Movie Review: Masters Of The Universe

Masters Of The Universe

Distributed By: Cannon Films

Release Date: August 7, 1987

Running Time: 106 minutes

!!Warning Review Contains Spoilers!!

So here is a B movie that stands out from the crowd in the 80’s. Why you might ask, story, actors, special effects while I’m going to go with a little of each that’s not to say they didn’t crash and burn hard on some of the others. Here is a look at the good and the bad of Masters of the Universe.

To start off I’ll point out the intro to the movie. You get a gorgeous painting representing the epic scope that this film tried so hard to accomplish. Castle Grayskull. By the way is a huge change from what the cartoon represented it as, a single skull that you entered through the mouth, this is more of a multi-story skull filled with protruding towers in the center of the star filled sky. The movie has to be given its dos for the next scene as you see black, for lack of better word storm troopers lining the halls of Grayskull as a cloaked figure briskly walks up the long ramped main thrown room. Then Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster) states that after all this time they had won Grayskull. She is quickly cut off by Skeletor saying “NOOO, Mine”. With those few words Frank Langella cemented in the character of Skeletor as a villain not to be toyed with. Hell the film makers had balls making this movie, not even three minutes in and Grayskull has fallen to Skeletor. All the Eternians are all on the run. Think back to the last movie you saw that started with the bad guy winning.

We find out in the next section that Skeletor has acquired a Cosmic Key that allows him to travel through a dimensional doorway to anywhere he wants, this being how he took Grayskull so easily. The Cosmic Key here forth referred to as merely the Key is a creation of a locksmith Troll like creature named Gwildor (Billy Barty). For those of you who watched the cartoon he is a blatant replacement to the character of Orko who with the limited film tech of the 80’s would not have been doable. He would have been a floating red wizard like character that is only 3 to 4 feet tall at most. He played the comic relief and Gwildor takes that roll on quite well even though he does go over the top more than once in the movie.

It’s around this point that you get to see a lot of the main cast in there armor and whatnot. Dolph Lundgren as He-Man well, let’s just say his acting isn’t all that great be he does look like He-Man. His phasic pulls of the armor quite well and I do like the addition of the cap, it adds a more serious tone to an otherwise gay S & M outfit. The Sword of Grayskull is also pretty epic and not so much over done. It doesn’t look like the sword from the cartoon at all. It’s more of a two hander three inch broadsword. They choose to not introduce He-Man as Prince Adam either which is an interesting twist. He is never portrayed as a weakling in the whole movie even as he is torched he holds a strength and never kneel to you attitude. They choose to portray him as a well-trained warrior and not a child that gains powers and ability’s from Grayskull. With all that said they do have the classic ‘I have the power!’ sword raise during the climax of the film. It is all so apparent that he does gain some power from the sword but nothing like what he gains in the cartoon.

I have to say that Teela and Man-At-Arms are fairly good companion characters that complement He-Man well. They did a fine job of making Man-At-Arms seem like a seasoned commander that was hardened in battle and could hold his own but Teela felt a little off. Her outfit was a tad silly not feeling as functional as Man-At-Arms armor, she actually had on very little armor more of a body suit. Her attitude fits but the costume department could have done better. She was supposed to be trained under Man-At-Arms you think there would be more uniform uniforms.

The cannon fodder in the movie is the black Storm Troopers. They really aren’t Storm Troopers but they are completely based off of Lucas’s work. That is there greatest flaw and weakness. This was done because it was probably cheaper to make the suits and they do look really good all things considered. Reflective black armor plating with their faces hidden behind huge face shields you’re not going to mix them up for good guys, they look evil. So they look good the only problem is these idiots are easily a few degrees stupider then Star Wars Storm Troopers. During fight sequences they either run in blindly to get shot or blow up or they attack you one at a time even though they had a chance to blindside you two seconds ago.

I almost don’t even know where to start with the story, with different angles they could have chosen they went with He-Man travelling to Earth. During the opening battle He-Man and friends are forced to randomly hit in a set of Key Tones in order to escape from Skeletor. The Key uses a musical Tone System instead of coordinates to tell it where to open a door to. They are then dropped off on Earth from Eternia. They are all safe but lose the Key. This is where this movie loses everyone; we are introduced to the two main human characters Kevin and Julie played by Robert Duncan McNeill and Courtney Cox of Star Trek: Voyager and Friends fame respectively. They find the Key and think it is some sort of Japanese Synthesizer and start to play random Tones on it. This leads Skeletor to them and He-Man has to save them. There are some OK fights here between He-Man and a group of Skeletor’s mercenaries consisting of Saurod, Blade, Beastman and Karg. Of note is that the character of Blade is the films stunt guy Anthony De Longis who doubled Skeletor and is a swordsman in real-life. He has been in everything from the upcoming game Skyrim to the TV show Deadliest Warrior. There is one other Human character of note a police detective named Lubic played by character actor James Tolkan who is chasing down the main good guy group in the film. The story eventually takes all of them back to Eternia for a final battle within the walls of Grayskull.

The main flow of story is always in Skeletor’s favor and with every step forward the Eternians are forced two steps back. The takeover of Grayskull was not shown but shots of a giant holographic Skeletor speaking to the Eternians is a memorable moving shot, especial seeing a small He-Man looking up at him sword hung low. The pacing and flow of the story are only really stopped when you are brought to earth. Everything on Eternia moves fast and clearly despite the fact that there were only a few sets to work with. The musical score done by Bill Conti moves the story along well and accents a lot of the fight scenes, but only the main theme is memorable. It is played so often it borders on annoyingly cheesy even for a B movie. The final fight has to be mentioned because of how different it is from the other in the film. Normally it’s fast cuts followed by laser fire and sword play but this fight starts with the Hero and Villain facing off and accepting this as their final battle going as far as to even voice those words. From there they struck sword to staff causing the room to go dark and some very colorful lighting to take effect.

Of all the character development in this movie Skeletor’s is the stand out, Frank Langella’s portrayal of the character is amazing considering what he had to work with. He had a major facial prosthetic and the character is a corny blue bad guy in a kids cartoon with a high pitched voice. He wore a body suit with tech armor and a heavy dark-hooded cap attached at the wrists. This should look goofy and unthreatening but his portrayal is of a clever planning villain who is thinking two steps ahead at any given moment. This is shown throughout the film though one scene where he is holding Evil-Lyn’s head in his hand asking why the people don’t accept him is proof of the characters depth of thought. It is a hard transition to He-Man who never changes in the film and is a stereotypical Hero who stands by his word and will do anything to protect his friends. Skeletor is annoyed at how the Eternians wait for He-Man to save them and wants to make an example of him instead of making him a martyr. The supporting character of Evil-Lyn is more than aware of his obsession of breaking He-Man. Even in the final battle calling for a full retreat when they are defeated even though Skeletor refuses to give up. She over steps her position many times in the film and is punished for it.

Kevin and Julie are given a lot of screen time despite never being in the cartoon. This is a major flaw in the film. It should have been the tale of Hero vs. Villain not daughter mourning their parents deaths and a teenage musician. They aren’t very deep characters only serving as a relative to the audience. They are mainly annoying because of the choice to end the film on a time travel note that could have ended the entire film in seconds. If the Key could be used to travel to any location and any time in the universe Skeletor could have run from the final battle and traveled back in time to a sooner point or stopped the Eternians from escaping to Earth in the first place. It is a big mistake in the storytelling creating a do it all key that a locksmith made. Even worse is the fact that he made two. This film is filled with flaws but with a good group to watch it with, it can be an entertaining ride filled with amusingly bad acting and fairly fun fights.

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One Response to Movie Review: Masters Of The Universe

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