I remember the 80s as a magical time. The advertising world took an outright invasive and kind of sinister tone sometime during my childhood though. After the success of films like Star Wars and their toy line from Hasbro, the industry began a series of fantasy toy lines that used the 30 minute Saturday morning cartoon as essentially one long ass advertisement. This led to some famous toys and cartoons such as Tranformers, Thundercats, Silver Hawks and who knows how many others. I’m sure there’s a wikipedia article somewhere. In my heart of hearts I feel like the first of these was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which featured a band of sword wielding fantasy characters set in a world called Eternia fighting some bad guys.
The shitty ass cartoon and surprisingly great toy line were incredibly successful, and while my adult self can see this shit as straight up exploitative marketing, as a kid I was totally on board for it. It was only a matter of time before the Hollywood shit-machine would take the hulking character of He-man and immortalize the dope on screen. Enter, Dolph Lundgren and the Cannon Film Group.
I remember this movie was a pretty big deal when it came out in 1987. I was 8 years old at the time, and as I said before, He-Man was a hugely popular cartoon in the 80′s. When it was announced they were making a movie version of the cartoon every kid must have just about shit their pants in excitement, myself included. The result however was sadly just kind of average. The majority of the action takes place on Earth, rather than on He-Mans home world of Etarnia. Also a very popular character from the cartoon “Orco” was missing and replaced by a slightly annoying little creature called Gwildor played by the great Billy Barty. Both of these decisions were due to budget constraints, as the film was made by 80s B-Movie masters Cannon Films, but a Kid who was a huge fan of the cartoon is bound to be slightly annoyed at this. The people involved in the film did a better job than was expected for the tiny as budget they had and were able to offer an equally tiny ass spectacle, but it just didn’t quite work out. Dolph made a pretty good but not very talkative He-Man and Langella makes a great scenery chewing Skeletor.
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To be honest here, I really can’t imagine a realistic, and gritty Sword and Sorcery genre film version of He-Man. The principal flaw in any He-Man movie would be the cartoon itself. The only way to make it realistic would be a massive deviation from the cartoon and it’s Filmation style of animation which was just cell-recycling and as little work as possible. And once you’ve crossed that bridge, what’s the point of making a He-Man movie? Just embrace the camp and go balls deep on that shit. That’s kind of where Cannon ended up.
I read a while ago that the film was originally going to take place on the planet of Eternia but budget limitations brought it to Earth. The fact the film’s idea of where it wanted it set had to be ditched should really have been enough to dissuade the producers from making it. But, it didn’t and of course we’re all glad it didn’t. Masters of the Universe is one of those strange hybrids that has a clear cut hero in He-Man come out of where he’s familiar with and travel to a far off place in order to achieve something. In this case, it’s Earth in order to escape evil Skeletor and his foes who want control of an item called ‘The Cosmic Key’ that this little creature Gwildor has created. This key enables folk to travel from planet to planet and, naturally, Skeletor wants control of this Cosmic Key for evil.
But instead of being a circular journey in which a hero leaves their homeland; fights battles and defeats evil before returning home an even bigger hero, the film presents us with a typical high school romance involving Kevin and Julie. The idea that He-Man is the focus is still very much present but it is Julie we have more of a connection with as an audience as we feel she may be in peril at certain times and her back-story may touch us somewhat.
I saw this film recently for the first time in what must have been like 15 years. When I was a kid I watched the shit out of this movie. So, watching it again was a bit of a trip down memory lane. I also watched it after having surgery and I was pretty high on pain killers. You don’t remember lines of dialogue or gripping narratives in scenarios like this, you remember individual shots and facial expressions from the film. Watching it on medication was surreal and the pick-up studio shots of Dolph standing around looking buff seemed to last forever and were so obviously shot on a sound stage. So again, Masters of the Universe – A great film if you’re on drugs!
So yeah, the film is pretty stupid. Although, it’s that watchable kind of trash that comes with the fact you saw it as a kid so often that the experience now is a trip down memory lane rather than watching live action toys. To some, this might be the worst film they’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t have a problem with that; to others, it may be their favorite and I wouldn’t have a problem with that either. I personally enjoy the movie, it’s so hyper-80s. I also have a place in my heart for Dolph Lundgren.
The film has its charm though. A cool synthesizery 1980s soundtrack for one. As well as a great appearance from James Tolkan, otherwise known as Principal Strickland from Back to the Future, whose best line is “Nobody takes pop shots at Lubic!” are some of the few highlights but it isn’t really enough to remove adult judgement on a childhood favorite. Either way, if you’re a fan of the film, be sure to snag one of the shirts we have from the Cannon Films gear.