I was a hardcore He-Man fan when I was a child. He’s pretty much the precursor to my obsession with Superman and for many years fueled my love for fantasy and action. My love for He-Man is long and storied, especially with how he helped me appreciate the fantasy genre, and I look forward to a time where he can come back and enthrall a new generation of fans. It seems like the time for a He-Mannaisance is rapidly approaching, thankfully, and I couldn’t help but think back to “Masters of the Universe.” In 1987 studios were still searching far and wide for their own “Star Wars” that would allow them to pump out action figures and all kinds of merchandise for young fans.
With the built in audience of the animated series and original toy line, “Masters of the Universe” seemed like an easy home run for a full fledged fantasy movie franchise that could take the place of “Star Wars” for a while. It’s just too bad that the movie leaves so much to be desired and never spends enough time on Eternia to give us that feeling that we were being thrown in to another world like “Star Wars” did. “Masters of the Universe” only spends about five minutes on Eternia with He-Man and his army (sans Orco) battling Skeletor’s forces. The wizard Gwildor has developed a weird cosmic key that can allow entities to travel through dimensions. Skeletor plans to use it nefariously while also obtaining the power of the sorceress who Skeletor has prisoner.
While overwhelmed by Skeletor’s forces, Gwildor opens the cosmic key and the group is transported to Earth by accident where they then end up in—New Jersey. Ooh! Exciting…? After learning the lay of the land, He-Man must help Gwildor, Teela and Man at Arms find the misplaced Cosmic Key as Skeletor and his forces have breached the portal, too. The cosmic key comes in the possession of teens Julie and Kevin, the latter of whom is an aspiring musician who is convinced the Key is some kind of otherworldly synthesizer.
Now, as He-Man bonds with the teens, they have to take on Skeletor who is hell bent on finding the key and possibly taking over Earth. While it’s no masterpiece, “Masters of the Universe” still has my heart as a favorite that I still love on so many levels. It’s a childhood favorite, and it has a ton of sentimental value. I vividly remember spending many a day watching it on network television here in New York and always loving its funky amalgam of genres, as well as its sparse albeit excellent servings of He-Man doing battle in Eternia.
Gary Goddard’s genre picture is such a beautiful mess filled with inexplicably weird moments as when Kevin takes the key to a music shop, and the trio’s astonishment at the concept of ribs and chicken. The casting is relatively on point with Dolph Lundgren doing a good job as the hero He-Man, while Courtney Cox, and Chelsea Field and Jon Cypher contribute as supporting players. You also have to appreciate Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn, Christina Pickles as Sorceress. The banner elements though is the excellent make up and costume design (Evil-Lyn, Beast Man, and Saurod all still look incredible on film), the centerpiece being Frank Langella as Skeletor.
It’s not enough that Langella is a skilled thespian capable of lending gravitas to a typically schlocky villain like Skeletor, but the make up drops him smack dab in the middle of dark fantasy and horror. “Masters of the Universe” is mainly a template on what could have been and what should have been when all is said and done. It has so many seeds for a great fantasy epic that I think a bigger budget could have taken it to new heights beyond the animated series. The movie spends way too much time on Julie and Kevin and how she may or may not have experienced it all a la “Wizard of Oz,” but Gary Goddard still manages to make due with what minuscule resources are allowed Golan Globus.
The final stinger in the end credits is one of the most famous Easter Eggs in cult cinema as it’s the promise of a sequel that was sadly never made.
You have to respect their confidence in the final product.