Gary Goddard, 1987
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Chelsea Field, Courtney Cox
It might not be the greatest ‘80s action/fantasy movie, but I have a very soft spot in my heart for Masters of the Universe. This live action adaptation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is one in name only. It uses key characters like He-Man, Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, Man-At-Arms, Teela, and a few others, but this is basically a completely new story. On Eternia, Skeletor has taken command of Castle Greyskull and the Sorceress. Only a few rebels stand against him, including He-Man, Man-At-Arms and his daughter Teela. They discover a small inventor, Gwildor, who has created a “Cosmic Key” to open portals throughout the universe. Skeletor used it to enter Greyskull, but Gwildor uses a second to help He-Man and the rebels escape.
In a move that probably inspired Beastmaster 2: Through the Portals of Time (1991), He-Man and co. are transported to suburban California in 1987. They lose the Cosmic Key during landing and spread out to look for it, but a teenage girl, Julie, and her boyfriend Kevin find it. Kevin, a musician, thinks it is some kind of fancy Japanese synthesizer. After he plays around with it, Skeletor’s second in command, Evil-Lyn, is able to trace and follow the signal. She sends a team that includes Beastman to retrieve the key. Julie has an accidental run in with them, but is saved by He-Man. Julie and He-Man search for Kevin, who has the key, while Evil-Lyn and Skeletor are closing in.
It is baffling that director Gary Goddard (known for his theater direction and attraction designs for Walt Disney and Universal Studios) and screenwriter David Odell (The Dark Crystal) chose to completely ignore the original He-Man story set up in the cartoon, but it’s also kind of bold that they wanted to do something new. There is no Prince Adam and, most upsettingly, no Battle Cat or Orko, but it’s an interesting ‘80s sword and sorcery flick nonetheless. According to Goddard, he was most inspired by Jack Kirby’s New Gods and also Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom. He was given He-Man to work with, but tried his damnedest to make a comic book movie. Even though it is a total cheesefest, I think he mostly succeeded.
The acting is about what you would expect. Dolph Lundgren is wooden and seems confused for most of the film, but he has little dialogue and so completely looks the part that it doesn’t matter. Plus I would watch Dolph Lundgren in absolutely anything. Though it’s nearly impossible to tell, the wonderful Frank Langella is Skeletor. His make up is nearly perfect and though he wears a full mask, he is still able to facially articulate. Though he threatened to return at the end of the film, there is sadly no Masters of the Universe sequel. Probably for the best, though Lundgren has allegedly promised to reprise the role of He-Man if asked. The rest of the actors are pretty average. Meg Foster is suitably menacing as Evil-Lyn and Courtney Cox (in her first feature length role) and Robert Duncan McNeill (Star Trek: Voyager) are only moderately annoying as the token ‘80s teenagers.
The set looks great, but was obviously inspired by Star Wars. Skeletor’s soldiers all look like lesser Darth Vaders and, like the Stormtoopers, carry laser guns. I honestly don’t know why this is in the He-Man universe, but the fewer questions you ask, the more you will enjoy this film. I’m not sure if I should recommend it. I have to admit that I’m a big He-Man fan. I played with the toys when I was kid and watched the original cartoon (1983 - 1985) as well as She-Ra: Princess of Power (1985 - 1986), and then later came to love the reboot, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002 - 2004). Actually, if you’ve never seen He-Man, this is a great place to start. If you already love He-Man, keep in mind that this film is not a direct adaptation of the cartoon and changes many things. If you can get past that, it’s pretty fun. Masters of the Universe is available on a basic DVD from Warner, though it includes an audio commentary from Goddard. There is now also a Blu-ray.