Retro Review: Masters of the Universe (1987)

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 27th August 2013.

The Hollywood studio system is a strange beast. Sometimes it creates the zeitgeist and on other occasions it misfires and is way behind trends and popular culture. This week’s retrospective review unfortunately concerns the latter. Drumroll please… Freaks and geeks everywhere, it’s time for Masters of the Universe, now available on high definition blu-ray!

To be fair, the production of a motion picture is a time consuming process and it is certainly possible for a flash in the pan trend to have its fifteen minutes of fame well before a movie can hit the silver screen. The fantastically awful Village People movie Can’t Stop the Music arrived almost a year after disco had died. Cool as Ice, a vehicle for white rapper Vanilla Ice, tanked when he failed to deliver a hit follow-up to Ice Ice Baby. And I have absolutely no explanation for the abomination that was Bratz the movie.

Masters of the Universe is another example of this phenomenon. Launched in 1983, the Mattel toyline was a major success with children everywhere, including me. Backed up by a popular television commercial campaign, better known as a cartoon series, He-Man and friends flew off the shelves until interest waned in 1985.

Unfortunately for Cannon Films, known for producing low to moderate budget flicks such as Invasion USA, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Delta Force and the Death Wish sequels, Masters of the Universe premiered in 1987. Oops.

The good news for middle aged fanboys is that Masters of the Universe looks crisp and clear on blu-ray. So clear that the dodgy matte paintings used in the beginning of the feature to establish He-Man’s home world of Eternia appear to have been lifted straight from the cartoon series. The special effects have not aged well unsurprisingly but that’s half the fun. The sound mix is disappointing, coming only in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.

He-Man is played by renown Shakespearean actor Dolph Lundgren, direct from his screen debut in Rocky IV. Perfectly cast, Lundgren is completely unable to emote, just like the plastic action figure. As the evil Skeletor, character actor Frank Langella seems to be the only one having fun, and that includes the audience.

Unfortunately, high definition doesn’t make a terrible film any better. I have the same problem with the film as I did when I first saw it at the age of twelve. Setting the majority of the film on Earth, obviously for budgetary reasons, is a disappointing move. As a boy playing with my He-Man toys, there wasn’t a single adventure I created which involved the gang coming to Middle America.

Many favourite characters from the toyline do not make it into the film. Sure, we have Teela, Man-at-Arms, Beastman and Evil-Lyn, but where were Merman, Stinkor, Ram Man, Trapjaw and Orko? Instead we have Gwildor, the short Thenorian inventor, locksmith and owner of some of the worst facial prosthetics ever witnessed on film.

Masters of the Universe also marks Courteney Cox’s film debut, after coming to fame as the girl pulled out of the audience in the Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark music video.

Masters of the Universe has been released by Shock DVD under its Cinema Cult label. I’m not entirely sure that it qualifies as a cult film. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Big Lebowski are cult films. This is a just a curio for children of the eighties with high definition televisions and $15 burning a hole in their pocket.

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Published in: on September 10, 2013 at 23:57  Leave a Comment  
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