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.

Published in: on September 10, 2013 at 23:57  Leave a Comment  
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Classic Films in High Def

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 28th June 2011.

The future of home entertainment is looking blu. With the steady uptake of HD screens, blu-ray is fast becoming the new standard. And just as DVDs took a few years to become popular way back in the late nineties, blu-ray disc sales have now reached a point where prices have started to come down. Titles that were initially priced at $35 – $50 a year or two ago are now on sale at the $15 mark. That’s great value for those wanting to replace their DVD collection, but not so good for early adopters.

Of course, just because a film is available in high definition does not mean that it is any good. Those extra pixels will not make Lindsay Lohan’s “acting” in I Know Who Killed Me any more convincing. And from a technical perspective, not all films will receive the same quality of remastering for a high definition release. With smaller distributors also starting to release budget titles in blu-ray, you probably get what you pay for.

Keeping in mind that this week’s latest release at full price will be in next month’s bargain bin, I suggest that your hard earned dollars go towards some of the landmark blu-ray box sets that are on the horizon. With hours of extras, nice packaging and, obviously, a classic film or seven remastered in beautiful high definition, they represent good value and will be a welcome addition to any discerning film buff’s collection.

Tomorrow will see the release of The Lord of the Rings extended edition box set. Featuring 6 blu-ray discs and 9 DVDs, you get the extended versions of all three films plus a whopping 26 hours of extras. Although it could be argued that you’d probably be able to walk to Mount Doom and back yourself in the 683 minute running time of the extended trilogy, this may well be the most comprehensive box set ever released. In fact, if a short hike to the Cracks of Doom floats your boat, the box set even comes complete with a replica ring. Priced at around $120 (that’s $8 a disc), this is great value and I recommend that you get your hairy feet down to the shops this week and buy yourself this “precious” box set.

All geeks should have September 14 marked in their smart phone calendars. This is the day where we all get to reach into our pockets and buy Star Wars for the umpteenth time. That’s right, George Lucas has finally relented to fan requests and made Episodes I – VI available on blu-ray for the first time. I’m sure it won’t do his bank balance any harm either. For about $140, you’ll get all six films and over 30 hours of documentaries and extras on 9 discs. If, like me, you’re Jar Jar intolerant and prefer to pretend the prequel trilogy doesn’t exist, both trilogies will be available separately too.

For the more astute film buff, I’d certainly recommend the Stanley Kubrick: Visionary Filmmaker Collection which features seven iconic films plus extensive documentaries over 8 discs. This set, currently discounted to around $70 at one of the larger DVD retailers, includes Lolita and Barry Lyndon for the first time ever in high definition. Worth the price of the set alone is the bonus feature length documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.

The Al Pacino classic Scarface will also get a high definition makeover in September. For around $60, you’ll get a Tony Montana signature money clip, a dollar bill featuring Tony’s face, a replica of his green card and three art cards, all housed in a wooden cigar box. Did I mention you also get the movie on blu-ray? A modern classic, I’ll be saying hello to my new little friend in September.

Lastly, if you love the small of napalm in the morning, you’ll also love the new remastered triple disc Apocalypse Now box set. Complete with transfers supervised by Francis Ford Coppola himself, this new edition will be laden with extras including the brilliant documentary about the making of this classic, Hearts of Darkness, also in high definition for the first time.

So why waste your money on Yogi Bear and The Last Airbender on blu-ray when you can sink your teeth into some classics finally available in high definition? And although I’d always argue that content is more important than packaging, the fancy boxes and goodies inside are pretty cool too.