I still remember when I saw Masters of the Universe in a movie theater. My family and I had gone out of town, but there was no way I was missing out on the friggin He-Man movie! I begged and I pleaded, and we as a family went to a local movie theater (if I remember correctly, we were in Lake George, NY) to see the movie and please the whining seven-year old.
After all, I had been into He-Man for YEARS. I remember buying the toys and being so happy because, even though the boxes said “Ages 5 and Up,” my folks still would purchase them for me. And I had a ton of them – every action figure I could find. It was almost like a regular event, hitting Toys ‘R Us to see if I could find a new action figure (and let’s be honest, all of them were just repainted He-Man toys anyway). I remember standing in the middle of the street in front of my grandparents’ house one night yelling “He-Man!” because I had just gotten a new action figure.
Anyway, I digress. We saw the Masters of the Universe motion picture in a local movie theater, and man, was it a piece of crap movie theater. There had to have been less than a hundred seats, and the screen was no bigger than a bedsheet hung on the wall. I had actually seen a bit of footage at a convention months before, and was super psyched for the film, but I think everyone was a little disappointed at the condition of that lousy movie theater.
Still, regardless of where we saw it, I loved what I saw. Masters of the Universe is one of those movies that most people are ashamed to admit they liked, but I loved every stupid ass minute of it. Sure, it wasn’t really much like the cartoon, but it felt right to me. As a seven-year-old, I got a feeling akin to how I felt watching Star Wars for the first time. It didn’t have Orko, or Battlecat, or Prince Adam, or really anything beyond the main couple of characters, but it didn’t matter to me (even as a young geek, I could differentiate different continuities).
For those folks who haven’t actually seen Masters of the Universe, the film tells the story of He-Man and Skeletor, the leaders of two opposing forces who battle for control over Castle Grayskull on the planet Eternia. Whoever holds control of Grayskull holds control over the universe, and unimaginable power. Skeletor uses a teleportation device known as the Cosmic Key to infiltrate and take over Grayskull and He-Man and the rest of the good guys escape to the planet Earth, where they lose the key and their ability to return home.
Most fans really hated that the story wasn’t set entirely on Eternia, instead moving the action to Earth. But the casting of Frank Langella as Skeletor impressed a lot of people, and I remember most people loving his portrayal of the iconic villain. I still hear people quote this movie.
I’ve seen Masters of the Universe again in recent years, and I really wasn’t aware of any deterioration in my love for the film (if anything, I still love the MOTU universe and would love to see some kind of media return to it), but I was still nervous about watching the movie this week, wondering if I was going to ruin one of my fondest childhood memories. I popped the DVD (what? No Blu-Ray Warner Brothers?) in and sat down to begin my journey to Eternia….
…and you know what? It’s still a ton of fun. Now I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you it’s a great film. I knew as a kid that it wasn’t a great film. But I know I enjoyed it. I know certain actors WAY overacted, and even as a kid I knew that the special effects were dodgy and that there was one scene where it sounded like the score was being played on a dying jukebox (seriously, it’s near the beginning). But, in a way, that almost adds to the experience. I mean, come on, it’s a friggin’ Cannon movie, and directed by a guy who’s only directorial efforts since have been 3D movies for Hershey’s Chocolate.
The thing is that, honestly, I really think there’s a lot to like about this film, and not in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. Dolph Lundgren does a pretty admirable job as He-Man – he looks the role, and he’s a very human take on the character. He doesn’t overdo it (okay, well maybe when he’s yelling “I have the power,” but other than that). Frank Langella may be overacting as Skeletor but you know what? When he’s on the screen, he grabs your attention, and he’s fun to watch. And, really, his lines in the movie are infinitely quotable.
Still kind of bugs me that they bring the adventure to Earth, since it’s the Earthbound scenes that date the film more than anything else, but we get to see Courtney Cox get a nasty burn on her leg and hang out with Lt. Tom Paris (don’t get the reference? For shame!). James Tolkan as Detective Lubic is a shining moment of the film, and almost tied with Frank Langella as my favorite performance. Kind of a bummer that new villains like Saurod and Blade were so underused…but, really, they kinda suck anyway.
Watching the film now, it’s no doubt colored by nostalgia, but I still wish they made a sequel to the damn thing. From what I’ve read, the Van Damme movie Cyborg was originally supposed to be a sequel, but the idea was scrapped and the story and names changed. Not sure that idea would have worked anyway, but this really is a fun start to what could have been a fun franchise. It’s a rare film that can both seem entirely serious when it needs to be, but never takes itself too seriously at the same time. And Masters of the Universe not only does that, but 23 years after its release, it still manages to entertain me.
What about you guys? Does anyone love this film as much as I do?