Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe; fantasy, USA, 1987; D: Gary Goddard, S: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courteney Cox, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, Robert Duncan McNeill, Jon Cypher, Chelsea Field, James Tolkan

Evil Skeletor, a man with a skull instead of a face, conquered the prestigious castle Greyskull on planet Eternia and captured the Sorceress with his army. He-Man, the fighter for good and justice, manages to infiltrate Greyskull with Duncan, Teela and the dwarf scientist Gwildor, but they get attacked by Skeletor's army and have to escape with Gwildor's dimension portal key to a different planet —Earth. The key is found by the teenage girl Julie, whose parents died in a plane crash, and her boyfriend Kevin. Skeletor's army goes to Earth to take the key away from her, but she joins He-Man. He manages to kill Skeletor and awards Julie by letting her go back in time to day before her parents went to the plane and stop it.

"Masters of the Universe" is a modest fantasy action flick based on "He-Man", the popular cartoon show that was a real gold mine back in the 80s, and one has to give credit to the Golan-Globus group for at least having the audacity to try such a live-action project, but as with most Hollywood films, the screenwriters did not stay faithful to the canon and went on to do their own version of the original concept. Fans and experts of the show who saw the film concluded that it is rather tame and that they would not miss that much if they missed it by some chance, while there were a lot of changes made compared to the show: there He-Man also had a secret personality as prince Adam, here he is always He-Man; there the legendary Skeletor had a very cynical sense of humor, here he is a too serious bad guy (albeit a charismatic one).

A deviation from the canon does not always necessarily have to be something bad, but the new elements added in the story do not have that many redeeming features that justify such changes— except for Skeletor ("Tell me about the loneliess of good, He-Man. Is it equal to the loneliness of evil?")—and as a whole the film lacks that nostalgic humor, melancholy and humanity from the "He-Man" world, thus turning just into a cult "guilty pleasure" more thanks to the bravery of the premise than to the extraordinary execution of it. The story has almost no plot holes, no extreme mistakes or pretentious outbursts, and Frank Langella’s skull make up for Skeletor is very good, but that all still does not mean much—one of the rare examples of spirit is the scene where Gwildor steals some fast food from the back of a car of a kissing couple, upon which we, surprisingly, learn that our heroes are vegetarians, or when Kevin assumes Gwildor’s dimensional travel key is a modern synthesizer, but the rest is just stiff routine. Among the rare sparkling virtues is Courteney Cox’s role of a sad teenage girl Julie, who almost centralized the whole story to herself. However, when all is said and done, you just have to give credit to Gary Goddard: if anything, till date, he is the only man who ever directed a live action He-Man film, something not even Spielberg managed to do.



J Luis Rivera said...

I have a soft spot for this one, although I would have loved it if they hadn't added the subplot about Man-At-Arms being sent to "our dimension". It sucks and dates the movie in a seriously horrible way.

Marin Mandir said...

Believe it or not, but I too have a soft spot for it. It's a "guilty pleasure" since it's till date the only live action adaptation of my beloved "He-Man" show, but the critic inside me just can't ignore all the lousy elements in it.

If you want a really good "He-Man" film, watch the animated flick "The Secret of the Sword" from 1985.