Masters of the Universe (1987) Remembered

Masters of the Universe is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. Sure, it’s a low-budget production but it is not so bad that we can’t sit down and enjoy it.  If you think about how the movie was made and the circumstances around its making, then I think some of the biggest criticisms of it can be largely forgiven.

Masters of the Universe came out in 1987, at the height of the He-Man craze. At that time, it was not very well received because of its poor production quality which came from the infamous Golan-Globus Productions and the equally infamous Cannon Films. This particular production company had neither the capital nor inclination to make this movie as good as it could have been, which was also why Mattel only licensed “Masters of the Universe,” and not the “He-Man” part of the title.  Despite all of this, there is plenty of fun to be had here.

For the 1980s, this film had a huge budget of 22 million.  While it did not make that back, you can see where the money went. The first thing you hear when the movie starts is the impressive score.  This is probably some of the best music for a movie that is objectively not very good.  The costuming for this movie is particularly impressive, and all of the actors give a good, enthusiastic performance.

The first lines of the movie (aside from the narrator) are spoken by Frank Langella’s Skeletor. He constantly steals the show from Dolph Lundgren’s He-Man with his boisterous performance that makes him the best Skeletor ever, and if you had any doubt that he was a good actor this role would definitely erase those doubts.  A lot of people had a problem with Billy Barty’s Gwildor, but they seem to forget that he is somewhat a victim of circumstance. He is the movie’s equivalent of Orco, and really they had two choices: they either had Billy Barty as Gwildor or a terribly conceived Orko, which how would they even make him? Would he be animated, or a puppet on a string? Whatever they may have chosen to do, it wouldn’t have ended well.  Also: we are treated to really good performances from Robert Duncan McNeill and Courtney Cox a decade before their big breaks on Voyager and Friends, respectively.  As an extra treat, James Tolkan (Principal Strickland in Back to the Future) is his usual “cranky bald guy” performance that you love, no matter what he’s in.

The costume design is generally well done and good looking.  I love Skeletor’s storm troopers or as one of my friends affectionately calls them “Skeletroopers.” They’re just basically just a rip-off of storm troopers from Star Wars, but they’re black and shiny and slick-looking, and you know there are a lot of extras in this movie since there were no computer graphics people to fill-in. Evil-Lyn may not look the part of her campy 1980s cartoon self, but her makeup is great and she has a crown that looks equally regal and roguish. The only characters that don’t look good are Karg and The Sorceress. Karg looks like he’s wearing a Victorian collar and a sweater tied around his shoulders: it looks terrible and distracting; I always hated it. The Sorceress doesn’t even look bad, but her costuming is rather uninspired. One thing you have to respect and love is the design for Blade.  The actor who plays Blade also seems to really be having fun in the role.  One of the most impressive creature effects in the movie comes from Saurod, the movie’s Lizard Man.

Masters of the Universe also has a fantastic soundtrack; people tend to forget about how good the music is for this movie. Sure, it’s nothing revolutionary like Star Wars but it was still good music, in particular the main theme were Skeletor and his troop are coming through the portal and marching through the streets. That march is probably the most iconic piece of music in the film, and it’s what I think of every time I think of the movie.

Overall, Masters of the Universe is an enjoyable romp.  There are some decisions that could’ve been different, but for the short time that they spend on Eternia, it looks pretty good and it shows what happens when Skeletor wins. The best part of the movie is the end, and there’s plenty to enjoy along the way.  Even if you never watch it again, it’s definitely good for at least one viewing.

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