Masters of the Universe (Warner Home Video, 1987)


Ah, Masters of the Universe, a fine piece of aged Cheddar if ever I saw one. Truth be told, I had nearly forgotten this jaw-droppingly bad 80's film until I stumbled across it the other day in the store. They've released it on DVD, thus enabling a new generation of bad movie lovers to wallow in its ghastly script, laughable special effects, and pungent Limberger acting.

Loosely based on the popular 80's cartoon series, this film follows the adventures of He-Man and his band of followers as they try to rescue the Sorceress (Christina Pickles) from Skeletor (Frank Langella) and his minions. Thanks to a "Cosmic Key", Skeletor has been able to capture Castle Greyskull and imprison the Sorceress. As Castle Greyskull is a direct link to all of the power of the Universe, this is good for Skeletor and not so good for the rest of the galaxy. He-Man, his man-at-arms Duncan, Duncan's daughter Teela, and Gwildor (who makes Cosmic Keys in his spare time) escape from Skeletor and follow the Key into another dimension.

At this point we are transported to 80's Earth in all of its big-haired, parachute-panted, synthesizer-playing Day-Glo glory. The Key appears on Earth and is soon found by aspiring New Wave musician Kevin ("This must be one of those new Japanese synthesizers!") and his morose girlfriend Julie. Julie, played by young Courteney Cox of Friends fame, is carrying a steamer trunk full of emotional baggage. She believes that her parents' recent death in a plane crash is her fault; apparently the scriptwriters felt that this plot point would help give the film some sort of emotional depth. (It does add depth to the film, but it's more the sort of depth that a cow with intestinal problems might add to the barnyard. Galoshes are suggested.)

The teenagers meet He-Man and the heroes, pursued by Skeletor hench-babe Evil-Lyn (hot but scary Meg Foster) and an assortment of characters with names like Beastman, Saurod, and Karg who mainly exist to provide employment for a bevy of unimaginative make-up artists. Kevin has the Key, He-Man needs the Key, Evil-Lyn wants the Key, and Julie with her depression and neediness provides a weak link for the villains to work on.

Eventually our heroes return to Castle Greyskull, He-Man gets to shout that classic He-Man line (I have the POWERRRRRRR!!!), Skeletor is defeated in a scene right out of Star Wars, Julie gets to go back in time and save her parents, and everyone lives happily ever after. Thank goodness, or they might have been able to squeeze out a sequel...

Dolph Lundgren is perfect as the stripped-down, greased-up, thong-wearing muscleman. If you didn't think it possible to be plastic and wooden at the same time, Dolph's your guy. Who else could play a character with the name of "He-Man" and take it so seriously? Well, maybe Ahhhnold...but he has Conan to cavort with, so Dolph is the logical choice here. Frank Langella is wonderful as Skeletor, but then anyone with a summer of community theater experience could play this character well and he's buried under really bad latex makeup so it doesn't really require a big name star. Billy Barty is Gwildor (were there any 80's fantasy movies that didn't include Billy Barty?) and he camps it up with his usual humor and good sportsmanship. And Courteney Cox. What can we say about Courteney Cox in Masters of the Universe? Let's just say this: when you pick up a magazine and read about her brilliant success in television, when you find yourself envying her amazing beauty and fabulous wealth, pop this film into the DVD player and I promise you, you can point and laugh and you'll feel much, much better about things.

The special effects are bad, of course, consisting of lots of cheap explosions and some neon paint on the film to approximate lightning and laser blasts. Costumes are varied: He-Man and Evil-Lyn in a-couple-of-inches-less-fabric-and-this-would-be-a-porn-flick bathing suit/armor, the henchmen in standard sci-fi/fantasy approximations of high tech medieval wear, and just plain weird and bizarre clothes, which would cover not only the Sorceress with a giant Christmas ornament on her head but also Julie and Kevin in 80's teenage fashion.

In spite of the fact that Masters of the Universe contains enough cheese and corn to feed an impoverished Third World village for a week, this movie is well worth watching. If you've had a bad day, kick back and watch and I guarantee you'll get some great belly laughs out of it. If you're prone to watching movies in an altered state of consciousness, so much the better, but don't waste the fine wine on this one. Just grab some cheap beer, pop up some popcorn, get your friends together, and have some fun with this paragon of badness. Like a really gruesome car accident it will leave you gasping and appalled and you may hate yourself for staring, but you won't be able to look away.

[Maria Nutick]