Review by Cullen Gallagher
Posted on 18 August 2010
Source Bootleg DVD of Republic Pictures VHS
Categories Favorites: Time Travel
Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time was released in 1991, almost a decade after the original film hit the big screen in 1982. The sequel suffers from some cinematic strain of amnesia, as it seems to have forgotten not only many small details from the earlier film, but also what made the initial sword-and-sandal throwback successful. While Canadian star Marc Singer reprises his role as the beefcake warrior Dar, even his animal sidekicks (with whom he can telepathically communicate) have mysteriously changed: Ruh, who was originally a black panther, is now an orange striped tiger; and both Podo and Kodo, his thieving ferrets, are back for the sequel, even though one of them died while fighting Rip Torn in the previous movie. Only Sherak, Dar’s trusty eagle, seems unchanged. Ah, if only more things had remained the same—but the filmmakers decided to make many changes to Dar’s world, all of them unfortunate, and none of them improvements.
As the sequel opens, Dar has been captured by the evil ruler Arklon, who has enslaved most of the population into following him through black magic, and those not under his spell he has killed. Arklon is also in possession of a magical laser gun that, unbeknownst to him, is also a key to another dimension. A witch promises to show Arklon the true power of the key, which can unlock the gate to modern day Los Angeles, where there exists a weapon so powerful that Arklon could rule the world unchallenged—a nuclear bomb. Arklon’s plans soon go awry when Dar escapes, and a brash teenager, Jackie Trent, accidentally drives her Porche through the portal from the other side. Holding her hostage, Arklon uses Jackie as his personal tour guide of LA. So, it is up to Dar to go through the portal, save the girl, kill Arklon, save the world, and also make it back to his own world before he is stuck in the modern world forever.
It’s a sticky plot, one that is muddled down with even more unnecessary subplots, like how Dar has to kill the brother he never even knew he had. The basic narrative of Dar avenging his village and saving the girl is clearly rehashed from the first film, and while it may not have been original to begin with, it worked in the original film because of the script’s simplicity and clarity. Here, the plot is so convoluted that it hardly makes sense on the most superficial level. Why does Arklon even need a nuclear weapon?Â Rip Torn didn’t need one in the earlier film—what did evil warlords do before nukes? Arklon already has a laser that can control the elements, create explosions, and cause minor earthquakes and wind storms, not to mention his own black magic skills and his ability to steal people’s thoughts by touching their temple. All things considered, he was doing pretty well conquering the world on his own. The existence of the laser/key also is confounding—how did he get it and still not know about its time travel capabilities?
Absent from Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time are the original movie’s creative and technical crew, none of whom were brought back for the sequel. Crucially missing are director/co-writer Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm fame), whose grotesque imagination and low-budget resourcefulness gave the original Beastmaster a distinctive feel that was true to the sword-and-sandal genre without succumbing to pastiche; cinematographer John Alcott (Stanley Kubrick’s DP on A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining), who brought a photographic elegance to the picture; and a host of veteran stunt performers from Westerns who made the action sequences come alive. Even the opening fight scenes from Beastmaster 2 suffer from slow kicks and unimaginative choreography. The special effects, convincing and creative in the original, are similarly disappointing in the sequel.
Most of all, Beastmaster 2 lacks both any sense of any reverence for its genre’s heritage. Even Dar is dumbed down to a pitiable level. While he was never one for soliloquies, he was at least capable of coherent speech in the original. In the sequel, however, he can barely manage caveman articulation: “Roots. Delicious. It will keep us alive,” he explains to Jackie as he makes dinner. Beastmaster 2 director Sylvio Tabet seems satisfied with the most basic of contrasts between the two worlds: Dar’s comparison of Rock n’ Roll to an earthquake; Arklon’s distaste for modern clothing; and Jackie asking if Dar was raised by wolves. Whereas with The Beastmaster Coscarelli achieved a dignified balance of action and humor, in the sequel Tabet sinks to the lowest level of self-parody. Perhaps this explains why Beastmaster 2 has faded into out-of-print VHS obscurity, while the original has seen multiple DVD editions (though it, too, is now unavailable). Time, it appears, is not on the side of Beastmaster 2.
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