Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Retro View: Masters of the Universe


All together now: I HAVE THE POWER!!! With that said...

As our story opens, the planet of Eternia is having problems. The forces of the evil Skeletor (Frank Langella) has captured Castle Grayskull and its keeper the Sorceress (Christina Pickles) and declaring himself ruler. Standing in his way though is the planet's leading warrior He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and his friends Man At Arms (Jon Cypher) and Teela (Chelsea Field) who discover that a locksmith named Gwildor (Billy Barty) has created a device called a "Cosmic Key" that was able to breach the castle defenses. Using the key they enter the castle but are overwhelmed by Skeletor's men and using the key flee to another planet...called Earth. There they find help from teenagers Julie (Courteney Cox) and her boyfriend Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeil) as they attempt to return home. But Skeletor and his henchmen-including Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster)-are hot on their heals, as is a cranky cop (James Tolkan). Can He-Man save the universe and his friends from Skeletor's evil goals?

Ah Masters of the Universe. What can you say about a movie that features a pre-Friends Courteney Cox, the principal from Back to the Future (sadly never calls He-Man a slacker), Billy Barty in drag in one scene and Dolph in tiny shorts? Well I guess you could call it cheesy 1980s fun or a painful reminder of what fantasy/sci-fi films were from that period. Not to mention the precursor to Transformers and the gaggle of films based on toys and video games that have flooded cinemas in the near 25 years since it's release.

I admit to being in the middle. On the one hand the film is pure cheesy fun, especially when Langella is onscreen, chewing the scenery through his Skeletor makeup. Also fun is Foster's Evil-Lyn as she provides a good foil for Langella to play off of. The film's first 15 minutes are also well handled and seem to promise a great epic adventure film, with help of impressive production desgin (credited to artist William Stout) and good FX (by Star Wars vet Richard Edlund). Then we hit Earth and it becomes somewhat cluttered. Between the teen subplots (she lost her parents) and the sudden downscale action scenes (one battle takes place inside a record store) it loses some of the fun of those opening minutes. It also takes turns into camp comedy with Barty and and the cranky cop that almost turns the film into Flash Gordon. As for Dolph, well he looks the part and maybe wisely he doesn't have much dialogue.

I also noticed how much the film cribs from other films and stories. The opening credit sequence is a virtual copy of the opening credits from Superman, Skeletor's battle cruiser resembles Jabba the Hutt's sail barge from Return of the Jedi, Gwildor is an escaped Hobbit and Skeletor's troops are basically running around in Darth Vader costumes. And the plot is basic good vs evil, with references to both Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian accounted for. It's not a bad thing but for some you'll be able to figure out the story from the opening frame.

In the end, Masters of the Universe is a film you just have to take at face value. If anything I'll take it over Michael Bay's Transformers any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Cheese Rating: *** out of 4.

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