To my unexpected delight, that classic cinematic masterpiece Masters of the Universe was on cable last week! I was a HUGE He-Man fan growing up, though I preferred She-Ra, obviously. Ladies doing it for themselves, y’all! Anyhow, my cousin and I would play with the action figures for hours on end and then, grab brooms and sticks and play-fight our own adventure in Eternia. I also made my She-Ra and He-Man action figures do ‘it’ sometimes, as they are both hot people not really wearing any clothes… and are apparently cousins. Huh. Whaddya gonna do? I was a kid and plot continuity was not my strong suit. [Insert ‘I’m from Arkansas’ joke here if you must…]
Sufficed to say, I was super stoked when they released the live-action version of my fave cartoon fantasy land. I remember watching it over and over again, despite knowing even then that it was a bit… embarrassing? And, by the power of Grayskull, my recent viewing of it revealed that its cringe-worthy awesomeness stood the test of the time!
With the benefit of an older, fully formed brain, I saw the film in a totally different light. For example, I immediately noticed that the opening of Masters is a direct rip-off of the Superman theme and opening. A rousing horn melody followed by a romantic string interlude, plus the film titles swooshing in and out over the star-lit background? I mean, it’s practically like the difference between Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and ‘Under Pressure.’ As in, there is none.
See, here’s Superman.
And, here’s Masters of the Universe.
See??? I’m totally not imagining this! It’s a clear rip-off… Which is actually the common thread I noticed about MOTU, that it’s a patchwork of popular 80’s film gimmicks. Well, and that Frank Langella (Skeletor), Meg Foster (Evil-Lyn), and Christina Pickles (Sorceress) go ALL IN, like local theater actors.
I mean, for real, Frank Langella wasn’t playing around! Gotta give him props for that. I even found a video on youtube where Langella says Skeletor was one of his favorite roles ever, because his son was 4 and loved the cartoon. I mean, come on! That kind of enthusiasm can make or break a movie like MOTU. Especially when playing opposite the monosyllabic Dolph Lundgren…
Anyhow, back to the review… As I was saying, Masters of the Universe is basically a big giant rip-off of other great 80s films, a mish-mash of all the elements that should work and, well, they kinda do, if you suspend judgment and just go on the silly ride… And, if you are a consenting adult, drink a few beers. Or six.
You have Skeletor as Star Wars Emperor, surround by soldiers that are a cross between stormtroopers and Boba Fett.
You also have the inclusion of a quirky, weird character play by a little person, a la Legend. To be fair, the filmmakers were probably trying to create more “fantasy” creatures than they had budget for and the character of Gwildor gave them a lot of bang for their buck. Even if I want to stab him most of the time he’s on screen. Soooooo annoying. “I’m Gwildor! I souped up a car! I made a magic synthesizer! My cheek fat quivers when I laugh!”
Add into the mix a “fish out of water” schtick, where the Eternians are confused by so many of our barbaric customs and technologies, some time-space stuff like Back to the Future, and a fresh-faced young couple played by pre-plastic Courtney Cox and the dude who grew up to trick Wesley Crusher at Starfleet Academy. Oh and is also a musical genius who saves the day with his keyboard skillz.
You also have hints of Conan and Red Sonja with Dolph Lundgren’s He-Man, though I kept finding it odd that our sword-yielding hero almost always goes for his gun in a pinch. But I bet that sword’s heavy and, besides, when you live on a planet like Eternia, where you have magic AND science fiction, I’m sure it can be a bit confusing whether you go medieval or laser on someone’s ass. Also, that feathered blond mullet probably makes it hard for him to think on his feet… All that whipping in the wind and all. It strains the neck, you know?
I have to say, though, I really appreciated their final movie reference, as it’s quite tongue-in-cheek:
All in all, Masters of the Universe was basically as I remembered it. A non-offensive, bad 80’s fantasy movie. It doesn’t get better with age, but it certainly sent me on a lovely two hour trip down memory lane. My biggest complaint about the movie actually remained the same 20 years later: NO BATTLE CAT!!! I WANT BATTLE CAT!!! They really couldn’t find a way to get Dolph Lundgren on a tiger?!? I just don’t believe it… I mean, if I could ride Battle Cat instead of walking or taking the train, I certainly would. And I’m sure that Mr. Mega-Muscles would too.
I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied by Ludgren’s epic “I have the power!!!” Until the remake comes out?