Masters of the Universe Blu-ray Review -

Masters of the Universe Blu-ray Review

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  • Rated: PG
  • Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Christina Pickles, Billy Barty, Courtney Cox, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, James Tolkan
  • Written By: David Odell
  • Directed By: Gary Goddard
  • Original Year of Release: 1987
  • Distributor: Cannon (original release), Warner Brothers (Blu-ray)
  • Special Features: Commentary and Trailer
  • Series:

Masters of the Universe Blu-ray Review

The 25th Anniversary Edition

By Robert T. Trate     October 10, 2012

When I was kid, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was a great cartoon. It had everything someone who loved Sci-Fi and Fantasy could want in a show. By 1985, the show had run its course, but how many other animated cartoon shows can you think of that had over 120 episodes? In 1987, a live action film was released in theaters titled: Masters of the Universe. It was, in short, a dud at the theater. I always wondered why. The cartoon had its following, so a built-in audience was there. Perhaps they were a bit more mature, now, but a live action film made sense for the audience. I always thought the film didn’t need to be what it was. Thankfully, a commentary track supplied some of the answers. 

Before we get into all that, here is the quick plot to Masters of the Universe. The evil Skeletor (Frank Langella ) has won a decisive victory on Eternia. He now has control of Castle Grayskull and the Sorceress (Christina Pickles). He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and his companions are now on the run as the planet has come under Skeletor’s control. How and why did this happen? It turns out that Skeletor stole a special key that can unlock any door, even in space and time, and slipped passed Grayskull’s defenses. The maker of this key has become a wanted man as both the heroes and villains are now hunting him. Luckily, the locksmith/ key maker Gwildor (Billy Barty) knows what Skeletor has done with the key and wishes to set things right. After a quick rescue and exposition about the key, He-Man and his companions team up with Gwildor. This, of course, leads them to be attacked, forcing them to use the only copy of the original key to escape.  

It’s all perfect for any 8 to 12 year old that really liked the cartoon. Here we have Skeletor brought to life by Frank Langella, chewing through each and every seen as if it were Shakespeare. Parallel that with a hulky and fairly articulate Dolph Lundgren as He-Man who saves the day when he needs to. These two actors could not be more opposite in their careers or acting choices, yet they are not the problem. The problem stems from the Cannon Group hemorrhaging money (see further shoddy film making in Superman 4: The Quest for Peace) and a poor script wrapped around a 17 million dollar budget. To get around the swords, robot warrior henchmen, magic, and the setting of a fantastical world, He-Man and company escape to Earth. This quickly turns the film into a “fish out water” story, wrapped around a young couple that may be the Masters of the Universe’s only salvation. 

Any story on the written page will go through multiple changes before it gets put on the screen. There are the director’s choices. Then, there are the actor’s choices. Finally, and it really comes down to this: the fact of how much money the director can play with. Gary Goddard’s commentary really highlights how he did a lot with a little in his directorial debut. 

The budget of 17 million dollars was one of the highest at the time (Goddard states that most films were being shot for around 5 to 6 million). This film had everything in it that could challenge a first time director. It had tons of special effects, night shoots, first time movie actors, multiple companies to approve everything, sword fights, and a cow that wouldn’t act on cue. Goddard didn’t even have the privilege of casting the lead, which had been preset with Lundgren. 

Goddard’s main focus of the commentary is highlighting the depth and scope he brought to the picture with lighting. His argument was that He-Man, Gwildor, and company would be unbelievable during the day. Every scene had to have a Wizard of Oz-like quality to it and that would be his saving grace for such a low budget. The budget constrained him on multiple levels as there was no second unit, Cannon cut his shooting days down, and the world of Eternia had moved locations from Iceland to Vasquez Rocks in Southern California (where Kirk fought the Gorn in Star Trek’s “Arena”). The cutting down of the shooting days is the most fascinating part to his commentary. Goddard had the world’s largest set constructed for Grayskull. It was two connecting sound stages and would play heavily into the final sword fight between He-Man and Skeletor. The day before the fight, Cannon told Goddard that he was done and to wrap the picture. Within two months, he was back to shoot what we see as the final battle. It works really well if you know the story behind the film. If you are just watching it, well, it seems pretty lame. 

