Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Beastmaster -- Walk With the Animals, Talk With the Animals

Marc Singer as Dar, last of his tribe
The saga of Beastmaster in pop culture is a strange one. The concept first came to life via a 1959 novel by Andre Norton. That book, about a Navajo space explorer who teams up various genetically-enhanced animals on an alien planet, was then adapted into a 1982 feature film. Well, "adapted" might be too strong a word. The flick took the title of Norton's book, but other than that did its own thing entirely, re-envisioning the author's future-set sci-fi story as a prehistoric fantasy fable, with a pre-V Marc Singer as Dar, lost prince who can communicate with animals. While many assume that Beastmaster was cranked out in response to the undeniable box office success of Conan the Barbarian, it came out in August of 1982, less than six months after the Schwarzenegger sword-and-sorcery tale, so the timing precludes it being a Conan-inspired cash-in. Here's the trailer:

Still, cash-in or no, the Don Coscarelli-directed Beastmaster (which also stars the reliably awful, eye candy-riffic Tanya Roberts) is pretty terrible, and it was hardly the success that Conan was, making $14 million against an $8 mil budget. Normally that would have been the end of that, but thanks to an extraordinarily lengthy pay cable afterlife, it managed to spawn an equally-crappy sequel nine years later, Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time. In case the title's too vague for you, it involves a portal. Through time. And our man Dar (Singer again) is whisked to the then-present day to engage in all kinds of wacky fish-out-of-water antics. Beastmaster 2 actually manages the impressive feat of out-terribling Beastmaster 1. You can watch the entire craptastic movie here, or just catch the craptastic trailer below. I recommend the latter.

Hmm...looks mighty similar to another fish-out-of-water barbarian story, no?

The sequel, budgeted at $6 million (less, even with a decade's worth of inflation, than the original) couldn't even get to $1 mil at the box office, so normally that would have been that, but somehow the Beastmaster reared his head yet again, this time as a made-for-TV third feature in 1996, Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus. Airing as part of the syndicated "Universal Action Pack," the feature paired Singer (starting to look a little long-in-the-tooth to be playing a scantily-clad barbarian) with Candyman actor Tony Todd, and also featured the male equivalent of Tanya Roberts, Casper Van Dien. Here's the movie's opening, featuring music by the Miami Vice maestro (Vice-stro?) himself, Jan Hammer:

Beastmaster III hit the tube just as the syndicated fantasy genre (with Universal's hugely-successful Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess serving as its trailblazers) was taking off in a big way (remember this one, ferinstance?). To that end, the TV movie was clearly intended to function as a backdoor pilot and potentially launch a weekly show (I even remember reading a blurb in TV Guide at the time that mentioned a Singer-starring syndie in the development pipeline). However, while Dar could talk the animals into doing his bidding, he couldn't do the same with viewers, and so, that was the end of that. Almost.

Daniel Goddard as TV's BeastMaster
While Singer's Dar never made the transition to a weekly skein, that didn't stop the property from again coming to TV three years later, with BeastMaster: The Series (note the capitalized "m") beginning its syndicated run in fall of '99. This time, it was Aussie model Daniel Goddard who essayed the title role (though Singer would later show up in a recurring role as the wizard Dartanus -- note the name). And while they again paid due lip-service to the Andre Norton novel that got the whole thing started (clearly using a very loose definition of the phrase "inspired by") TV's BeastMaster owed far more to the films than anything that Norton put to the page. Here's the intro:

Amazingly enough, even with three failed tries before it, the show managed to take off, finding a measure of success (syndicated success, mind you, but success all the same) that kept it on the air for three seasons and 66 episodes. I honestly don't remember enough about the series to give a valid assessment of quality, but it probably benefited from the fact that the TV budget wasn't much of a downward slide from the budgetary basement the features lived in. If anything, it was almost a step up. And while the stories were decent enough, I'm guessing the main audience was folks who just wanted to watch the impossibly buff Goddard traipsing through Vancouver forests wearing a loincloth and chest-straps. Check out the full pilot below and decide for yourself:

While BeastMaster: The Series ended its run more than ten years ago, with the DVDs long out-of-print (and probably not worth the price they're asking), there are quite a few eps such as that available for viewing on YouTube (for now, anyway -- let's see how long that lasts). I don't know if there are any plans to do anything more with the property (or even who holds the rights), but given this age where any IP with the barest hint of extant public awareness being put on the reboot track, I wouldn't doubt that we'll see Dar walking and talking to the animals again before too long. In fact, Dave Trumbore at Collider had that exact thoughr last November, penning a piece on how he'd like to see Beastmaster brought back. Meh. I guess.

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