The very first thing I need to mention is a spoiler, because it will immediately rule out a certain section of the viewing public and they deserve to know about it beforehand. The dog dies. He gets an arrow to the gut and still manages to drag our hero to safety. After that, I was fully prepared to beat the bad guys to death myself, but luckily we have Marc Singer to do that for us.
This is a classic movie. Not necessarily great, but classic – if you think swords-and-sorcery, chances are this will be one of the first movies that pops into your head. Marc Singer is Dar (the first of a huge number of truly awful fantasy names), who is torn from the stomach of his murdered mother and is about to be sacrificed by Maax until his father, the King, intervenes and banishes the evil priest-wizard. The reason for all these shenanigans, aside from Maax just really liking to sacrifice children, is there’s a prophecy that the King’s unborn son will be the man who eventually kills him. Or so his hideous crones tell him, anyway. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a film where the prophecy was a load of rubbish?
Dar is taken from the city for his own safety and is brought up in a peaceful village, trained by his foster-father and he also grows to realise he has the power to commune with animals – he can read their thoughts, and they his; plus he can communicate with them, which may help him a time or two in the 120 minutes to come (this is a long, epic-feeling movie). Of course, the evil Jun, with their horned helmets and general unpleasant demeanour, come to wipe out his village, and were it not for the dog I mentioned above, Dar would be a goner too. Anyway, off he sets on his quest to kill Maax and restore peace to the kingdom.
Now, if you’re an animal rights supporter, enthusiast, or are just a bit squeamish, this will probably not be the film for you. A couple of ferrets come to Dar’s rescue when he falls in quicksand, and after he gets out one of them falls in – if you’re thinking “there’s no way they’d actually put a ferret in quicksand” you’d be wrong. It disappears under the surface, and it’s not an effect of any sort (luckily, it’s either the world’s most docile creature, or just stunned at how it nearly died, when it’s pulled out). He meets up with a black tiger later on, which is just a normal tiger with dyed fur. A badass creature, you’d think, until you read about it and realise the tiger died a little over a year later from an infection caused by that same dye. I thought watching it fall into a trap was bad enough! The horses that are forced to run through fire, and the eagle who refused to fly on cue so they dropped it from a hot air balloon, are mild by comparison…it feels incredibly uncomfortable to watch these segments, to be honest, and makes me wish they’d just used crappy models.
If you can get past all that stuff, though, you’ll get a film which has a lovely visual aspect and some really impressive sequences. The bat-vampire-people who Dar “befriends” look amazing, and the final battle on the steps of the temple looks like they used a real temple – it does not appear to be a set at all. This visual flair is more understandable when you learn that the director is the great Don Coscarelli, who made the “Phantasm” films, “John Dies At The End” and “Bubba-Ho-Tep”. There’s just enough humour to keep things going, another Coscarelli trademark, and he gets a truly fantastic performance from Rip Torn, who in his every look and movement knows he’s doomed, knows he’s at the end of his days, but still desperately tries to save himself. Almost too good for a film like this, if I’m being honest.
Add in the awesome John Amos to the mix, and a pretty decent turn from Singer, looking absolutely ripped at all times, and the Plus column is starting to look fuller. The very beautiful and very 80s Tanya Roberts plays the slave-girl love interest, although interestingly Coscarelli’s first choice was an 18 year old Demi Moore. Its length plays in its favour, as well, giving it the sense of an epic rather than just one individual story – there are many bad S&S films I’d never have been able to stand if they’d gone 2 hours, but this one was a breeze. The animals are used in interesting ways – stealing important stuff, opening doors, seeing great distances…just keep repeating “they didn’t know the dye was poisonous, and they had a ferret wrangler on hand the instant that fella disappeared under the quicksand” and you should be alright.
Coscarelli sold his rights to the franchise and the characters, and has nothing to do with the sequels, or the much later TV series. Hopefully the people behind parts 2 and 3 had a nicer attitude to the animals, eh?
Rating: thumbs up