In the mythical realm of Eternia, Skeletor’s forces have mysteriously invaded Castle Grayskull, defeated their heroically-mighty defenses, and imprisoned the Sorceress. Man-at-Arms and Teela meet up with He-Man, who has helped to free a captured Thenurian locksmith prisoner named Gwildor. You see, Gwildor made a key that uses sound frequencies to open gateways into any place in the universe and his invention was stolen by Evil-Lyn, who gave it to Skeletor for the invasion. What the evil-doers don’t know is that Gwildor has a functioning prototype and things are about to get hairy. When their effort to take back Grayskull and free the Sorceress fails, Gwildor, He-Man, Teela, and Man-at-Arms are sent hurtling through a wormhole to planet Earth, where they meet some humans that are their solution to getting home and saving Eternia from Skeletor’s evil clutches.
The ‘Masters of the Universe’ live action movie came out in 1987 and starred the blonde mountain-of-a-man Dolph Lundgren, who was probably most recognizable at that time as movie character Drago, who killed Apollo Creed in ‘Rocky IV.’ Aesthetically, this film’s executives chose well: Dolph donned that He-Man costume with the swagger of a man who knew that he looked damn good half-naked.
It’s too bad that Lundgren didn’t really embody the cartoon hero, though. He brandished laser weapons and half his lines were swallowed up when one of the other cast members either finished the line with or for him. Teela (Chelsea Field), Man-at-Arms (Jon Cypher), and Sorceress (Christina Pickles) didn’t feel like they owned their roles either. Both Man-at-Arms and the Sorceress seemed far too old for the cartoons that I remembered, and Teela just didn’t win me over at all – she didn’t even try to emulate the cartoon version of the character, either in costume or mannerism. The only player that made He-Man’s cadre bearable to watch was Billy Barty (of ‘Willow’ fame), who played Gwildor.
You know that going into a movie like this – a “dated” film, well enough made for its time, but showing signs of technological age nowadays – there are things you’re going to enjoy and things that are just going to be bad. This film isn’t on par with a sci-fi/adventure film of today. Oddly enough, what totally won me over about ‘Master of the Universe’ were the characters of Skeletor (Frank Langella, who unequivocally had the best lines in the movie), Evil-Lyn the jewel eyed temptress (Meg Foster), and the henchmen Beastman and Saurod (Tony Carroll and Pons Maar, respectively), who had great costumes to go with bad attitudes. The bad guys “saved the day” for me – go figure!
The film hit number 3 at the box office when it was released, but it’s generally considered a letdown in the movie industry, as it didn’t generate nearly as much revenue as was expected. The budget for the movie was about $22 million, and its theatrical run didn’t quite net $17.5 million back on the investment.
When I was young, I always believed in the good guys. I was a big Thundercats and He-Man fan, and my sister was into She-Ra. While I watched the cartoon as a young child, I remember seeing the ‘Masters of the Universe’ film first when it was on HBO a few years after it had come out in theaters; until recently, I hadn’t seen it in many, many years. If I had seen this movie at a different time in my life, I might not have any love for it at all. As a kid, you can love anything – and that affection can stay with you through the years.
‘Masters of the Universe’ was still entertaining as I re-watched it, struggling to remember it as it was back when I first saw it. I was trying to find those “eyes” that had seen it differently. Some of the more intense fight scenes brought back disturbing memories. The costumes still shine and even the makeup, while prosthetics are all-too-noticeable in some cases, are still good-looking after all this time.
In the sense of comparing the translation from the original cartoons to the movie – there were a lot of things left out. In addition to my other complaints, “Adam” never shows up. Cringer/Battle Cat is never even discussed. And where are the King and Queen in all of this? I know live action has its drawbacks converting from a cartoon, but the movie might as well have just been about intergalactic space barbarians.
Castle Grayskull, while it warms the heart to see it portrayed on screen, looks like a painting. The special effects light show of the cross-dimensional travel is still decent, though some of the other effects aren’t so impressive anymore (like the laser-beam whip). I’m not sure if Skeletor’s forces are intentionally dressed up to resemble black bodied storm troopers, but it’s hard to miss the obvious helmets and laser guns used. Not very original, and definitely not like the cartoon models.
For the last decade or so, it seems, there are long-swirling rumors of ‘Masters of the Universe’ getting a cinematic reboot/reimagining/re-whatever. It would be interesting to see what a modern day He-Man live action adventure tale would look like. And would She-Ra make an appearance? Time will tell.
All in all, I’d best describe the movie as something fun for a family to watch because it has content that kids and adults could watch with varying degrees of entertainment. The plot was fun, even when it’s silly. It’s a popcorn-eating, “gather the kids around the TV on a rainy day” kind of movie. Your inner child is bound to still be pleased – especially scenes with Skeletor or Evil-Lyn present – but don’t expect too much on “adult re-watching.”