Warner Bros. // 1987 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 1st, 2005
Only the universe could hold adventure this big!
Eternia is in the grips of a calamitous war. The evil Skeletor (Frank Langella) has overtaken Castle Grayskull, imprisoned the Sorceress, and is frantically pursuing his arch-nemesis, He-Man (Dolph Lundgren, The Defender).
Meanwhile, He-Man and his comrades Teela and Man-at-Arms desperately try to counter Skeletor's attack forces. After one battle, they free the creature Gwildor (Billy Barty), who appears to be a cross between Howard Keel from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and a garden gnome.
Gwildor reveals that he's invented a device called the Cosmic Key, which opens up portals and allows trans-dimensional travel. Skeletor, who stole one of the keys and used it to circumvent Grayskull's defenses, has been hunting the pint-sized inventor ever since.
He-Man rallies his troops and makes for Grayskull to confront Skeletor and free the Sorceress. But they are soon overwhelmed by Skeletor's forces, and in a last-ditch attempt at survival, generate a random portal that leads...to Earth!
Having lost the Key in the portal hop, He-Man and company fan out to find it, and encounter Earth teens Julie (Couretney Cox, Friends) and her boyfriend Kevin. Soon, Skeletor pinpoints the location of He-Man and the Key and sends in his forces, led by Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster).
Huge laser battles ensue, and He-Man is ultimately faced with a dilemma: fight on or relinquish his sword to save his friends. Well, he makes the heroic choice of course. But rest assured, the movie doesn't end before Skeletor gets his bony ass kicked.
Why a studio felt that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe would succeed as a live-action feature film is knowledge I'll never grasp, but I'm glad someone fronted the cash for this film.
Perhaps one of the most beloved movies of my young pre-adolescent life, Masters of the Universe is spectacularly dopey, laden with plot holes, cringe-worthy acting, and bombastic sensory overload, yet to this day remains a personal favorite.
Dolph Lundgren made this film right after Rocky IV, and if anyone makes sense as He-Man, it's him. Sure, his dialogue was kept to a minimum, and an argument could be made that his pectorals stole every scene, but the guy was huge and blonde and was able to sell the physical demands of the role, despite the obnoxiously huge sword and the unwieldy cape he had to run around in.
Frank Langella's Skeletor was the polar-opposite of his tight-lipped nemesis, belting out lengthy monologues and screaming in that high-pitched villain tone only a guy in spandex and a skull mask could get away with. I'll give this much to the filmmakers: they were able to make the live-action Skeletor as much as a douche bag as the animated one.
But the real attraction of this film was the cartoonish carnage. The Star Wars influences are apparent from the start; gone are the pastel, tights-wearing enemies of the cartoon, replaced with black armored anonymous troops and few new additions -- Karg, a hook-handed Dokken cast-off; Saurod, a generic bipedal reptile; and Blade, a dude with two swords who continually has his bald ass handed to him by He-Man. And about those Skeletor troops: well, we've finally found some soldiers more inept than Imperial Stormtroopers; these guys can't overcome two teenagers and a middle-aged cop from Earth hiding behind half a car.
Laser blasts criss-cross, sparks fly, fire rages, Skeletor zaps people with his magic, and He-Man mows down enemy after enemy with his sword. It sounds like a lot of violence, but it is definitely PG-caliber mayhem. Plus there's an awful lot of it. And it was fun.
You know what else is fun? Laughing at all the plot holes. Here are a few of my favorites:
The secret entrance to Castle Grayskull.
Much is made of the impervious defenses of Grayskull. Heck, Skeletor had to mug a dwarf and steal his cosmic key to break in. Little did he know that said dwarf actually had a secret passage that led right to the throne room of Grayskull in his hut! Hah! Joke's on you skull-face!
What, no neighborhood watch?
The bulk of this film takes place on Earth, in what might be the most apathetic town in the galaxy. When Skeletor and his minions rain destruction down on He-Man and his pals, clog up the streets with their spacecraft and shock troops, and fly all over the place on those crazy hover-discs while firing off laser bolts, you'd think at least one concerned resident would get on the horn to 911. Nope. Not even a passerby shows up to investigate what the %&$# is going on at Charlie's music shop or how the school burnt to the ground or why there appears to be a giant, furry man running around the neighborhood with a rifle, followed by a gaggle of armored soldiers.
The octode rectifier!
The octode rectifier! The octode rectifier! This is my favorite laughable moment in the film. Newly stranded on Earth, Teela, Man-at-Arms, Gwildor, Julie, and Kevin must find a way back to Grayskull after Skeletor teleported back to Eternia with He-Man. Luckily, Skeletor was kind enough to leave the Cosmic Key behind. Unfortunately it had been damaged, and Gwildor starts rattling off obscure parts that he needs to fix it. And wouldn't you know, Man-at-Arms and Teela happen to have exactly what he needs! Thus resulting in this, the greatest exchange of dialogue in movie history!
Teela: Gwildor, Kevin knows the tones. Can you get us home?
Gwildor: Yes...yes, I think I can! But I need a few things. A bossonic tesseract.
Teela: (grabbing a device on her arm) Right here!
Gwildor: An octode rectifier.
Man-at-Arms: I have an octode rectifier!
Warner Brothers released Masters of the Universe during its snap-case days (we don't like to talk about that), and the presentation is standard fare. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer isn't too bad, though colors get shaky at times. Too bad the sound mix is only 2.0 stereo -- but it's loud nonetheless and should perform well if decoded into Pro Logic II.
Aside from disposable extras like text-only cast and crew bios and character profiles, the only other bonus is a feature commentary by director Gary Goddard, which is engaging and informative. Here's a tidbit: Mattel had run a contest where the winner would be given a guest shot in the film; confronted by this at the last minute, Goddard managed to squeeze the kid in as "Pig Boy," the little hombre who hands Skeletor his staff in the throne room at the end of the film. Poor little guy, how could he prove to his friends he was actually in the movie? "Tommy, I swear that's me! Please believe me!"
For all its corniness, Masters of the Universe remains for me a loud, entertaining blast from the past. Just the fact that these guys were able to adapt a coherent live action feature film from one of the looniest cartoons ever should be worth something.
Yeah I should hand down a guilty verdict, but I'm going to be a judicial activist and ignore the rule of law: Not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Director's Commentary
* Cast and Crew Bios
* Character Profiles