September 2, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A belated sequel to the 1982 original, Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time sees Marc Singer returning to the role of Dar, a barbarian warrior who can communicate with and control animals, and who in the first film uses this power to defeat an evil wizard. In the sequel, Dar learns that his previously-unknown half-brother Arklon (Wings Hauser) plans to conquer the world with the help of a sorceress named Lyranna (Sarah Douglas). Arklon and Lyranna use a trans-dimensional portal – the eponymous portal of time – to travel to contemporary Los Angeles, where they intend to steal a nuclear bomb and bring it back to their world with them; Dar and his animal companions also travel through the portal to stop them, teaming up with a local woman named Jackie (Kari Wührer) along the way. The film was not well-received by critics at the time, but there is a fun and campy time to be had with it, and although allegedly director Sylvio Tabet stole the film out from underneath the original director Jim Wynorski, resulting in lawsuits and acrimony, he nevertheless keeps the action moving at a decent clip in what would prove to be his only effort behind the camera.

The original 1982 Beastmaster boasted a terrific fantasy score by the great Lee Holdridge, including a memorable main theme, but the sequel was scored by Robert Folk. Beastmaster 2 was the third great score of 1991 by Folk, after The Neverending Story II and Toy Soldiers, and capped for him what was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed years of his career. It’s always been a great personal frustration for me that a composer as genuinely outstanding as Folk is spent so many years scoring truly awful films. I can count on one hand how many of his films had any sort of positive critical response; maybe the original Police Academy, maybe his Ace Ventura sequel, maybe the cult animated film The Thief and the Cobbler. These are slim pickings. But, throughout it all, Folk has excelled, writing score after score of absolutely superb music that vastly outshines the film for which it was written. Beastmaster 2 is another one of those.

The score is a massive orchestral fantasy epic, recorded in Germany with the Berlin Radio Concert Orchestra, who do their level best to inject an appropriate amount of power, but occasionally the depth and complexity of Folk’s writing threatens to overwhelm the capacity of the performance, resulting in a few flubbed notes here and there. Fans of the original score may be disappointed to learn that Folk abandoned all of Lee Holdridge’s themes for the sequel, but thankfully he replaced them with a set of all-new melodies which are their equal, and then some. After a brief moment of exotic and turbulent build-up in the “Main Title” – listen to the excellent writing for low-end woodwinds underneath all the mysterious, enigmatic orchestral lines – the new theme for Dar forms the cornerstone of the score’s standout cue, “Dar the Hero”.

In this almost 10-minute epic, Folk wrings everything he can out of his orchestra; he begins by moving through a series of moody textures for Middle Eastern-inflected woodwinds and percussion items, heavy brass textures, and slithery, twisting strings. Melodic ideas are hinted at here and there, but for the first couple of minutes this is mostly atmosphere. A tribal rhythmic idea emerges after the 2:30 mark, insistent and unstoppable, while brasses and woodwinds dance around it, and tambourines add to the alien-sounding flair. Gradually the intensity increases, and Folk erupts into the first of the score’s many action sequences; rampaging beds of brass, horns layered against trombones and trumpets, compete with swirling complicated string figures and tumultuous percussion. After the 5:00 mark the music begins to adopt a bold, adventurous tone, full of brightly flashing brass fanfares and lithe, nimble string runs.

Eventually, after several minutes of this excellent action build-up, Folk finally presents his pièce de résistance – the first full statement of Dar’s magnificent theme, which kicks in fully at the 8:31 mark. It’s just terrific – gloriously old-fashioned, unashamedly heroic, delighting in its swashbuckling brass-led revelry, Erich Wolfgang Korngold filtered through Basil Poledouris and Conan the Barbarian. It’s one of my favorite things that Folk has ever written, and it’s not just a feelgood piece – there’s some real brilliance at work here. The way Folk has all the different sections of the brass section doing different things simultaneously, while the woodwinds dart deftly around it all, is a masterclass in orchestration and counterpoint.

Balancing this is a secondary theme, which comes to represent Dar’s relationship with his animal friends, and with Jackie, the human woman he befriends when he journeys through the portal of time, and who guides him through the unfamiliar urban landscape of Los Angeles. Cues like “Creature’s Story,” “Jackie Alone on Desert,” “Jackie Gets Some Sleep,” and especially “Travel Montage” showcase the oft-overlooked softer and romantic side of Folk’s music personality, and each contain some truly beautiful passages for breathy woodwinds, shimmering strings, and plucked basses which give the whole thing a classical, Vivaldi-like tone. When Dar’s theme swells into a lush crescendo during the “Travel Montage” the effect is truly gorgeous – I especially love those impossibly high, searching strings, which he also used in The Neverending Story II – and it makes me wonder what Folk could have done had his agent been able to secure a rich and melodramatic screen romance for him to score.

