Beastmaster, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jan 05, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Beastmaster, The (4K UHD Review)

Director

Don Coscarelli

Release Date(s)

1982 (November 24, 2020)

Studio(s)

MGM/UA (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A

Review

Dedicated to the memory of the incomparable Tanya Roberts.

The legacy of The Beastmaster as a cable TV staple throughout the 1980s and 1990s has been firmly established but somewhat lost in the shuffle when it comes to modern home video releases. In the film, Marc Singer stars as Dar, a warrior with the ability to communicate with animals and bend them to his will. After his village is attacked and his father is murdered by the invading forces of Juns, he sets out on a journey of revenge against the high priest Maax (Rip Torn), meeting a beautiful slave (Tanya Roberts) and a fellow warrior (John Amos) along his way.

Don Coscarelli helmed this swords and sandals sci-fi adventure, but it was subsequently relinquished from his hands during post production when he was basically locked out of the editing room for reasons unknown, having no control over the final product. The Beastmaster ultimately didn’t do well upon its initial theatrical release, but thanks to cable, it had a major second life. But the film and its sequels not being in circulation more frequently is a real shame, meaning that a generation or two has passed since their popularity on TV was at an all-time high. However, no one should ever accuse the film of not being entertaining. It’s mostly lighthearted fun with occasional bits of drama and darkness, but also a reminder of a simpler time when movies like it were being made on a regular basis for markets all over the world.

The Beastmaster was shot on 35 mm film using Arriflex cameras and sphercial lenses. It was processed photochemically and presented theatrically in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Vinegar Syndrome’s 16-bit 4K Ultra HD restoration is derived from a 35 mm interpositive element and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10) with the supervision of Don Coscarelli. As explained in the text before the film begins, the original negative is believed to be destroyed. It goes on say that “Due to the many effects sequences created during the film’s post-production, some damage was unable to be removed without compromising the integrity of the image. Furthermore, due to various lab techniques utilized during production, the size and color of the film grain will fluctuate. This is neither a defect in the film elements utilized to create this restoration nor in the disc itself. It is inherent to the film.”

Taking all of this into account, and the fact that the film hasn’t had a fresh scan from original elements in decades, the presentation on display here is flawed yet natural, and a definite upgrade. Those aforementioned lab issues come down to random shots appearing out of alignment, and effects shots featuring chunkier grain. The rest of the presentation is wonderful, with more refined grain and a major uptick in image detail. Everything appears much sharper, keeping in mind that it’s sourced from a lower generation element. Blacks and shadow detail tend to crush during nighttime scenes, some of which would likely be inherent even with access to the OCN (the film was shot by John Alcott, who also lensed Barry Lyndon, which is known for its extremely low levels of light). The color palette is quite pleasant. The many landscapes showcase beautiful tans, browns, and greens, while costumes and objects exhibit bold swatches of red, orange, and purple. Occasional molding could unfortunately not be repaired, but these moments are few and far between. Everything else appears bright and stable with little to no damage leftover.

The audio is included in English 2.0 and 5.1 in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio format, with optional subtitles in English SDH. Having the original stereo mix is a real treat, yet the 5.1 is no slouch either. Both tracks excel when it comes to panning and surround activity, giving the world of the film life sonically. Dialogue reproduction is excellent, even the obvious overdubbing. Sound effects, particularly the growls of Ruh, have great depth. The same can be said of Lee Holdridge’s gorgeous score, which is staged well from speaker to speaker. Both tracks are also free of leftover hiss and damage, with only minor moments of distortion.

Included in this set are three discs: one UHD and two Blu-rays. The UHD and the first Blu-ray contain the original theatrical version of the film. The third Blu-ray is the most curious of all as it includes a slightly altered version of the film, changing five visual effects shots. The two shots (separated by a cut) of the Juns approaching Dar’s village of Emur originally featured a faded smoke in the distance. This new version features a more substantial billowing smoke instead. The two shots later in the film (also separated by a cut) of the Juns approaching Aruk have also been altered in this way. Lastly, a single shot of the eagle rescuing and carrying away Sacco’s child during Maax’s sacrifical ceremony features a more blurry view of the child, possibly to hide the original and obvious effect a bit more. Why these changes were made is unclear. They have no impact on the film at all and are so minor that they're easily missed since the rest of the film’s content remains the same. However, including them on a separate disc and not as the main presentation was probably the best option. It’s also worth pointing out that the two Blu-rays feature a 5.1 Dolby Digital track instead of DTS-HD.

