Guilty Pleasures: Masters of the Universe
By the power of Grayskull... does our Scott McKenzie have the power or not?
Let me begin by pointing out the most obvious and condemning fact about this movie—this is Masters of the Universe in name only. There is none of the humour or charm of the original cartoon and there are significant exclusions from the story. Gone are Orko, King Randor and Battle Cat to name just a few key characters. I know the budget was an issue, but come on—how much does it really cost to rent a lion for a day and spray it with green paint? The muscle-bound Dolph Lundgren may have seemed like a good choice for He-Man, but he doesn't exactly ooze charisma and he's regularly upstaged by Skeletor and the incredibly annoying Orko substitute Gwildor (Exhibit A).
Exhibit A: Come back Orko, all is forgiven!
One of the most important character traits is completely missed out without any explanation. At the beginning He-Man is already He-Man and at no point does anyone say 'Hey, where's Prince Adam? I haven't seen him for ages.' Also conspicuous by their absence are Skeletor's main henchmen, with the exception of Evil-Lyn and a Beast Man that looks like he's the black sheep of Chewbacca's family. Instead of the live action Trap Jaw and Jitsu that the fans were looking for, we get new bad guys that are pretty useless. Granted, Blade is a neat addition, allowing He-Man to have a proper sword fight, but it's obvious that the likes of Karg were only added in to sell new action figures (Exhibit B).
Exhibit B: The real reason the movie was made
The whole production has a distinct whiff of a lack of imagination, with the Star Wars saga being the subject of the most blatant rip-offs. The guys in black suits are effectively Stormtroopers, Frank Langella's Skeletor is a cross between Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine and the colour coding of the lasers of green and blue for goodies and red for baddies is copied and pasted here. On top of that, the screenplay is littered with moments where the actors are expected to spout a load of nonsense just to prove they're from another planet. Do you know what a preton, chromon or parsecion are? Neither do I, but everyone on screen seems to. Worst of all is when Teela looks to the camera after shooting a load of bad guys and declares herself a 'Woman-At-Arms' (Exhibit C).
Exhibit C: Turning the audience into cringers
Masters of the Universe is unfortunately a product of the 80s, with all the negative connotations that brings. We've got a MacGuffin that's essentially an intergalactic Casio keyboard, soundtrack courtesy of Living in a Box (remember them? Thought not) and neon and big hair galore. However, the worst crime that is committed by the existence of this movie is that it stopped a decent version of Masters of the Universe getting made for over twenty years, with a new, more faithful version in the offing. I plead with the jury to find this movie guilty—it was no more than an attempt to get cash out of parents' pockets in the 80s and it's even less relevant now.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what my learned friend for the prosecution fails to realise is that Masters of the Universe was little more than a cynical attempt to make money from the beginning. The cartoon was filled with different bad guys just so Mattel could knock a new action figure out every few weeks. Why is it so bad that they did exactly the same for the movie? The prosecution may have hit the point that the filmmakers had a lack of imagination, but this is more than made up for in their ambition.
Sure, the opening credits and score are ripped off Superman and the production looks like a low-budget Flash Gordon at times, but it's clear to me that they wanted to make a movie on as grand a scale as possible. A lot of time and money went into the huge sets, so much so that the production eventually sank Cannon Pictures, which in itself may have been a blessing. The reason for this is that joint production almost began on a sequel to Masters of the Universe and a big screen adaptation of Spider-Man at the same time. That's right— Masters of the Universe 2 and Spider-Man were going to be filmed on the same set and when Cannon went under, the screenplay for the sequel turned into Jean-Claude Van Damme's Cyborg! Exhibit D is a link to a site that contains interesting details about the doomed production, including the summary of a plot that would surely have been even further away from the He-Man we know.
"Albert Pyun directs the sequel, which takes the superhero to Earth disguised as a football quarterback." (Source: Los Angeles Times / January 24, 1988) www.gmrmedia.com/dolph/dolph-in/masters2.html
Exhibit D: At least we didn't have to watch the sequel
The performances may be no better than any 80s action movie, but Masters of the Universe is noteworthy because it features the first big screen appearances of Courtney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill, who would later play Tom Paris in Star Trek: Voyager. Interestingly, the Sorceress of Grayskull is played by the same woman who plays Monica's mother in Friends. Yes, this is a movie firmly rooted in the 80s, but one good thing about that is the appearance of the always-watchable James Tolkan. It doesn't matter whether he's threatening Marty McFly with detention or threatening Maverick with a job of flying rubber dogshit out of Hong Kong, if you want bald, threatening and funny at the same time, you've come to the right place.
Exhibit E: Look at me, mum!
Masters of the Universe may not be the greatest movie ever made, but the filmmakers did all they could on a budget with interference from both the studio and Mattel, who insisted on including contest winner Richard Szponder as a character called Pigboy in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo (exhibit E). It may not have been a huge success, but it holds a place in the hearts of many children of the 80s and even at the time it found a small but enthusiastic audience who appreciated it (exhibit F: ignore the first half of the video).
Exhibit F: Somebody loves the movie
Now I must ask the visitors of DVDActive once more—do you find Masters of the Universe guilty or not guilty?
Editorial by Scott McKenzie
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