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Blu-ray Review: Masters of the Universe – 25th Anniversary Edition

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OK, confession time, kids: during the first half of the ’80s, I was one of those kids who was hopelessly addicted to all things He-Man. I had all of the action figures and playsets, watched the cartoon He-Man and the Masters of the Universe religiously, and even extended my collectible madness so far as to collect many of the She-Ra toys. And then, puberty hit — as did reality. At one point, I wrote Mattel with a toy suggestion, which they replied by sending me an official “Sorry, no can do” letter. Later, in 1987, I saw that exact same idea on the shelves.

Coincidentally, 1987 was also the year Masters of the Universe, a live-action adaptation of the franchise, hit theaters. By then, my mania with He-Man had been replaced by something that slightly resembled apathetic contempt more than anything else. I avoided the film, naturally, though I was mostly turned off by the fact that Frank Langella had sunk so low in his career as to play the villainous Skeletor. The large, lumbering presence of Dolph Lundgren — who us kids back then recognized as the guy from Rocky IV — did not sway my decision any, either.

Here we are, twenty-five years on, and I have finally given in. I must say, I don’t think this kind of cheese would have tasted this good when I was a tween. That is not meant to imply that Masters of the Universe is anything remotely resembling something good, of course. It isn’t. Not by a long shot. In fact, this giant b-movie fromage turd is quite awful!

Released by the Cannon Film Group and produced by the combined intellect of Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus (the boys behind the Cannon), and Edward R. Pressman, Masters of the Universe boasts a story from David Odell — the same man who penned the scripts for Supergirl and The Dark Crystal, which should give you an idea of what to expect right there. Alas, even the lowest expectations one might fathom cannot begin to even scratch the surface. Instead, Odell’s story shamelessly embezzles various elements from other sci-fi movies, television series, and comic books.

Star Wars. Flash Gordon. Fourth World. Star Trek. Galactica 1980. Gor. Yor, the Hunter from the Future. You name it — good or bad — you can spot a bit of it here or there: from red and blue colored laser beams (thus separating the good guys from the bad guys) to DarthVader-ish robots, and flying platform chariot-thingies. At the height of it all, we have an obscured-by-make-up Frank Langella, acting as if he were stuck in a Shakespeare play that addressed the audience. Lundgren, on the other hand, seems aptly embarrassed for being there, let alone attired in next to nothing. Sadly, his Eternian colleague Chelsea Field (as Teela), wears entirely too much — though I can’t say I don’t like the tights she’s squeezed into.

Anyway, the story here finds evil Skeletor (Langella) finally overthrowing Castle Grayskull (offscreen), thus instilling upon He-Man and Co. (Dolph, Field, Jon Cypher) a fair bit of bad luck. Fortunately, a decidedly Willow/Yoda-esque creature named Gwildor (Billy Barty, underneath a lot of rather limp makeup) is able to help, for he is responsible for the magical key thingy Skeletor used to achieve his deed. Gwildor serendipitously has also created a second key — which the bad guy is after, and which ultimately transports the lot of our heroes to the planet Earth, circa 1987: a land of big hair, Members Only jackets, and blatant product placement.

There, He-Man and his esteemed collection of embarrassed b-movie actors make the acquaintance of teenagers Julie and Kevin (Courtney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill, respectively), who help the aliens out with sorting out a big bad mess Mr. Odell and his producers so dubiously refer to as a script. Skeletor and his favorite gal-pal Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster) send an assortment of goofy-looking critters and henchmen (as played by an variety of actors without so much as a collective sense of shame) to quench the do-gooders.

Of course, the forces of evil do not succeed — mostly because there’s even less ignominy on the side of right (if such a thing is possible). As if the comic relief of Billy Barty’s character combined with the aforementioned tale or inanity and the main actors’ dreadful, dishonored performances weren’t enough, the unmistakable character actor stylings of James Tolkan are brought in to play a typical b-movie cop who finds himself right in the middle of everything, and who quips one dumb cliché line after another as both he and his character attempt to unveil a clue.

It’s crappy live-action cartoon fun as only the boys at Cannon could produce, kids — and the fact that they sadly misread the demand for a sequel only makes it funnier (it almost happened, too: auspiciously, though, Golan-Globus didn’t want to pay such outrageous licensing fees to Mattel, so all the costumes and sets for the intended follow-up were instead employed in the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme flick, Cyborg). 25 years later, the folks at Warner Home Video have decided to give us a High-Def release of this campy cult classic to Blu-ray, in a presentation that is far better than this film probably deserves.

The video aspects here are quite nice — with good color/contrast balance all around as well as some fairly deep detail. Sure, there is that inevitable bit of grain to be found here, but that was all-too-common in a film of this production value (read: low) as produced in such a period (read: the ’80s), so it can’t be held against this one. Masters of the Universe‘s kooky optical effects couldn’t hold a candle to today’s intricate but just-as-phony digital effects, but then, that’s what I enjoy. At least I know these were decidedly more tangible than something constructed with a mouse. An admirable DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack accompanies, and brings out what little this moving picture disaster has to offer quite well.

Included here as bonus items are an audio commentary with director Gary Goddard and a too-darn-serious-for-its-own-good theatrical trailer, both of which were previously issued on Warner’s old SD-DVD release of the film.

The lack of any new special features is a disappointment. One might expect more from a “25th Anniversary Edition” than a new transfer. But then, even a couple of recycled supplemental goodies is far more than I’ve seen on some so-called “Special Edition” issues in the past (So I Married an Axe Murderer: Special Edition — a release with absolutely no special features whatsoever — comes to mind), so I guess beggars can’t be choosers in this case.

In fact, I think we should thank the Power of Grayskull that we even have this one on Blu-ray at all.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.