Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Masters of the Universe (1987)

I didn’t watch a lot of Saturday-morning cartoons as a kid, mostly because I liked to sleep late.  I do remember two:  Thundercats and He-Man.  I was able to rent one of the Thundercats DVDs from Netflix, but returned it after the first episode.  It didn’t really hold up that well.  Perhaps some memories are better left as memories.

A few months ago, I saw a cover for Men’s Fitness with Dolph Lundgren.  The only thing I knew him from was the live-action Masters of the Universe (He-Man) movie.  I knew that I probably wouldn’t want to bother with the series, but the movie might be worth it.  It would only be a matter of time before Netflix had it streaming.  Lo and behold, Netflix started streaming Masters of the Universe recently.  Despite a few complaints, I remembered liking the movie as a kid.  What could go wrong?

The story starts with He-Man, Duncan and Teela talking about how Castle Grayskull has been taken over by Skeletor.  His plan is to take its power and rule the universe as evil overlord.  How is this possible?  Simple:  He’s tricked Gwildor into making a Cosmic Key that can transport the user and/or friends to any point in space and time.  Skeletor can send his troops to any planet and take it over.  In the process of stopping Skeletor, He-Man, Gwildor, Duncan and Teela are transported to Earth, promptly losing the Cosmic Key.  They don’t have much time to stop Skeletor, who has sent several mercenaries to find and capture He-Man.  Yeah, that’s pretty much the plot in a nutshell.

You know how movies meant for kids now have something for adults?  (How nice that the writers thought of the people who are paying for the tickets.)  Masters of the Universe wasn’t made with that consideration in mind.  The movie was designed to sell the toy line.  This is really where my perspective has changed over the years.  The movie was great for a kid that enjoyed the cartoon and would probably sit through anything that stayed moderately true to the cartoon.

That’s really where my complaints were.  They didn’t have He-Man change from his alter ego, Adam.  They also totally left out Battle Cat and Orko.  In fact, I thought Gwindor was supposed to be a version Orko.  That much I understood.  I could see not wanting to have a floating, vaguely ghost-like character due to budget concerns.  It could also be difficult to have a talking cat in the movie or to have Adam transform into He-Man, as per the TV series.  The $17 million budget was huge for them.  The director had to fight to get a decent ending.

This is one of those movies that I would totally understand if modern audiences skipped.  My watching it was pure nostalgia.  I knew Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill were in it.  There was also Billy Barty (Noodles MacIntosh from UHF) playing Gwildor.  I also recognized James Tolkan and Frank Langella.  Still, the main draw was having watched both this and the cartoon as a child.  I honestly feel bad for any parent that was dragged to see this.

I think the big drawback was the plot.  It was very underdeveloped to the point where I think the studio was using the characters as a draw.  this came across more as a bad in joke.  There were a few lines that were delivered like you were supposed to know the back story or were a reference to the TV show.  (Think “I have the power!”)     Instead of a standalone movie, like many of today’s movies based on TV shows, it seemed like the finale to a TV show that was cancelled.  (Speaking of which, a planned sequel was scrapped due to the studio losing the movie rights.  Legend has it that the proposed script became Cyborg with Jean-Claude Van Damme.)

The story seems to rely too heavily on cliché.  How is it that as soon as Skeletor locks in on the Cosmic Key, it moves?  Why is it that when anyone finds something of great importance, they instantly assume it’s something else and immediately start playing with it?  It’s amazing that Kevin didn’t send the entire planet into an alternate dimension or something.  I’ve also noticed that the main evil guy always gets really crappy henchmen.  Here’s a guy that took over a planet no problem, but he can’t find someone to do a simple search and retrieval.

The acting was somewhat decent.  Langella was best as Skeletor.  For those that have seen the Back to the Future movies and Top Gun, Tolkan was pretty much what you’d expect as Detective Lubic.  (Is it too much to ask that he call someone a slacker?)  Most of the rest of the acting is about what you’d expect of an 80s movie based on a toy line.  I’m not saying it’s bad, but a lot of it wasn’t memorable.

One of the advantages of Netflix streaming is that I didn’t have to wait for a disc.  The downside is that I couldn’t get any features.  I might rent the disc just to be able to see some of the commentary.  (Much of the information I get is through IMDb.)  I guess nostalgia is a funny thing.

There’s supposed to be another live-action movie coming out.  I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a sequel, a remake or a reboot, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about it.  I imagine it would be similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, which is also currently available streaming.  Perhaps some memories are better left as memories.

No comments :