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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Masters of the Universe

For those just joining us, I was doing this thing in my podcast for a while called Fishing in the Discount Bin, where'd I'd just rant about one of the many movies in my DVD collection.  While I did it about 10 times on the podcast before I found producing it to be too taxing, I actually wrote 30+ reviews before I shut things down.  Rather than let my reviews go to waste, I've started posting them here on my blog.

Today, we get to the 1987 classic Masters of the Universe, aka "the live-action He-Man movie."  This review is originally dated September 25, 2010.

Well, I said after I did Supergirl that it reminded me a lot of the live-action Masters of the Universe film, so I figured I would do Masters of the Universe next.  And that's what I just finished watching!

I remember a couple of Christmases ago, when a friend of mine gave me a bunch of He-Man DVDs.  As I got reacquainted with the cartoon, I was struck with the real unique setting that Masters of the Universe has.  There have been lots of attempts to blend sci-fi and fantasy...have laser guns along side magic spells and all that.  But most of the blends try to mix sci-fi with the "Lord of the Rings" brand of fantasy.  Masters of the Universe, however, blended it with the "Conan the Barbarian" brand of fantasy, and the blend stuck.

But yup.  The live-action movie.  Seeing as to how I found it had a very similar feel to Supergirl, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised when I see that both movies had the same writer...a man by the name of David Odell.  And they also have the same basic set-up:  super-powered beings from another time and space come to Earth in search of the mystical McGuffin to save their homeland.

The plot:  On Eternia, the unthinkable has happened.  Skeletor has finally won.  He's taken control of Castle Greyskull, the Sorceress is his prisoner, the heroic warriors are on the run, and by moonrise, he will have all the Power of Castle Greyskull.  However,  He-Man still eludes him.  He-Man is off leading the resistance and trying to gather the remaining forces of good, soon coming across Man-at-Arms and Teela.  They free an elderly inventor by the name of Gwildor.  Turns out, Gwildor inadvertently tipped the balance in Skeletor's favour.  Gwildor invented our mystical McGuffin, the Cosmic Key, a device that can open wormholes to any point in space.  Gwildor actually built a second Cosmic Key, and our heroes plot to use this to lead the counterattack.  However, our heroes get pinned down by Skeletor's forces, and they escape by opening a random wormhole that...leads to Earth, of course.  And they get separated from the Cosmic Key on the trip.

On Earth, we meet two teenage lovers by the name of Julie and Kevin, who are played by Monica from Friends and Lt. Paris from Star Trek: Voyager.  I love stumbling across actors "before they were famous."  Of course, they discover the Cosmic Key, and because Kevin is a musician, he's entranced by the Cosmic Key and thinks it's a musical instrument.  So, of course, they get caught in the crossfire as He-Man and Skeletor's forces battle for the Cosmic Key.

Fun trivia fact:  The Sorceress is played by an actress named Christian Pickles.  On Friends, Pickles played Monica's mom.

And speaking of the actors, let's speak of them!  He-Man, of course, famously played by Dolph Lundgren.  This was Lundgren's second movie ever, after Rocky IV, and it shows.  You see he quite  hasn't figured out this "acting" thing yet.  He's trying really hard to suppress his natural Swedish accent.  Skeletor was played by Frank Langella, who's currently experiencing a bit of a career renaissance, and he really plays Skeletor as a grand, operatic villain.

There is actually some good acting in this.  There's some great "character moments."  That's a term a friend of mine coined...it's those quiet moments of hushed dialogue where the characters let their true feelings show.  There's this scene I love where He-Man and Man-at-Arms are hunkered down, waiting for Skeletor's forces to arrive.  The dialogue they share...you really get the feeling that these two are old soldiers who've been at this a long time. 

If there's one word to describe this film, it's "ambitious."  And when I first heard the running commentary, with director Gary Goddard, it was originally more ambitious.  Goddard was actually scouting locations in Iceland, because Iceland has some very exotic scenery and he wanted Iceland to play Eternia.  But, no budget.  He ordered the set for Castle Greyskull to be built with all these ramps and staircases because he wanted the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor to be "the greatest sword fight ever filmed."  But, when it came time to film that climactic battle, they actually ran out of money and couldn't.  Goddard begged the producers for months to pony up the cash to at least film some kind of ending for the film.  They finally did, but instead of the epic sword fight, we got a hastily filmed battle filmed with dark lighting and in mood-fog.  The live-action film was made by a company called the Golan-Globus company, and from what I gather, they were famous for doing dick moves like that.  No wonder it was the only movie Goddard ever made. 

Fun trivia fact #2:  Without Masters of the Universe, we may not have had X-MenX-Men director Bryan Singer is actually good friends with Goddard, and Singer got the gig to do X-Men, he actually sought Goddard's advice, seeing as to how Goddard also did a "comic book movie."   To thank him for his advice, Singer gave Goddard a cameo in X-Men.  Goddard is the guy buying a hotdog from Stan Lee.

Masters of the Universe is another grand 1980s fantasy film.  Great special effects, too, that still hold up.  With the success of Transformers and G.I. Joe, Mattel is hard at work on trying to do another live-action film.  It'll probably have way better special effects and be closer to the 1980s cartoon, but it'll lack that 1980s charm.

Man, the more I indulge in Masters of the Universe, the more I want to try my hand at writing fanfic.  There's just so many facets of the He-Man universe I want to explore.  From the live-action movie, we have the character of Blade.  One of Skeletor's warriors, introduced for the film.  He only has one line.  As he draws his sword and prepares to do battle with He-Man, he utters, "I've waited a long time for this."  Even when I was 10 years old and first saw the film, I started spinning his yarn.  I always envisioned him as being regarded as the greatest swordsman on Eternia, but he doesn't consider himself worthy of that title until he's defeated He-Man in battle and claimed the Sword of Power -- He-Man's sword, the greatest sword on Eternia -- as his own.  My idea gained extra credence tonight as I watched the film.  When He-Man surrenders to Skeletor, and Blade takes the Sword of Power from He-Man, you can almost see Blade popping a boner under his armor.

I want to see the further adventures of Detective Lubick.  He's the poor Earth detective who also gets caught in the crossfire between He-Man and Skeletor's forces.  At the film's climax, he becomes quite the warrior himself, as he mows down Skeletor's forces with a pump-action shotgun.  He chooses to stay behind on Eternia, and continue the fight against Skeletor.  Again, I always saw him as becoming the head of the Eternia Palace's security forces.  And, despite having access to all kinds of futuristic weaponry and enchanted objects, he still chooses to arm himself with his trusty shotgun. 

I need to get out more. 

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