The following extras are included on each disc, all presented in HD:

DISC ONE: UHD (THEATRICAL VERSION)

  • Audio Commentary with Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman, and Joe Lynch
  • Audio Commentary with Don Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman

DISC TWO: BLU-RAY (THEATRICAL VERSION)

  • Audio Commentary with Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman, and Joe Lynch
  • Audio Commentary with Don Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman
  • The Beastmaster Chronicles: Chapter 1 – Gateway Coscarelli (10:34)
  • The Beastmaster Chronicles: Chapter 2 – A Lion Doesn’t Have to Say He’s a Lion (19:42)
  • The Beastmaster Chronicles: Chapter 3 – Gasoline, Mortals, Diesel Fuel, and a Lot of It (19:45)
  • The Beastmaster Chronicles: Chapter 4 – A Blade of Grass (11:47)
  • The Beastmaster Chronicles: Chapter 5 – Close Your Eyes and Writer (10:10)
  • The Beastmaster Chronicles: Chapter 6 – Hey, Beastmaster’s On! (11:52)

DISC THREE: BLU-RAY (NEW FVX VERSION)

  • Audio Commentary with Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman, and Joe Lynch
  • Audio Commentary with Don Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman
  • The Saga of The Beastmaster (55:07)
  • Super 8 mm Home Movies with Commentary by Coscarelli and Pepperman (27:30)
  • Silent Outtake Footage (2:25)
  • Still Gallery (107 in all – 9:10)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:13)

The new audio commentary with Don Coscarelli, writer/producer Paul Pepperman, and moderator Joe Lynch is mostly Lynch asking Coscarelli and Pepperman questions. And since Lynch enthusiastically loves the film and has his own podcast, he dominates the conversation. The older audio commentary with Coscarelli and Pepperman, which was recorded for Anchor Bay’s 2001 DVD release, is a more satisfactory listen as the two men speak with each other about the making of the film in a more natural way. The Beastmaster Chronicles is a new 83-minute documentary about the film, directed by Elijah Drenner, and broken into six chapters with a Play All option. It’s an excellent piece that dives deep into the production and release of the film with filmmakers Adam Wingard and Joe Lynch, screenwriter Robert Cargill, director Don Coscarelli, co-writer and producer Paul Pepperman, actor Marc Singer, associate producer Frank K. Isaac Jr., actress Tanya Roberts, actor Josh Milrad, actor John Amos, makeup effects artist Mark Shostrom, animal trainer Boon Nar, costumer designer Betty Pecha Madden, son of the film’s swordmaker John Anselmo, composer Lee Holdridge, and sound designer Jeremey Hoenack.

Next is Perry Martin’s 2005 (also excellent) fifty-five minute documentary on the film The Saga of The Beastmaster, which features interviews with Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman, production designer Conrad E. Angone, Marc Singer, Tonya Roberts, and Josh Milrad. The Super 8 mm home movies are silent, but feature additional commentary by Coscarelli and Pepperman, which is a more nostalgic discussion as they watch the various behind-the-scenes footage together. The outtake footage is also silent, but does feature a deleted love scene between Dar and Kiri. The still gallery features 107 images of conceptual art, behind-the-scenes photos, continuity photographs, Japanese film programs, newspapers clippings, and multiple posters.

The three discs are housed inside a standard black UHD case within a slipcover featuring dual artwork on the front and back. This is housed inside a handsome book-like case which opens with the use of a nylon strap. Also inside is a 44-page insert booklet containing conceptual art, posters, and stills from the film, as well as the essays Remembering The Beastmaster by Don Coscarelli and The Animal Magnetism of The Beastmaster by Michael Gingold, and restoration information. All that’s missing is the film’s original screenplay, which was presented in PDF form via DVD-ROM on Anchor Bay’s 2001 Special Edition DVD release.

The Beastmaster (4K UHD)

Based solely on the challenges set against them, chief among them not having access to the original camera negative, Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K presentation of The Beastmaster, and the overall package it has arrived in, is a knock-out. It’s the kind of deluxe treatment that the film deserves and is a worthy addition to any UHD library.

- Tim Salmons

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