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Masters of the Universe

By Alan Ng | July 28, 2021

My faith in the big studios to properly bring its intellectual property adequately to the big screen is very low. I’m starting to think it’s so low that when they do a marginal job, I find myself inclined to give it a better score when it happens. That’s my feeling after watching Gary Goddard’s 1987 Masters of the Universe. For fans of the Masters of the Universe show… and more importantly, the toys, not only is He-Man transformed into flesh and blood, but he comes to 1980s America in all its techno-pop glory. Yes, kids could have met the real He-Man if they were in the right place at the right time.

Real quick, Skeletor (played by an unrecognizable Frank Langella) successfully invades Castle Grayskull and imprisons the Sorceress (Christina Pickles). He plans to transfer her magic to himself. However, in order to attain supreme power, Skeletor needs Gwildor’s (Billy Barty) Cosmic Key, a musical device that can open a portal to any location in the universe. In a losing battle, Gwildor uses the key to help He-Man (Dolph Lungren), Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher), and his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field) escape to modern-day Earth.

During the arrival on Earth, Gwildor’s cosmic key goes missing, only to be found by two high school teens Julie (Courteney Cox) and her boyfriend Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill). Thinking that it’s a new-fangled Japanese synthesizer, Kevin plays a few cords, which tips off the location of He-Man and gang to Skeletor. Skeletor then sends the evil Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster) and a small band of monsters to track down He-Man and capture the Cosmic Key.

“…Skeletor successfully invades Castle Grayskull and imprisons the Sorceress.”

It’s easy to make fun of Masters of the Universe. Rightfully so, I should add. The story is a little hokey, but then again, was there a truly great episode of the television series? The casting and acting are somewhat of a mixed bag. No one can deny the talents of Frank Langella, Christina Pickles, Billy Barty, and even James Tolkan as a cop. The addition of Dolph Lungren and Chelsea Field feels like “Johnny Bravo” casting (see The Brady Bunch). Courteney Cox is pretty good as the unwitting teenager. She’s gonna be a breakout star, mark my words.

While I’m still picking on the film, the soundtrack is relentless and does nothing but support the action on screen, much like the piano playing behind silent movies. So how do the U.S. Military and government now know about an alien invasion of a small town? Is the message at the end a plea for school arts funding?

In 1987, I was well into my college studies, and my film-going attention has been focused on other titles, like Beverly Hills Cop. So yeah, I never saw Masters of the Universe. Now that I’m older, I consider the movie to not be as bad as its reputation suggests. But, again, go in with low expectations, and that will get you through the eye-rolling moments. The make-up effects are pretty good for a 1980s lower-budgeted title. Langella’s Skeletor make-up is not perfect, but it looks like Skeletor. The monsters are not great, but they don’t look cheap. I appreciate that Billy Barty got to play Gwildor and voice him as well.

The special effects are also good. Castle Grayskull is just how it should look, and action-wise, the signature hybrid of fantasy swords and laser guns was pulled off quite well. It’s a good-looking production overall. The more I type, the more I realize I really should have hated this film, but I think nostalgia and low expectations are kicking in and ultimately going to give Masters of the Universe a not-bad score. Of course, I think it helps that I just reviewed the horrible Transformers first feature.

Masters of the Universe (1987)

Directed: Gary Goddard

Written: David Odell

Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, Courteney Cox, etc.

Movie score: 6/10

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"…I really should have hated this film, but I think nostalgia and low expectations are kicking in..."

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