Cartoons Go To the Movies – Masters of the Universe!

Bit of a twist with this one, because it’s a live action adaptation of a classic cartoon rather than an animated movie, but I love it and I hope you do too.

From the dying days of He-Man at this point, as it was the biggest thing for kids and then went the other way in record time. From Cannon Films, who brought us Breakin’, Bloodsport and Kickboxer, just to send the tone. Skeletor has finally taken control of Castle Grayskull and has the Sorceress as his prisoner. He-Man leads the resistance, which amounts to him, Man-At-Arms and Teela. The way Skeletor got the advantage was by sending Evil-Lyn to inventor Gwildor, a troll played by Billy Barty as a replacement Orko, because CGI wasn’t good enough to show a character floating around consistently at this point, who had created the Cosmic Key, which can transport you to anywhere in space. The heroic warriors get him on their side and beam themselves into Grayskull, but Skeletor’s forces are too much and they relocate to somewhere else, which turns out to be Earth, meaning a prolonged adventure in North America around fast food restaurants, music stores, high schools and leafy neighbourhoods before returning home to regain the power.

I remember going to see this with my dad in late 1987 and even though there are things to knock with it, I like it. I think of it as the 1980 Flash Gordon movie if the budget kept on getting slashed all the time. You’ve got a clunky lead, Dolph Lundgren, who mangles a lot of the dialogue and doesn’t really have lead actor credentials, but he more than looks the part. I don’t care if they get someone who’s taller and weighs more than him to play He-Man in a future movie, he won’t APPEAR as massive as Lundgren does. To make up for the shortcomings of the hero you’ve got Frank Langella as Skeletor, who basically is performing his own monologue that other actors just happen to sometimes interact with. He looks the part with loads of makeup on, even though it’s obviously two black painted lumps on his nose instead of nasal holes in a skull, and he maintains his Dracula fangs.

To continue the Flash Gordon analogy, with Lundgren and Langella an appropriate Sam J. Jones (sans dubbing, not that they didn’t want to!) and Max von Sydow, you’ve got a sexy female villain in Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn (all about the eyes!). For Klytus you’ve got Karg, a weird bat-like thing with big hair and the same BDSM apparel as Skeletor and Evil-Lyn. Other villains include THE Beast Man, who I wish they’d made a movie toy of then or in recent years, especially with blood running down his face, and newcomers Blade, a swordsman, and Saurod, a lizard marksman who gets exterminated early on in a show of power by Skeletor.

Man-At-Arms, as played by Jon Cypher, is closer to Hans Zarkov then Prince Barin or Vultan – a nice guy to have around, but not especially interesting, so therefore a pretty accurate depiction of Duncan! Teela is less attractive than Evil-Lyn, or at least promising less fun, and gets probably the most cringe-inducing line in the film (“Woman-At-Arms!”), but has a very nice arse in her grey jumpsuit. Gwildor is fine and certainly funnier than Orko thanks to Billy Barty’s comic timing, but not enough to stop people wishing there was an Orko (and a Battle Cat and King Randor and Queen Marlena and Stratos and Man-E-Faces…). The Sorceress replaces feathers with crystals and probably got a headache from the weight of her headdress, but does at least just get to stand in place for 95% of the movie.

We cannot forget that the film is set mostly on Earth, so we get boyfriend and girlfriend Kevin and Julie, played respectively by future Star Trek alumnus Robert Duncan McNeill and Courtney Cox, aged 23, a little removed from Dancing in the Dark and a few years prior to being a Friend. She’s hotter than Sunny or Elizabeth or whoever you want to use for a point of comparison in this movie. Round face, short hair, beautiful eyes and freckles, looking more like a person than a cat as she does now. She gets a sub-plot about deceased parents that’s wrapped up at the end with some pretty terrible actors for her mom and dad. Kevin is a “musician” in a period where that basically means if you haven’t got a girlfriend you’re probably wearing pink knickers or have only kissed your mom. We can’t forget James Tolkan either as idiot/tough guy cop Lubic, trying to set the screen record for blinking at times.

I’m also reminded of the old saying about how a camel is a horse designed by committee. A lot of corners cut and things compromised to get the film out, with a run of things stolen from other films (Superman intro, soldiers from Star Wars, etc.), but I can’t not think of my enjoyment of watching this the first time and the many times I’ve watched it since. Not perfect, but good enough for me.