If you grew up in the 1980s, then you've probably heard of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Filmation brought the character to life in Saturday morning cartoon format, paving the way for an eventual leap to the silver screen. This occurred in 1987, when director Gary Goddard (Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future) took the plunge. It's a mixed bag of a film, fondly remembered for the sense of wonder it managed to evoke, despite its limitations.
The film is loosely based on the Masters of the Universe premise, where the evil villain Skeletor (Frank Langella) has overthrown the forces of Eternia and captured Castle Greyskull, the source of a magnificent universal power. The last pockets of resistance fighters band together, led by He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), a champion of good who possesses exemplary strength and courage. Aided by Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher), and the beautiful Teela (Chelsea Field), He-Man stumbles upon a group of enemy troops who have captured the diminutive Gwildor (Billy Barty), an eccentric inventor who possesses the Cosmic Key, a device which can open a gateway to anywhere in time and space. Gwildor admits that Skeletor was able to enter Grayskull by stealing the Cosmic Key, but he did not steal the prototype. He uses the Key to open a door directly into Castle Greyskull, and there the warriors make their stand. He-Man and his friends are outmatched, however, and forced to flee into another portal to an unknown region of space. They end up arriving on Earth, circa late 1980s. Skeletor wastes no time sending his warriors through the gate to pursue He-Man and steal the key. Among them is the seductive Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster), a wicked sorceress who plans to ensnare them all in a trap. He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and Teela are forced to ally themselves with Julie (Courtney Cox) and Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill), two humans who have become caught in the crossfire. When Skeletor sends a massive contingent of troops to Earth, it sets the stage for a climatic battle between the forces of good and evil. If Skeletor wins, it will signal an infinity of never-ending darkness under his grip of evil power.
The film's achilles heel is the time period in which it was made. Director Gary Goddard was one of the founding fathers of mainstream CGI adoption, but it was too expensive to put into a theatrical film of this magnitude, and it shows. Numerous sacrifices had to be made for the sake of bringing MOTU to life, most notably the absence of Orko in favor of Gwildor, a replacement character. Billy Barty was a fine actor, but the character he plays here is a thoroughly irritable substitute acting as a comic relief linchpin, and smacks too heavily of Screwball, another of Barty's roles from the 1985 film 'Legend.' For its time however, the special effects were quite amazing, including an entertaining hoverboard sequence. Setting the film on Earth destroys much of the wonder which the MOTU universe is known for, and one suspects this was largely due to budget constraints. Thankfully, the Eternian sets are breathtaking, even if they are a major departure from the cartoon series and comics which the film was based on. There is enough variation on the characters to keep the story moving. Skeletor's best and brightest are unique, but thankfully none have to hone much of their acting chops. Dolph Lundgren plays the part of He-Man with surprising integrity and enthusiasm, but he's no A-lister. The real star of the picture is Frank Langella, who literally throws himself into the role of Skeletor with jaw-dropping mastery. If Langella took the role for the sake of a paycheck, it certainly doesn't show here. Every subtle nuance, glance, and gravelly threat serves to create a thoroughly convincing, menacing villain of epic proportions.
MOTU would have benefited from today's technology, but Goddard and his crew must be given credit for taking on such an illustrious franchise, and crafting a pretty good film. Parents and critics dumped on the film in the 1980s, while most children were awestruck with wonder. Those same children are now in their 30s and 40s, making it a classic aimed specifically at them. It's nowhere near the greatest sci-fi film ever made, and by today's standards, it's largely going to evoke a lot of groans, especially if it's your first foray into the franchise. Nevertheless, Masters of the Universe is one of those magical films that manages to bring out the inner child in everyone. What bad can come of that?
MOTU on Blu-Ray has a few things going against it, from a visual standpoint. Optical special effects compositing was a mainstay of this film, and as such, it won't hold up to a high def transfer all that well. Unsurprising. It was an 80s film, and few of them translate to HD resolution. That being said, the movie is well balanced in contrast, which can be a rare thing for movies of the time period. Scenes of Eternia and the interior of Castle Greyskull, for instance, benefit remarkably from this finely tuned contrast, producing solid blacks without killing off detail. Colors, despite being nicely saturated, are still plagued by the source material, which is quickly becoming stone-age as cinema technology continues to rapidly expand at a geometric rate. If you were a kid growing up with this move in the 80s, be prepared to feel very, very old. Unfortunately, this 25th Anniversary edition has been slapped with the insult of a lossless 2.0 Master Audio track, which is about as disappointing as you can get. Obviously Warner thought quite little of the film to refrain from producing a DTS mix (or 5.1 mix, for that matter) for this release. We're knee deep in "meh" territory here, which is a shame. The final insult is the lack of any special features. You get an audio commentary from Gary Goddard (the same as the 2001 DVD release), and the trailer for the film. Talk about underwhelming! It's a disappointment, really. MOTU may not have been the most successful film, but it was created by a crew with a lot of heart and dedication. To those who loved the movie when it came out so many years ago, it's inexcusable, and enough for me to lower my initial 4-star score down to 3 stars.Read more ›
Masters of the Universe [25th Anniversary]  [Blu-ray] [US Import] ONLY THE UNIVERSE COULD HOLD ADVENTURE THIS BIG!
