witnessing his extraordinary power to telepathically communicate with animals. When the evil Jun horde, a troop of barbaric warriors under the command of Maax, descend upon his village slaying all, sole survivor Dar vows to seek revenge for his father. Along his journey, Dar encounters and befriends an eagle he names Sharak, a black tiger he calls Ruh, and two sneaky lil’ ferrets he lovingly refers to as Kodo and Podo. Dar also gains the alliance of some bizarre bird-like creatures that worship eagles and recognize the power he possesses to communicate with such animals. No fantasy film of this caliber would be complete without a scantily clad love interest for young Dar. She comes to us in the form of slave girl Kira, portrayed by centerfold Tanya Roberts, who snagged the cover and posed for Playboy to promote the film. Together with the help of Zed’s younger son Tal, and his badass bodyguard Seth (John Amos) they eventually defeat the Jun horde and evil Maax, who plummets to his fiery death with poor Kodo on his back. A small casualty for the crew, but don’t worry…Podo brings two baby ferrets into the world and the end of the film finds them all atop a cliff overlooking the vast landscape, prepared for adventures ahead. The movie is of epic proportion and has some real WTF? moments, securing it as an eighties classic. I mean who wouldn’t want the power to talk with animals? Other than when you’re stoned and swear the cat communicated with you…
The film is actually a very loosely based adaptation of The Beast Master, a sci-fi novel originally penned by Andre Norton in 1959. The book is the first of a series to feature Hosteen Storm, a former soldier who shares telepathic connections with a group of genetically altered animals. With that being said, the film does blare striking resemblance to another movie release of the same year. Conan the Barbarian came out in May of ’82 and alongside movies like Dragonslayer, Deathstalker, and Krull brought the whole “sword and sorcery” subgenre into our movie theaters and hearts forever. Beastmaster was directed by Don Coscarelli and grossed modest earnings at the box office, not even doubling the 8 million it cost to film. Despite it’s initial poor reception, the movie has managed to gain a cult following by nerds everywhere. A mainstay on television for years, it evens holds the rank of second most aired movie on TBS, following Gone With The Wind. Beastmaster spawned a sequel Through the Portal of Time, TV series, and video game. Nowadays, it seems we can’t conjure up an original idea for a film without painfully re-making a movie done right the first time or using an abundance of CGI enhanced special effects, but a gem from the 80’s fantasy film genre such as this can always be appreciated for its nostalgic effect if nothing more.
Sadly, it must be noted that in a twist of fate, Sultan, the tiger dyed black for the role of Ruh, died only a few short years after filming as a result of complications from the dye used. Bizarre to think BEASTMASTER, friend to all animals, wasn’t actually at all.