By the mid-80s a He-Man movie was inevitable. Boys at this time were living for the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon and drowning in Mattel’s action figures (myself included). He-Man and the rest of the Eternia posse were in parades, a live show called the “Power Tour”, and every other facet of merchandising you can imagine. After much anticipation, Cannon Film’s Masters of the Universe came out in summer of ’87. Critics laughed it off and children were left a little confused. It’s looked back on by many as a fun and campy film that managed to thrill young fans despite its deviations from the cartoon. It’s the 25th anniversary of the film so Warner Bros. released it on Blu-ray. Hit the jump for my review.
MOTU scraps the cartoon universe and many of the characters kids loved. A lot of this had to do with budgetary restrictions. Despite being the most expensive film ever produced by Cannon ($22 million), it was still pretty slim for what the filmmakers hoped to accomplish. The essential characters like He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and Skeletor (Frank Langella) are present, and some new ones are introduced (for better or worse). The character everyone always remembers is Gwildor (Billy Barty), a filthy looking ginger troll who created the “Cosmic Key” – a synthesizer-dildo that rips open gateways through space and time when you play different notes on it.
This key allows He-Man and friends to escape Grayskull when ambushed by Skeletor’s minions. The gateway spits them out in Whittier, CA. Not quite as magical as Eternia, but they have great fried chicken. He-Man, Man-at-Arms (John Cypher), Teela (Chelsea Field), and grungy Gwildor lost the Cosmic Key during transport, so they head out in search of it. Courtney Cox and her boyfriend Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill) find it first. Kevin thinks its a new Japanese synthesizer and decides to use it for his band, The Illusions. We never get to see The Illusions perform, but I’m sure their music would’ve been life-changing.
Skeletor, who also has a Cosmic Key, locates where He-Man and friends traveled to and sends some of his cronies to kill them and take back the other key. Only one of the cronies is recognizable: Beastman (Tony Carroll). In the cartoon Beastman is a harmless goofball that He-Man is always throwing into mud puddles. He’s pretty menacing in the movie though – snarling, drooling, and looking totally ambivalent when anyone is talking to him. Battles rage through the streets of Whittier, leading up to the final showdown between He-Man and Skeletor in the Grayskull throne room.
Cannon gave the directing reigns to Gary Goddard. He was inexperienced at the time but has since gone on to have a successful career producing kick ass theme park attractions like Jurassic Park: The Ride and the Terminator 2 3D show at Universal Studios, Florida. He’s stated in interviews that he made the film as an homage to Jack Kirby. He even wanted Kirby to do production design on MOTU, but Cannon wouldn’t pay for it. He’s also explained that the film was not supposed to be an adaptation of the cartoon. They had the rights to adapt the action figures and comics only and Filmation owned the rights to the cartoon, not Mattel.
They had a deep well of characters to create a story around and taken as a stand-alone film, MOTU is a damn good effort. It’s not considered canon by He-Man diehards, but I don’t think it deserves to be shunned. The effects are great, character designs are impressive, and for what’s considered to be a low-budget for a sci-fi action film, it delivers some pretty exciting moments. Then again, Bill Conti’s booming score could make anything seem epic. It’s honestly one of the most underrated movie scores of the ’80s.
Masters of the Universe is presented in 1.85:1 1080p with 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Gwildor looks disgusting in 1080p. You can almost smell his slimy cheek folds. His mouth hole looks like a sphincter dipped in tar. Close-ups of him are nearly unbearable to watch. What I mean is the transfer looks fantastic. For a 25th anniversary release, there are unfortunately no new special features from the 2001 DVD. There’s the trailer, the commentary by Gary Goodard, and nothing else. Goodard delivers tons of insight on the production. One of the more impressive anecdotes involves the construction of the Grayskull throne room. They actually built the entire thing and at the time it was the largest set in 40 years. That bad boy would be 95 percent digital nowadays, so you have to admire how much work the filmmakers put into this.
The 25th anniversary Blu-ray is a huge leap visually from the DVD. The lack of special features makes it a purchase for diehards only.