Planet Eternia and the Castle of Greyskull are under threat from the evil Skeletor who wants to take over the planet. A group of freedom fighters, led by the heroic He-Man are accidentally transported to Earth by a mysterious Cosmic Key which holds the power to make Skeletor all-powerful. Once on Earth, He-Man joins alliances with two teenagers as they attempt to find the key and return home.
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Chelsea Field, Jon Cypher, Billy Barty, Courteney Cox, Robert Duncan McNeill, James Tolkan, Christina Pickles, Anthony De Longis, Tony Carroll, Pons Maar, Robert Towers and Peter Brooks [Narrator]
Director: Gary Goddard
Producers: Edward R. Pressman, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus
Screenwriter: David Odell
Composer: Bill Conti
Cinematography: Hanania Baer
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish
Running Time: 105 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Warner Home Video
Andrew’s Blu-ray review – It's no coincidence that Dolph Lundgren took on the role of a franchise action hero character like He-Man directly after he starred in 'Rocky IV' with Sylvester Stallone. His enormous physique and menacing demeanour were truly awe-inspiring. Stallone was ripped, but Lundgren towered over him in that movie featuring a body with muscles in places I didn't think muscles could be found. It's natural that Hollywood thought Lundgren might end up being the town's new action star.
'Masters of the Universe' came out in theatres in 1987, at the height of He-Man's popularity. The cartoon and toys were extremely popular, and a movie seemed like a logical next step for the franchise. Lundgren fit He-Man's impossible body structure and mirrored his Scandinavian appearance. It was a perfect fit. It's too bad that Gary Goddard's movie turned into a cheesy B-movie right from the outset and became more of a laugh-at-it-with-a-bunch-of-friends cult movie than a respected fantasy action movie.
To Gary Goddard's credit, he creates a fairly kid-friendly universe in which He-Man and Skeletor [Frank Langella] appear as giant action figures duelling for the universe's ultimate power. The whole movie feels like something imagined by a child in the 80s as he plays with his He-Man toys in his room. The problem with this approach is that the movie never has any real sense of dread. It's a live-action cartoon and plays out as such.
He-Man lives on a planet called Eternia where Skeletor's forces of evil-doers are plotting to take control. They've already entombed the planet's sorceress in an impenetrable force field and are now seeking to harness the power of Grayskull in order to rule the universe. Because when you're big, evil and look like a giant skeleton, why wouldn't you want to rule the universe? He-Man battles back against Skeletor with the help of his ragamuffin group of renegades which includes an ugly little dwarf named Gwildor, a headstrong soldier (Jon Cypher) and the soldier's even more headstrong daughter (Chelsea Field). Skeletor has legions of Storm trooper looking troops and He-Man has these three allies. He's grossly outnumbered, but when you're sporting what I assume is a sixteen-pack (Lundgren is insanely ripped in this movie) then maybe numbers don't matter much.
The battle soon finds its way to Earth as He-Man and his crew are accidentally transported there. On Earth they meet a young teenage couple. Julie [Courtney Cox] and Kevin [Robert Duncan McNeill] soon become embroiled in the scuffle for universal power, as the movie checks another cliché off its growing list. Looking back on 'Masters of the Universe' it's glaringly obvious that it's a product of the 80s. The only way it could've been any more 80s is if there was a slap wrap included in the purchase of this Blu-ray. This isn't a bad thing per se, but it's almost too hard to get over the movie's era-related corniness. Especially the key that opens interstellar doorways by playing synthesized musical notes.
Personally, I find it fun to watch 'Masters of the Universe' having a good laugh all way throughout the film, as it is very tongue in cheek humour. Lundgren's acting flat lines, giving us a glimpse of what his future starring roles would be like. He was great in 'Rocky IV' because he simply had to stand there and look menacing as hell. Here, not so much. Most of the time it feels like Goddard is directly off screen telling him exactly what facial expressions to make ("Okay, now you're happy, so smile!" "Now He-Man is angry. Grimace!"). Frank Langella is great as Skeletor though. Buried underneath that dated make-up, Frank Langella provides a perfectly threatening voice for the villainous action figure that he is. The story is a hodge-podge of sci-fi/fantasy ideas and never feels like it really nails down who He-Man really is. However, it's a nostalgia thing, right? If you grew up loving He-Man and therefore loving 'Masters of the Universe' then you'll most likely be chomping at the bit to own this on Blu-ray. It's one of those movies that people remember fondly even though the corniness factor is off the charts.
