In an age when nature and magic ruled the world, an extraordinary legend was born—The BeastMaster!
BeastMaster is the television series based—however tenuously—on the works of science fiction author Andre Norton. However, this syndicated series seems to owe more (though not nearly enough) to the 1982 film The Beastmaster than with any of Norton's work
Facts of the Case
Dar (Daniel Goddard) is the BeastMaster, a mysterious warrior with the ability to communicate telepathically with animals of all kinds. He is one of the last two survivors of the Sula tribe; the other is his long-lost love, Kyra (Natalie Mendoza). The evil King Zad (Steven Grives) of the Terrons has captured Kyra, and the quest to rescue her becomes a recurring theme throughout Dar's adventures. Joining Dar on his journeys is Tao (Jackson Raine), a scholarly wanderer whose mental aptitude is matched only by his physical ineptitude. Tao talks a lot and falls down a lot, and comes up with brilliant inventions like writing, numbers, maps, and the wheel; Dar cannot see the significance of any of Tao's silliness and is unimpressed. Rounding out Dar's entourage are his pair of ferrets named Kodo and Podo, his loyal tiger named Ruh, and an eagle named Shirac.
In addition to King Zad and his semi-fearsome Terron warriors, a wide array of colorful antagonists cross Dar's path on a regular basis. The Sorceress (Monika Schnarre) is an on-again, off-again ally and lust interest for King Zad. She is immortal and has been forbidden to explore human emotions by her master, the Ancient One (Grahame Bond). There was a time, long ago, when she and another apprentice sorcerer broke the rules and loved each other; when the ancient one found out he punished them a way that reverberates throughout the story of the BeastMaster. The Sorceress is not evil, at least not consistently, and on at least one occasion actually helps the BeastMaster.
Dar also faces off from time to time with the jungle spirit that gave him his powers. The lovely Demon Curupira (Emilie de Ravin, Roswell) turns up occasionally to chastise Dar for not doing enough to protect her precious animals, or to order him to fulfill incredibly difficult missions. She even uses her powers to help him out once in a while, although she is usually happier to make his life difficult.
With this assortment of friends, enemies, and characters that fall somewhere in between, Dar journeys throughout a collection of mystical lands as a sort of cross between Robin Hood and Tarzan, defending his animal friends and helping helpless people in their fight against evil forces.
BeastMaster is a joint Canadian/Australian production, primarily shot in Australia. The non-North American shooting shows itself in various interesting ways, such as the various cultures and people Dar encounters on his travels. Many of the culture he encounters show distinct Pacific island or Asian influences that might not have made it into an American or European production. The actors featured in the series are a mixture of Canucks and Aussies. This is excellent for the TV industries of both countries, but it is fairly obvious that BeastMaster was intended for North American consumption. It is fairly amusing to listen to Goddard, de Ravin, and other antipodean actors (and, to a lesser extent, the Canadians) doing their best to fake generic American accents; it is also unfortunate, as it shows the extent to which American tastes dictate what happens on television around the world. American audiences won't stand for a good guy who talks funny; accents are acceptable for bad guys or quirky minor characters only.
Some of the props and costumes (especially those of the Terron warriors) tend to look cheap and tacky, but overall there is a sense that a lot of effort was put into this series to make it a quality product. The writing is unusually good for a series of this kind, with a real attempt to create multilayered plots and ongoing character arcs. Interestingly enough, the various supporting characters and adversaries benefit the most from this. At times, the relatively straightforward adventures of Dar and Tao seem like an interruption in the meatier story of the tangled web being woven by the Sorceress, the Ancient One, King Zad, and others.
The acting performances are nothing special, about what one would expect from a made-for-syndication TV series about a warrior who can talk to the animals. Grives is exactly what the doctor ordered as King Zad, although the writing often disposes the character to over-the-top displays of evilness. Grahame Bond is mischievous and quirky as the Ancient One; de Ravin is spunky and mischievous as Curupira. Goddard is good-natured as the BeastMaster, but is not often called on to be much other than stoic or wise. Jackson Raine knows his place, primarily as comic relief, although he does get to show some emotion from time to time. He is hampered by a haircut and an accent that are far too contemporary for his ancient setting. Probably the most questionable member of the cast is Monika Schnarre as the Sorceress. Schnarre is undeniably gorgeous, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a living Barbie doll (and I mean that in a good way). However, her flat delivery and seeming vacantness do not lend credibility to the character; neither does the fact that her forehead is so motionless that it appears she has been mainlining botox.
ADV has packaged all twenty-two episodes of BeastMaster's first season in a six disc set. The episodes were apparently all shot in a widescreen format, and they are presented in anamorphic widescreen here. Picture quality is much better than I would have expected. There are occasional episodes that show considerable image softness, but that seems to be a problem with the source material, not the transfer. Colors are occasionally a bit off, such as plant life that comes across much more blue than green, or flesh tones that creep a bit too far into the red. However, these too seem like problems (or perhaps intentional choices) with the source material and cinematography. For the most part the picture is crystal clear and lifelike, with only minor edge enhancement and other standard defects visible.
The audio on these discs is a surprisingly good Dolby 5.1 mix that does a nice job of spreading sounds among the various channels. There is a lot of identifiable directionality, although without much movement between channels. The sound is rendered nicely through most ranges of pitch and dynamics. As an added completely non-scientific measure, it passed the "it fooled my cat" test. When Ruh roared for the first time, my cat ran for cover behind the couch. If that's not an endorsement of the audio quality, I don't know what is.
The only special features included are a collection of TV spots, and an assortment of trailers for other ADV sci-fi TV season sets. The TV spots are short "tune in next week" style promos; 22 of them—one for each episode in the season—are included. They are nice to have but only mildly interesting.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One of the central differences between BeastMaster and the 1982 film is scope. In the film, Dar's abilities were allowed him to affect the destinies of kingdoms and empires. In the smaller, episodic environment of the TV series, his powers often become an end in themselves, or involve him in smaller, more intimate stories. The film version of the story, however cheesy, had an epic feel that the television series simply does not maintain. The series often gets sidetracked into thinly-veiled environmentalist cheerleading, which leads to some of the weaker storylines in the first season. Also missing from the television version is the mood of the film. The movie managed to convey a slightly darker and more serious mood, while not taking Dar himself quite so seriously. On television, Dar is always treated with deadly earnestness while avoiding come of the darker aspects that made the feature film so oddly compelling.
There's not a lot here that is new. The feel is uncomfortably close to Hercules or Xena at times, without the cheeky camp humor. However, it is clear that a lot of work went into this series to at least try to make it interesting and worthwhile, and that effort deserves some recognition. It's not great television, but I found it pleasantly diverting, even if it really isn't anything like the film I know and love so well.
Not guilty! It's a bit silly, a bit stuffy when it should be light and a bit tame when it should be grim, but overall BeastMaster Season One: The Complete Collection is, at least, not terrible.
ADV is to be commended for a very nice audiovisual presentation; perhaps next time some special features that gave some background on the production of BeastMaster would be nice.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• TV Spots
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