Commentary tracks are a great resource for any film if the director really lets loose on his own picture. Goddard did go into the why Orko wasn’t used in the film, as well as who and why Pig Boy was in the film (blink and you’ll miss him). Goddard also mentioned that it was a great summer and a great cast. Everyone gave their all for what they thought was a fun adventure. 

The Blu-ray Experience:
The commentary was from the original 2009 DVD release. The picture and the sound were superb. However, as it is with any dated effects film, Blu-ray highlights many of the outlines or pre-digital effects. Here, we see that all of Goddard’s lighting tricks and techniques really paid off in the event of Blu-ray technology. His colors pop as each and every scene has a whimsical feel to it. The regular scenes of Earth, that do not feature any Eternians, feel plain and ordinary, as they should. When the Masters of the Universe show up, the film truly takes us off to that merry old land.  



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Dazzler 10/10/2012 4:14:19 AM

This DVD was my test in the store for getting my super HD tv.  It's amazing how Samsung can bring out the lines in faces. 

monkeyfoot 10/10/2012 8:34:52 AM

I remember kind of liking it way back when I first saw it. I knew of Cannon's ultra cheap movie budgets on Chuck Norris and Van Damme films back in the day so I wasn't expecting much. It was a fun matinee with friends then.

I'm wondering if Goddard mentions in his commentary about using Jack Kirby's New Gods comic as inspiration for the movie. I've read that in some old interviews.

Speaking of Kirby, I hear he's in the new movie Argo portrayed by an actor. His artwork was part of the true story for the fake film the CIA used in rescuing American hostages in Iran. Will Mania be doing a review of the film because of its sci-fi/comics connection?

redslayer 10/10/2012 1:45:36 PM

My First question when I saw this movie was: Where is Orko? 

After that, pretty much everything started to crumble down.  The only thing worth mentioning about the film is the Evil-Lyn was popping out of her uniform :)

death4sale 10/10/2012 3:19:46 PM

Cannon always meant to make a pseudo-sequel to this movie but it eventually became CYBORG. The sequel was going to have He-Man (called Prince Adam in the script for Part 2) working as a coach at a High School on Earth. They had the sets build for it and it was ready to go but they went bankrupt. They were also about to shoot a live-action Spider-Man film back then but as I said, they went bankrupt. They also had sets built for Spider-Man but couldn't use them. They decided to make use of those sets and change Masters of the Universe 2 into Cyborg using those recycled sets. Amazing what information you learn when spending far too much time searching the Internet.

The final sword battle was filmed by Goddard and co. with only a few people present as they apparently broke into the set during the early morning without anyone knowing. They couldn't make use of the entire set so the DP decided to use that dark lighting where he blacked everything out to convey an epic feeling and to get around that pesky budgetary constraints.

I will be picking this up on bluray. It's still a fun movie for me. Me thinks I know far too much about this movie.

jppintar326 10/10/2012 5:34:47 PM

 I always liked this guilty pleasure and I still do.  As to where Orko was, the technology to make a realistic looking Orko didn't exist back in the 80s, so they replaced him with Gwildor.  I liked Meg Foster as Evil Lyn.  She was very well cast.  I always took this movie on its own terms and not compare it to the animated series.  I'll be buying this Blu Ray.

SmokingFrog77 10/10/2012 7:41:19 PM

I seem to recall that Goddard had always wanted to make a New Gods movie, and used the Masters of the Universe property to basically merge the two universes. I guess that makes He-Man Orion?

Phetus 10/10/2012 9:49:13 PM

 This was a gem from my childhood, and in recent years I even tried my hand at writing a more faithful script for a MOTU film, just for my own writing amusement. But this film definitely had a lot more in common with the New Gods property than with the actual toy line or animated series that it inspired.


thezillaman 10/15/2012 11:50:42 PM

 cool ass movie. brings back good times..



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