Blu-ray Video Quality – As with most lower-tier catalogue titles from the 80s, 'Masters of the Universe' definitely shows its age. It's predominately soft in the mid- and long-range shots. It has some errant noise here and there. The colours seem a tad faded. Fans need not fear though. Even though the Blu-ray has some issues that should've been expected given its age, the movie has never looked better.
I was actually very pleased with the amount of detail provided in the movie's many close-ups. I don't remember the DVD of the movie offering nearly as much visible facial hair, pores, freckles, and intricate smile lines. Sure the added detail betrays the make-up that was used on Langella's face more than once, but overall the effect is accurate detail when the camera closes in. When the camera pans back is when the picture gets expectedly hazy. Hair becomes less detailed and clumpier. Skin tones appear a little washed out. Whites become fuzzy and bleed past their edges as softness takes its toll. Edges aren't nearly as crisply defined as they are in close-ups. Blacks seem deep enough, but nothing that should really detract from viewing. It isn't a flawless presentation by any means; however it's definitely worth the visual upgrade if you are a fan of this film.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – A new sound mix hasn't been provided here. This time around it has a stereo presentation. We get a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track this time around. I must admit that as a fan I was hoping for a surround sound remix for this movie. The stereo does produce quite a bit more resonance than its DVD counterpart. For one thing LFE in the mix seems to be quite a bit clearer. Explosions and laser blasts have a bit more heft than they did with the DVD's sound mix. Dialogue still sounds tinny though, along with the musical soundtrack. That's really all I can say about the audio here. Dialogue is clear and that's about it. It's a mix that will get you through the movie, but if you were hoping for Warner to do a little more with this release you'll probably end up disappointed.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Commentary with Director Gary Goddard: Goddard is an energetic commentator, but it had been almost fifteen years since he'd directed the film, and he hadn't directed another one since. (He moved from film directing into producing and directing major theme park attractions such as Jurassic Park: The Ride and Six Flags' Monster Mansion, though his company, Landmark Productions.) Re-watching the film is like revisiting an old scrapbook for him, and Goddard shares many memories from the shoot, but one can sense the distance and the shift in perspective that comes with a career change. Many of Goddard's items have been excerpted and listed in the film's "trivia" section at IMDb.
Theatrical Trailer [1:42] The narration is almost laughably solemn.
Finally, 'Masters of the Universe' what else is there to say, as it's a perfect example of just how corny many 1980s sci-fi movies were. Not only that, but we're able to witness Dolph Lundgren's movie career in a flawless microcosm, which fits the character perfectly. It starts out with a whole lot of promise and then slowly fizzles away into appreciative cult obscurity. 'Masters of the Universe' is fun to remember. It isn't a popcorn sort of film by any means, nevertheless nostalgic attachment is reason enough to enjoy and I can highly recommend it.
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan Le Cinema Paradiso WARE, United KingdomRead more ›
While I was reading the other customer reviews of "Masters of the Universe" on this page, I was shocked at how many negative reviews there were. I absolutely love this movie! It is one the most fun movies you could ever see, and has been one of my favorites ever since I was a kid. When I was little, I had all of the toys, and watched the cartoon series religiously. Now I know that the movie doesn't stay true to the cartoon series, but you have to think of it as a seperate entity of a central idea. The makers of this film were trying to appeal to hardcore fans of the series, and also to attract new viewers to the series. In one review by Access Hollywood in the 80's this movie was hailed as "The Star Wars of the 80's" I believe that this movie is as good as Star Wars when you compare them as fantasy films. The special effects are great in this movie, when you consider the time that this movie was made. And they make a stunning transfer to DVD! This movie looks as gorgeous as it did when I first saw it in the theatre as a kid. I also love the acting in this movie. Frank Langella as Skeletor is simply fantastic. He gives a very theatrical quality to the character, and has just the right amount of sinister evil, and operatic intensity that he captures the character perfectly, without going over the top. In my opinion Langella deserved an Oscar nomination for his role, he was brilliant. As far as casting He-Man, the film makers had a quite a task on their hands, because He-Man is the ultimate super hero. Dolph Lundgren was a great choice. He had the ripped, muscular body, but could also do the fight scenes, and act as well. Other great casting was Courtney Cox, now Courtney Cox-Arquette from "Friends" where her character Monica Gellar is my favorite! Cox plays the Earth girl Julie, who becomes entangled in this battle of the cosmos. Also Meg Foster was brilliant as the evil warrior goddess Evil-Lyn. She was absolutely spellbinding. She captured the icy wickedness, and also sultry, seductive, evil beauty of the character. If I were a member of the Academy, I would have also given Cox and Foster nominations for Best Supporting Actress. Unfortunately until the recent 11 Oscar wins for the most deserving "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" the Academy did not honor fantasy films. "Masters of the Universe" was just a little ahead of its time. Don't pay attention to the negative reviews on this sight, this is truly one of the greatest fantasy films of our time!Read more ›