However, these moments of passion and intimacy are just diversions, and the meat of the rest of the score is action. The dark, throbbing brass and percussion clusters at the beginning of “Through the Portal” are a recurring idea related to the villain of the piece, Dar’s half-brother Arklon, while the more magical and mystical string writing represents the Portal of Time itself. Some of the more fantastical textures here remind me very much of James Horner’s score for Krull, especially in the way Folk uses metallic percussion, chimes, and glockenspiels to undercut the mass of orchestral power and give it an almost miraculous sheen. “Swamp Creature Attacks” is a frenetic explosion of chattering brass and mesmerizing percussion, some of which feels like vintage John Williams, and which also has a slightly different sound due to Folk’s use of subtle electronics.

“Mind Suck” creeps towards horror territory with some dissonant, impressionistic instrumental collisions and an overall unsettling atmosphere. “Police Escape” is another setting of Arklon’s intense, percussive theme surrounded by throbbing brass pulses. “I.D. Badges” moves away from the Basil Poledouris Conan sound, and instead adopts more of the stylistics he brought to scores like Robocop and Cherry 2000. Folk layers his orchestra with a bed of urgent, bubbling electronic pulses that illustrate the contemporary setting, and, again, Folk’s brass writing is especially outstanding, performing runs and trills and pulses to drive the action forward. This continues on in to the superb but brief “Get Arklon,” which also revisits some of the more playful and adventurous music from “Dar the Hero,” and continues on again through both “The Great Escape” and “Sharawk Leads the Way,” which maintain the bombast to resolutely excellent effect. Listen to the insane brass exclamations towards the end of “Sharawk Leads the Way” – if I didn’t know any better, I would assume it was Elliot Goldenthal that had written this. Weaving through many of these cues are numerous allusions to, and direct statements of, Dar’s theme, all of which are always extremely satisfying when they appear.

The film’s 11-minute finale begins with the enormous “Neutron Detonator,” in which Folk uses repetitive electronic textures as a metronomic countdown to impending nuclear oblivion. The orchestra builds in scope and intensity as the cue progresses, eventually climaxing with a final battle between Dar and Arklon. Folk pits both their musical identities against each other in contrapuntal conflict – Arklon’s raw brass and raggedly tumultuous percussion against Dar’s tonal heroism. Of course, Dar wins the day, and the piece concludes with an epic, noble statement of his theme as the threat is vanquished and he saves the world. The conclusive “Key to the Heart“ is the score’s sweeping finale, which revisits both the love theme and Dar’s theme with richness and romanticism. The lilt in the strings, the elegance in the woodwinds, the iridescent luster of the electronics, the glint of the chimes, the majesty of the brass, the soaring final statement of Dar’s theme. It’s all just outstanding.

The score album for Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time was released when the film came out by producer Douglass Fake on his Intrada label; Fake has always been a big supporter of Folk’s career, and has released many of his scores over the years when other labels wouldn’t touch anything to do with those films with a barge pole. The CD album went out of print rather quickly, and was a prized collectible for many years, until BSX Records and producer Ford A. Thaxton re-issued it (with identical content, but digitally re-mastered sound) in 2013. This release was a 1,500 copy limited edition for physical media, but it is also available to stream and as a digital download.

As I said before, for me, 1991 was the cinematic pinnacle of Robert Folk’s film music career. Between February and August of that year he wrote three of his all-time best scores – The NeverEnding Story II, Toy Soldiers, and this one – and the quality of them should have finally, finally, moved him away from the risible junk of Police Academy 35 or whatever, and resulted in him scoring the prestigious dramas, action movies, fantasies, and romances his talent so richly deserved. Alas this was not to be and, with just one or two notable exceptions, Hollywood promptly went right back to asking him to write outstanding music for trash. It’s such a shame, because Beastmaster 2 *is* outstanding music. It’s one of the great fantasy action scores of the decade, a high water mark for the genre, and the fact that it is so comparatively unknown thirty years later is disappointing. Do yourself a favor; seek this score out, and then seek out everything else from Robert Folk that you can find, and join me in hoping that, in some alternate universe, he is a multiple Oscar nominee, with an amount of acclaim that matches his talent. Maybe we can use the portal of time to get there.

Buy the Beastmaster 2 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (1:52)
  • Dar the Hero (9:49)
  • Creature’s Story (2:22)
  • Through the Portal (5:09)
  • Jackie Alone on Desert (1:29)
  • Swamp Creature Attacks (2:35)
  • Travel Montage (3:08)
  • Mind Suck (2:05)
  • Police Escape (1:06)
  • Jackie Gets Some Sleep (0:51)
  • I.D. Badges (4:25)
  • Get Arklon (1:47)
  • The Great Escape (4:26)
  • Sharawk Leads the Way (3:32)
  • Neutron Detonator (5:40)
  • Key to the Heart (5:32)

Running Time: 55 minutes 48 seconds

Intrada MAF-7019D (1991)

Music composed and conducted by Robert Folk. Performed by The Berlin Radio Concert Orchestra. Orchestrations by Robert Folk, Pete Tomashek and Richard Bronskill. Recorded and mixed by Brian Masterson. Edited by Doug Lackey. Album produced by Robert Folk and Douglass Fake.

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