Original release: August 7th, 1987
Running time: 106 min
Director: Gary Goddard
Writers: David Odell, Stephen Tolkin
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Courteney Cox
As a kid growing up in the 80s, my Saturday mornings consisted mainly of watching cartoons like Thundercats, Defenders Of The Earth and He-Man. In these shows, characters were gifted with powers to fight evil and each week there would be a new battle to face. I quickly grew fond of them and they were really something to look forward to, before getting on with homework and chores.
I remember seeing posters around town in the late summer of ’87 for the movie, Masters Of The Universe, and I immediately knew it was something to do with one of my Saturday morning cartoons, but it would take a whole year before my folks would let me see it, on VHS.
Set on the fictional planet of Eternia, the movie goes straight into telling us the evil Skeletor (Frank Langella) has taken control of Castle Grayskull and is keeping the Sorceress (Christina Pickles) prisoner, draining her power. He hopes to harness the power of a portal called the Great Eye of the Galaxy.
Eternia’s remaining resistance fighters, He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher) and his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field) encounter a dwarf-life inventor and locksmith called Gwildor (Billy Barty), who tells them he built something called a Cosmic Key. It can be used to open a portal in any location in time and space. When Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster) tricks him and steals it for Skeletor, he used it to gain entry into Castle Grayskull.
Gwildor explains to them he still has the prototype, but when they’re attacked by Skeletor’s army, he’s forced to use it and dials randomly, sending all four of them to Earth. What then follows are several attempts by Skeletor, Evil-Lynn and their henchmen; Saurod, Blade, Beastman and Karg, to get the Cosmic Key, although they already have the other one.
Unfortunately the key doesn’t land with our heroes them they arrive. Two teenagers, Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill) and Julie (Courteney Cox), find it and at first they think it’s some sort of synthesiser. He-Man and his friends have to locate it before Skeletor gets his bony hands on it. Detective Lubic (James Tolkan) thinks Kevin is in possession of a stolen item and is also trying to obtain the Cosmic Key. The scene is then set for an intergalactic war that these Earthlings aren’t prepared for.
The funny thing about Masters Of The Universe is that I fought tooth and nail to see it when I was a kid, but looking at it again now, some of that magic seems to have worn off and I find myself picking away at things I didn’t notice before. Unlike the cartoon, we don’t see He-Man’s alter ego, Prince Adam, and he never holds his sword up to the sky and transforms into the mighty Conan/Thor-like warrior. Instead, he just seems to permanently be He-Man.
In the cartoons, Eternia is shown as place of endless possibilities, but one that’s also fraught with danger, but we don’t spend much time there in Masters Of The Universe as the majority of the film plays out in a very ordinary looking California. What I always missed though were two of He-Man’s most trusts companions, Battle Cat (aka Cringer), and Orko who are never even mentioned.
I wonder why so much of what kids like me expected to see in this movie version was left out. Despite these omissions, there are some fun moments and it’s through and through an 80’s film, complete with explosions, corny dialogue and most of all, the music.
If you can overlook some of the awkwardly placed subplots, such as Julie’s back-story with her parents dying in a plane crash, and the Kojack wannabe, Lubic, then Masters Of The Universe could be a film you might enjoying seeing again after all these years, just for the nostalgia. It might leave you wondering though, what the heck did Skeletor mean when he said “I’ll be back” – it’s been 25 years, which makes his final words seem a bit silly!
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .