Monday, March 14, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: BEASTMASTER 2: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME (1991)

After a so-so performance at the box office, the original THE
BEASTMASTER garnered a strong following thanks to cable and home video. Producer Sylvio Tabet could smell the sweet scent of sequels, but decided to make some changes. Original director Don Coscarelli, an integral part of the first film’s success, is let go.  “Ah, that is okay,” the Lebanese producer thinks, “I know the perfect director - me!”  Big mistake #1.  Even worse, the BEASTMASTER team opted to use the age old A CONNETICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT “fish out of water” routine by having Dar and his animals transplanted to modern day Los Angeles.  Big mistake #2. So, almost 9 years to the day of the original film’s release, BEASTMASTER 2: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME was unleashed upon audiences in August 1991.

The sequel opens with a crawl explaining that “in the days following the death of King Zed, a darkness has fallen over the land of Arok.  The evil warlord Arklon, using unholy magic, has enslaved the people.” What?  Zed died in the final battle of the first film, so the kingdom saw no freedom at all and that final battle was for nothing?  And what happened to royal heir Tal?  Hmmm, I bet that leather clad John Amos character had something to do with that.  Anyway, Dar the Beastmaster (the returning Singer, now with bleach blonde hair) is in custody and brought before Arklon (VJ fave Wings Hauser) for execution.  Of course Dar escapes thanks to his beasts with Sharak getting a few nice claw scratches in Arklon’s face.  Oh, also Ruh the tiger is no longer black.  Dar lives to see another day as master of the beasts.

We immediately cut to Arklon, now sporting a Phantom of the Opera half-mask, and his men assaulting some rebels in the desert (we’re never told how much time has passed).  Lyranna (Sarah Douglas), a hip-talking witch (“Chill out”) traveling with the felled group, offers her services to Arklon and says she can provide something that will solidify his rule over the masses.  What on earth could it be?  I totally bet it is a TV pilot for AROKIAN IDOL.  Meanwhile, Dar is still running from the film’s opening encounter (I think).  He outsmarts some of Arklon’s men in a swamp but then runs afoul of a big ol’ swamp creature that – in a moment that truly shows Tabet didn’t give a damn – stops attacking when it sees the symbol burned on Dar’s hand.  In the mother of all laughable exposition bits, the monster stops to chat with Dar, revealing that she is King Zed’s accursed sister (yes, that makes her Dar’s aunt) and that Dar has an older half-brother who is…wait for it…Arklon, who he must kill.   Even funnier, the first film goes out of its way to show you Dar’s left hand was branded, whereas here the scar is on this right hand in this film:

Lyranna finally reveals her big secret – a time portal to the parallel universe of L.A. (“El aye?”), a place where she learned this hip language that also houses a neutron detonator.  “With the threat of such a weapon, I could rule unopposed,” Arklon drools.  Cut to modern day L.A. as Senator’s daughter Jackie Trent (Kari Wuhrer) finds herself being chased by cops.  Oh, those adorable teens. Somehow, Jackie ends up in the alley way that serves as the portal between two worlds and passes through, along with the two cop cars. Now think about this for a minute – in “our” world the portal looks like a brick wall.  So Jackie’s was literally driving head first into a brick wall.  Yes, this is the film’s heroine.  I guess that would explain why she sees nothing strange about going from the inner city to the desert in half-a-second and just keeps driving until she runs out of gas.

Anyway, let’s speed things up here. Jackie meets Dar, Arklon kidnaps Jackie, Dar fights to save her, and we finally get the entire crew in modern day L.A. around the 50 minute mark. Things will surely pick up now, right?  Oh…crap…Tabet just snuck in a “bad guys go shopping” routine and 80s music montage.  Wait a sec, did Dar really just drive past a theater showing BEASTMASTER II: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME? You bastard.  Good lord, put me out of my misery.  Okay, Arklon get the device, threatens to take it back to his world, Dar learns about rock ‘n roll and the phrase “asshole” (gee, I wonder if he will use it at the perfect time), Dar and Arklon fight, Dar wins, Arklon falls into a fiery pit, Dar leaves the ferrets in L.A. with Jackie, they don’t kiss, some pilgrims (including Michael Berryman) in Dar’s world worship Jackie’s abandoned Porsche, the end.

*Long sigh* Man, it didn’t have to be like this.  It really didn’t.  Just think of every imaginable misstep one can take with a sequel to a popular film and double it with this series’ sophomore effort.  First off, you have this ridiculous premise. The “stranger in a stange land” gimmick is something that a film series usually relies on when they are on their last legs, not the second film.  Amazingly, it took five credited screenwriters to piece together the screenplay.  This unfolds like it was made by folks who had never seen the original film, which I find hard to believe as Tabet freakin’ made it. Amusingly, even Tabet now admits transplanting Dar from his native land was a bad idea in this interview with at our friend Don at SCHLOCKMANIA.  I also love the fact that they introduce a plotline (Dar being second born) that completely undermines everything from the first film and makes King Zed look like a dumbass for having lost not one, not two, but three sons.

Next you have to marvel at the film’s complete lack of, well, brains.  Like the aforementioned opening crawl and hand gaffe, the film is chock full of brainless moments.  For example, Arklon makes it to the portal and is about to go through when Dar stops him.  The whole freakin’ military arrives at this alley and Arklon’s decision is to run toward them instead of back into the portal three feet from him. Tabet just makes so many nonsensical choices that you have to wonder if the man is all there.  Then again, this is a guy who decided to cut away to a shot of chimp clapping during the final sword fight.  Amazingly, BEASTMASTER 2 is not the worst sequel to come out in 1991. *shoots Paul Smith stink-eye in HIGHLANDER 2’s direction*

Even more puzzling to me is Marc Singer’s performance, which has him playing Dar like simpleton Lennie from Of Mice and Men.  Now I can understand if he is like that once he reaches modern times and is confused by what he sees, but he is like this even in his own time period.  Perhaps chewing on too many roots in the sun all day finally cooked his brains? And what’s with the hair? Thankfully, we have Wings Hauser and Sarah Douglas on backup duty.  Hauser gives his all as the ruthless ruler, realizing he ain’t doing Shakespeare but still maintaining that royal tone. And you have to love his laugh. Douglas provides a surprising amount of cleavage (sorry, this one is nudity free kids) so it is shame her character just disappears.

Believe it or not, this actually opened at a theater near me that summer of 1991 and I didn’t go see it.  I guess I had a more refined taste at the time, taking in classics like BODY PARTS and DOUBLE IMPACT.  I’m really kicking myself that I didn’t go see this in the theater as it would definitely be a badge of courage to awe my fellow Video Junkies. And, honestly, when would I have ever had a chance to see Marc Singer, Wings Hauser and Robert Z’Dar on the big screen?  Wilson, you dumbass!  If I ever find that time portal, I’m going back to 1991 and forcing my 16-year-old self to go see BEASTMASTER 2: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME.  Oh, and I’m also totally going to become Charlie Sheen’s coke dealer.

Sadly, while the film bombed in theaters, it did well on home video and Tabet decided to keep digging in that BEASTMASTER goldmine. Thankfully, my commitment ends here and I'll let Tom fill you all in on the further adventures of the Beastmaster.

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