The Beastmaster

The Beastmaster (1982)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Track, Behind-the-Scenes Footage, Production Art, Trailer, Talent Files, Booklet

I doubt there’s a child of the 80s out there who doesn’t recall "The Beastmaster." A longtime staple of cable television, this 1982 fantasy film offered up just the right amount of swordplay, funny animal sidekicks, and cheesecake to keep even the most jaded teenaged viewer entertained. As a special treat for the film’s (or at the very least Tanya Roberts’s) legions of fans, Anchor Bay now presents "The Beastmaster" as a very nice special edition DVD.

Loosely based on a story by sci-fi legend Andre Norton (so loose that she demanded that her name be removed from the credits), "The Beastmaster" was co-written by Paul Pepperman and Don Coscarelli — who also acted as director. Winning over some much-needed foreign financial backing, the duo set out with a $9 million budget to bring their dream project to life.

Marc Singer stars as Dar, the long-lost son of an imprisoned king who witnesses the destruction of his adoptive family’s village and sets out to seek vengeance against the evil priest Maax (Rip Torn) and the Jun Horde. As the title implies, young Dar has a way with animals and soon enough he’s rounded up a hawk, a black tiger, and a pair of lovable ferrets to aid him in his quest. Stumbling upon the slavegirl Kiri (Tanya Roberts) frolicking al fresco in a pond, Dar is smitten and decides to add freeing her to his to-do list.

Sounds just like every other early 80s sword and sorcery flick, eh? Well of course it does but what makes "The Beastmaster" stand apart from the pack is a combination of youthful enthusiasm and, yes, cheesecake. Coming off the success of his debut film "Phantasm," the 28-year-old director Don Coscarelli co-wrote the feature and was its greatest champion. Cast as the lead, Marc Singer was his usual down-to-earth self and his complete lack of irony and cynicism helps keep the film from becoming an unintentional laugh-fest. With both the cast and crew taking the production very seriously, "The Beastmaster" remains firmly entrenched within its fantasy world and never resorts to knowing nods toward the audience to let us know that it’s all one big joke. Oh for the glory days of real independent filmmaking when a couple of youngsters with a bit of cash could make their dream project not only a reality but a memorable film as well.

Oh, and don’t forget the cheesecake. Coming off her role in television’s "Charlie’s Angels," Tanya Roberts happily delivers her lines with fierce — albeit wooden — conviction and very little — or no — clothing. While rated PG, this film does contain a fair amount of nudity which certainly did not go unnoticed by its teenaged fans. Indeed, the only Easter Egg on the disc focuses on further exploration of Tanya Roberts’s choicest scenes and naughty bloopers.

"The Beastmaster" is presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This was my first opportunity to see the film <$PS,widescreen> and to say that the new <$THX,THX>-approved transfer is a revelation would be an understatement. The overall image is fairly sharp with strong, accurate colors. Black levels are challenged by the darkest scenes but are fairly solid for the most part. It’s obvious that multiple film sources were used to create this transfer as certain scenes suddenly appear grainier and darker for brief instances. The transfer is also free from any major blemishes, heavy edge enhancement, or compression artifacts. The only real fault I could find was that there is a constant amount of minor horizontal and vertical shifting that may be due to worn sprocket holes on the source film elements. It’s not terribly distracting but you are likely to notice it. There’s also a faint amount of film grain but this transfer is, after all, derived from film. Various color filters are also used throughout to shade the landscape and sky so those odd colorations you see are not a defect. All in all, this is a fine video presentation.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this new DVD release is that "The Beastmaster" has been blessed with not one, but two, brand-new 6.1 surround mixes as well as a more modest <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 mix. Both the Dolby Digital EX and <$DTS,DTS>-ES soundtracks bring new life to the film. Neither mix attempts to be too overly aggressive with the surrounds or LFE but both do allow for a much fuller soundstage and Lee Holdridge’s sweeping score really comes alive across all channels. Sound effects are also emboldened by the new mixes and my only complaint is that they tend to come across much louder than the dialogue. Dynamic range is still quite restricted on the low end but I’m actually thankful that no amped-up bass was added to the mix. The DTS-ES mix is more bombastic yet sounds more natural that the DD-EX mix which comes across as artificial and overly-directional in nature. In comparison to either 6.1 mix, the DD 2.0 Surround track sounds quite constrained and muffled. I give the nod to the DTS-ES mix which offers a noticeable improvement over the other two soundtracks.

As per the usual for Anchor Bay, no subtitles are offered although English <$CC,closed captions> are available should you happen to have the appropriate hardware. This lack of player-generated subtitles is a gnawing issue for many and it’s high time Anchor Bay start offering them on their DVD releases.

While not marketed as a special edition, this new DVD offers up a fair amount of solid bonus features. First up is a running commentary with Don Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman. It’s clear that both men remain proud of their pet project as they reveal much information about the hard work that went into getting this feature made.

Next up is 27 minutes of silent behind-the-scenes home movie footage accompanied by commentary from Coscarelli and Pepperman that sheds even more light on the production and only rarely overlaps with the comments from their other track.

This is followed by the Production Art, Posters, & Still Galleries section which offers four different sets of production stills to browse. Rounding out the extras on the DVD are the film’s theatrical trailer, some very in-depth talent files and filmographies, and the THX Optimizer set-up tools.

Also included is a very nice 16-page booklet featuring comments about the film set against some wonderful production art.

"The Beastmaster" is certainly not a film for everybody and it’s the people like me who grew up watching it just about every other week who are likely to go nuts over this new DVD release. As previously mentioned, this film was a serious endeavor by its cast and crew and, while it is certainly laughable in places, the overall level of enthusiasm apparent in both the film and this DVD should sway those who are willing to look beyond the obvious faults and enjoy what is, at the end of the day, a very solid fantasy film.

Kudos to Anchor Bay for presenting the film in a nice new <$PS,widescreen> transfer and offering up wholly unexpected, cutting edge audio remix options that should delight fans of the film to no end. Throw in a number of very insightful extras and the disc is a clear winner. Highly recommended for fans of the fantasy genre, I hesitate to offer a blanket recommendation for "The Beastmaster" as I know that there are those who will simply not be able to sit down and enjoy the film on its own merits. Don’t say you weren’t warned.