Masters of the Universe

Rating:

CHEESE WHIZ

Main Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella

Director: Gary Goddard

It has been a trying week here at Chateau Maine.  Some obnoxious person with a toupee resembling a dead marmot arrived claiming to speak for the Republican Party.  I did not catch his name.  Thump, Crump, something like that.  Anyway, he took one look at the lovely Hollywood Squares set I had on the terrace for the debate and announced that it would not do unless he could have the center square.  I told him that the center square was reserved for a distinguished statesman and very important personage as who else would the Republicans run and that he could possibly have the center right Charles Nelson Reilly memorial seat.  He categorically refused and stomped off the terrace and right through the middle of my living nativity just as the Koreans were about to reach the climatic ascending of the angels as my recording of ‘O Holy Night’ hit the high note at the end.

This chump person turned around long enough to ask who all the foreigners were.  I told him they were a lovely family of Koreans from Huntington Beach.  He yelled something about the Koran and that we were being invaded by muslin before getting into a tacky little limousine and zooming off.  I will have you know that I spare no expense on the living nativity costumes that my seamstresses, Mary Gee and Kim Dee whip up for me.  They are damask, brocade, sateen and the occasional touch of chiffon.  There is no muslin in sight (well, perhaps a little percale in the shepherds’ burnooses).    All I can say is that if this is the best the RNC can offer, I am going to have to call up Mr. Prince Rebus or whatever his name is and rescind my invitation to host one of their tawdry little debates.

Anyway, as both a personal and calendar epiphany were upon me, I ordered Leah to supervise the dismantling of the holiday décor and retired to the home theater where I put my feet up, poured a small tot of limoncello and decided to find a film which could assist me in feeling some control over life, the universe and anything.  In looking through my Netflix recommendations, I found a film called Masters of the Universe and, assuming it would be about 1980s Wall Street tycoons, I turned it on.  I was right about the 1980s, but wrong as to the subject matter.

Masters of the Universe is a truly terrible adaptation of a series of comic books and Saturday morning cartoons that reached inexplicable popularity in the 1980s.  The Mattel toy company, having seen the incredible success of the Star Wars action figures in the late 70s was desperate to compete.  Their design department, inspired in part by Star Wars and in part by Conan the Barbarian came up with the figure of He-Man, mightiest hero in the universe and his arch nemesis Skeletor and then came up the planet Eternia, Castle Grayskull and all the rest of the gang.  Cross pollinating with DC comics and a syndicated animated television series which served as a weekly commercial for the toys, Mattel was soon raking in the bucks as millions of eight-year-old’s demanded their very own overly Nautilused muscle man with a blond Prince Valiant wig.  In 1987, the owners of the franchise thought they would make the leap from cheap animation to the big screen and who better to bring high quality fantasy entertainment to the screen than the producing team of Golan Globus and Cannon films.

Masters of the Universe stars Nordic blond muscle god Dolph Lundgren as Nordic blond muscle god He-Man and an unrecognizable Frank Langella as the bone faced Skeletor.  The plot, such as it is, makes very little sense.  Castle Greyskull and its ruler, the Sorceress (Christina Pickles) are under attack by Skeletor.  Some gnome inventor (Billy Barty) has created a cosmic key that Skeletor needs but instead it transports him, He-Man and a couple of non-entities to late 1980s earth where they run across a couple of teenagers (Courtney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill, both of whom survived this early blot on their careers and went on to success on television in the 1990s) and a hard-boiled detective (James Tolkan) who seems to have escaped from a completely different film.  There’s some more nonsense about the cosmic key being mistaken for some sort of musical instrument and then everyone is off to Castle Greyskull to face down Skeletor and his assistant, Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster).   Needless to say, good triumphs and Eternia is saved.  (I don’t think I’m giving away any plot twists that a semi-intelligent viewer won’t figure out within five minutes of the film’s beginning.)

The look of the film seems to be cut rate Flash GordonIt has the same comic book Technicolor with sparkling sets and costumes while lacking that film’s campy sense of humor and high budget sheen.  Production designer William Stout does a good job of emulating the comic book look on an obviously limited budget and went on to bigger and better things such as Pan’s Labyrinth, and costumer Julie Weiss makes the characters resemble their animated counterparts.  I was particularly taken with the slinky Evil-Lyn where Meg Foster’s incredibly blue eyes almost seem like a special effect and complement her cross between Catwoman and the evil queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As for the acting, the less said the better.  Dolph Lundgren gives perhaps the most wooden performance of the decade, showing that it takes more than a blond muscle god to convincingly portray a blond muscle god.  The rest of the fantasy characters were apparently directed (by Gary Goddard – who went from this to directing theme park ride sequences) to ham it up to the nth degree.  Our two human heroes, supposedly the relatable characters, seem to have been directed to be props without any internal life whatsoever and it is a credit to Ms. Cox and Mr. McNeill that they hold our attention at all.

If you really feel a need to relive your youth by watching 1980s ephemera, may I suggest looking up old Susan Powter infomercials on YouTube.  They’re more entertaining.

Deep well.  Cheap special effects.  Falling dwarf.  Gratuitous screenplay. Hover board riding.  Cackling laughter.  Magic staffs.  Flowing blond locks.  Burning gymnasium.  Clueless parents.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

photo by Michael Vadon

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