Masters of the Universe - 1st May 2011

Today's Hollywood recipe is as follows:
-Take a famous family friendly cartoon series with it's own line of lucrative toys
-Add a high budget from a company, Canon, that is actually unable to maintain it
-Then filter the whole disastrous affair through the patented 'Hollywood Fantasy Film Cliche Scriptwriter-o-matic 3000'
and you get the cheesy, fairly thick, yet fabulously nostalgic tasting, 1987 forgotten classic Masters of the Universe,
AKA there was a time when Dolph Lundgren was more famous than Courtney Cox.

For anyone growing up a kid in the late 70s and 80s, with hindsight, film-wise at least, we never had it so good. Cough and your saliva would hit a poster for the latest attempt to cash in on what Star Wars and ET had started: a highly camp fantasy craze. 
Willow, Krull, The Beastmaster, Mac and Me, Labyrinth, the Never Ending Story, Flight of the Navigator etc. etc. The list is endless. 

Now as an adult I have sort of had my fill of fantasy films, all of which basically contain bizarrely named people and/or creatures journeying either to or from some ridiculously named place to find something, retrieve something or destroy something or else their/are world would be decimated and/or over-run. Along the way there are tests, battles, laughs, love, prosthetics and some dated "special" effects. 
However, you can sit a child in front of such things and it is all miraculous. Except, strangely, and I have noticed this in other 80s so-called kid's films, MOTU features swearing, quite a bit of gore and some genuinely scary/troubling scenes. Probably the reason I loved every neon drenched, ludicrous second of it.

Like all film adaptations of any thing, the Master of the Universe both contains elements of the original cartoon but also weaves a story and includes characters that bare no resemblance to it in any way. Adding to the utter joyous and laughable confusion you get watching it as an adult.
If you stop and think, even for a moment, then none of the film's mythology makes any sense what-so-ever. What is even more genius is at no point do they bother to explain it. 

For example: Who is the Sorceress and why? 
If He-Man is a prince, where's the royal family? 
Why are the only good people on Eternia an old man who resembles an accountant (who might do war reenacting on the weekends and could slip a disk at any moment), his fairly useless yet tight buttocked daughter, a midget with a droopy face, who apparently has gills but also a nose, and this waxed, shiny adonis with a blonde mullet who wonders around in next to nothing. When the evil army, led by a man with a skull for a head, have some weird animal/human/monster half-breed killers and countless black armored goons waiting to get a face full of laser? 
Also why are there lasers and swords but not guns?
I could go on like that for days. Like all good bad films, you just have to accept everything you see at face value and take the ride.

At least the script being utterly hilarious helps! At one point a human character (our wacky Eternians come to Earth you see) having found 'The Cosmic Key' (a cylindrical array of buttons, lights and twirling pointy things that resembles nothing at all) runs into a music store and claims to the owner "It must be one of those new Japanese synthesizers!" to which any normal person, when asking where they found it and finding out that they got it out of a spooky smoking crater in the graveyard, would say "It's probably an alien device for opening time portals, I would put it back where you found it."

The acting, thankfully, is mostly awful and hammy in the best possible way. The characters run the range of bland and unimportant to mildly interesting, weird looking folk who help, sort of, with some vague exposition. Dolph Lundgren fresh from Rocky gives the sort of performance where you get the impression that even the simple act of forming words makes his brain ache and as Skeletor, obviously taking his cues
from Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless, Frank Langella (that's highly respected thespian of stage and screen, Frank Langella) chews the scenery like a carnivorous and veracious dog. Spewing forth fantastically over-the-top, megalomaniacal shit like it was Shakespeare! 
That is scenery which the rather disturbingly serious director's commentary confidently informs me was one of the largest sets ever constructed, utilizing two whole sound stages. Mind-boggling when you consider that they hardly use it. Must be where all that budget went, that and taking over the entire main street of a suburb of LA for months of night shoots when the whole thing looks like it was and could've been shot on the back lot from a Duran Duran video!

So with a dash of Flash Gordon, a pinch of Star Wars, a soupcon of Star Trek IV, a dab of Lord of the Rings, a morsel of Wizard of Oz and a healthy dollop of 'what in the name of Dolph Lundgren's loin cloth were you thinking/smoking last night?' this film manages to take a confused mess of light, colour, costume, effects and ridiculous hair, run it past you at such a speed and with just enough organisation that it might just be art.

Not bad for a first time director with, evidently, no sense of humor who honestly believed he was making and has made a classic. 
It's all incredibly good fun however and well worth a watch if you fancy a good chuckle.
I am just not sure though, after all that, it's actually for kids.

6.5 out of 10 spaghetti hoops, bacon, fish fingers and toast - makes absolutely no sense but might just be tasty

This review, I am very proud and happy to say, will be appearing, in an edited form, in the New York based film 'Zine 'I Love Bad Movies' issue #4 out in June 2011. You can buy it here:


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