1987 was a big year at the movies for me as a seven-year-old. Harry and the Hendersons, The Monster Squad, Three Men and a Baby, The Princess Bride, Adventures in Babysitting, Innerspace, Benji: The Hunted, Empire of the Sun, Project X, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and Hope & Glory were all theatrical trips that I made with my parents, but nothing came close to the feeling and pent-up anticipation of seeing my beloved He-Man in Gary Goddard’s Masters of the Universe. My mother, being the amazing woman that she is, took my best friend Mike and I to see this on opening night roughly 30 years ago; I can still remember sitting in the theater and just loving every single second of this Cannon Films production, which looked to capitalize on the animated TV-show and popular action-figure toy line that every little boy just had to have. And while the film carried the biggest budget ever for a Golan-Globus production, it likely needed a bit more in order for everything to be fully pulled off. But the gee-whiz honesty of spirit that accompanies so much of this film still lives onto this day, and while financially compromised in certain areas, it perfectly reflects this sort of entertainment that was prevalent 30 years ago. Anyone can fire up their computer and make a CGI-dominated He-Man movie in today’s movie world, which makes the quaintness factor of this movie even more special.
There’s massive Billy Barty as Gwildor POWER, James Tolkan, a.k.a. “Strickland,” as Detective Lubic POWER, and cheesy-wooden-awesome Dolph Lundgren as the blond and ultra-buff hero who must save the day. You also get an impossibly young and adorable Courtney Cox, and Meg Foster as a tough baddie. But the entire film was totally dominated by Frank Langella, who brought a Shakespearean level of gusto and gravitas to his role as He-Man’s arch nemesis Skeletor; the performance is a hoot to watch in retrospect and you gotta love Langella for majorly selling every single scene he appeared in. Written by David Odell (The Muppet Show, The Dark Crystal, Supergirl), the film centers on He-Man and his band of buddies, going up against the evil Skeletor and his crew, and ending up on Earth as a result of some sort of cosmic gizmo that’s able to bend time and space, sending people from Eternia to Earth and back again, and sounds like some sort of new-age synthesizer. Bill Conti’s robust musical score is excellent, definitely helping to tie the film together, while legendary editor Anne V. Coates (Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Sight, The Elephant Man) was recruited for cutting duties. The film’s visual look from cinematographer Hanania Baer (Breakin’, Ninja III: The Domination) is dark and square-jawed, while William Stout’s production design alternates between truly inspired and clearly in need of a few more dollars. It really does beg to wonder what this film might’ve been like if all of its financial ducks had been in order.
Reportedly grossing $17 million off of a $22 million budget, the film would of course go on to become massively popular on VHS and cable, quickly gathering passionate support from youngsters before becoming a piece of solid nostalgia for older movie fans who remember the days of the sticky-floored theater that WASN’T laid out with stadium seating and wall to wall surround sound. It’s a shame that a sequel never happened as one is hinted at during the film’s final moments. You also have to love any movie that kills the young protagonist’s parents, and then allows them to come back to life at the end. This movie is so 1987 I can barely stand it, and there’s a treasure trove of behind the scenes information that’s available to read at both the IMDB and Wikipedia, as well as on YouTube in the form of retrospective reviews and commentaries. A former Disney Imagineering concept developer, Goddard also created and produced the rather amazing and extremely ambitious hybrid TV-series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, which I was also obsessed with as a kid, before becoming one of the biggest names in the theme park attraction business, with credits including T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, Jurassic Park the Ride, and many others.
Masters of The Universe is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Review by Nick Clement