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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Star Trek TNG on Blu-ray – Make it so!

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th September 2012.

It’s hard to believe it was twenty five years ago when the catch phrases, “Make it so” and “Earl grey, hot”, entered the lexicon of geeks around the world. That’s right, Star Trek: The Next Generation made its debut in 1987 and this year, to celebrate a quarter century of “boldly going where no-one has gone before” the complete first season has been given a high definition makeover for a must-have blu-ray release.

For Aussie Trekkers (not Trekkies), the first time TNG appeared on our screens was not on broadcast television, but in video stores. I still vividly remember having to wait for my monthly fix of two episodes to arrive at my local rental outlet on VHS. I wasn’t a big fan of the original series. Despite my adoration of all things Shatner, the adventures of Kirk, Spock and crew in their low tech, cheap looking Enterprise did not fit in well with a mind that was already inundated with the sophisticated special effects (at the time) of the original Star Wars trilogy. I have the same affliction with early Doctor Who episodes. Send all abuse letters care of the CWD, thanks.

TNG was a completely different case. I was completely sold on this vision of the future, where bold explorers toured the universe with a code of ethics almost as stiff as their ridiculous starched, clearly uncomfortable uniforms. Actually, it wasn’t even as elaborate as that. The genius of Gene Roddenberry’s vision is that there actually is a future for man. Enough of the geek philosophy… I know it’s just a TV show, but it is a really good one.

Starting with TNG, the Star Trek universe expanded with the debuts of spin-off series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, followed by Star Trek: Voyager. Trekker fandom in Australia peaked in the early nineties and for a while, I was a big enough fanboy to be attending Trek Conventions in my very own red jumpsuit uniform. Please don’t tell anyone about this. I would hate to lose my credibility. No-one would take my columns about The Village People seriously if they knew.

I still recall having a bingle in my friend’s car on our way to a convention at Darling Harbour. Having to stand on George Street calling the NRMA in full Starfleet uniform was an interesting experience. I guess that’s why they invented the transporter beam.

Anyway, back to the blu-ray release. Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One looks absolutely pristine in high definition, as if it was filmed yesterday (or stardate 66178.3). The detail is stunning, with minute joins in the prosthetic makeup of the aliens and flaws in the set construction and painting now obvious.

Originally shot on film, the restoration process has involved locating the archived master reels, an extensive cleaning process to bring the footage to high definition standards, and then a complete episode rebuild. The special effects have been re-composited from the original film elements and look brilliantly sharp.

 

As with most long running shows, TNG Season One is a little bit of a mess. Characters are yet to be established and are quite inconsistent. The tone isn’t quite right. That comes in by Season Three or Four. I guess at the time of production, the cast and crew had no idea that the show would be a hit.

I don’t really consider myself a Trekker anymore. Besides, my uniform no longer fits. However, I still consider TNG to be one of the best TV shows ever. Remastered on blu-ray, you now can experience the series with a visual clarity that wasn’t possible twenty five years ago. Regardless of whether you are a casual Trek fan or fluent in Klingon, this box set is a must-buy. “Make it so!”

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 01:02  Leave a Comment  
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Box Set Bonanza 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd October 2012.

Every October, dark forces return to unleash unspeakable horrors upon our supermarket and department store shelves. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I mean the Christmas merchandise that’s already started to appear in our stores. So if it’s good enough for a multinational corporation, it’s good enough for me. In preparation for the silly season, here are my picks for the best box sets to buy for your favourite movie fanatic (or Tuesday columnist).

If too much Bond is never enough, grab Bond 50 – The James Bond Collection which celebrates half a century of Bond adventures with 22 films on 22 discs. If you buy the blu-ray set, there’s also an extra disc full of exclusive new content. Unfortunately, the non-canon Never Say Never Again from 1983 is not included, which is a shame because I’d gladly exchange it for the invisible car and wooden Madonna performance from Die Another Day. With the latest Band mission, Skyfall, hitting cinemas in November, a space has been generously left in the box for you to complete your collection next year. You can then rest easy knowing you own every single minute of Bond goodness, until the next movie is announced and you’ll have to buy a new box set. Start saving your money, Penny.

Speaking of great franchises, Indiana Jones has finally taken the leap to high definition. Indiana Jones – The Complete Adventures features all three original films on beautiful blu-ray, plus an extra disc chock full of bonus stuff. The films have been remastered under the supervision of Steven Spielberg, with Raiders of the Lost Ark receiving a complete restoration from the original print and sound mix. The set also includes a special Indiana Jones coaster. You can protect your tabletops knowing that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has finally found a useful purpose.

The Universal Monsters Collection on blu-ray celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios by unleashing some of its iconic creature features in high definition. Featuring a 48 page book and 8 discs, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and experience horror classics Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Phantom of the Opera for the first time. Best of all, The Creature from the Black Lagoon will make his (or is it her, or its) debut in blu-ray 3D.

Finally, the master of suspense has been given a high definition makeover to bring you Alfred Hitchcock – The Masterpiece Collection. The box set features 14 Hitchcock  classics including Rear Window, Frenzy, Psycho and Vertigo, plus every ornithophobe’s favourite, The Birds.  There is also 15 hours of bonus content for your enjoyment. Strangely, my favourite Hitchcock flick, North by Northwest, is not featured. Neither is Gus Van Sant’s disastrous 1998 shot for shot remake of Psycho, which is good thing.

One last thing, all of these box sets are labelled as limited editions. This is a rather meaningless marketing term nowadays so don’t rush out and buy them all just in case. With all of the above around or above the $100 mark, the limiting factor may well be your wallet.