‘I was concerned about Dolph’: 9 harrowing behind-the-scenes stories from ‘Masters of the Universe’

On August 7, 1987, “Masters of the Universe” stank up movie theaters across the country and killed any hopes of kicking off a live-action franchise for He-Man and his merry band of heroes (the property is currently in the process of being rebooted with the help of “Thor” screenwriter Christopher Yost). As I wrote earlier this week, “MotU” actually wasn't all bad, with standouts like Frank Langella's Skeletor and Bill Conti's excellent score keeping the film just this side of unwatchable.

Glory be! A happy byproduct of my online research arose in the form of a YouTube recommendation for a video entitled “The Making of Masters of the Universe the Motion Picture,” which is not, as it turns out, an extra ripped from the film's DVD release but rather a segment from a 2012 documentary entitled “Toy Masters,” which boasts the following synopsis on IMDB:

“Filmmakers Roger Lay, Jr. and Corey Landis set out to document the origin of He-Man–the central character in a billion-dollar multi-media franchise–and along the way, they begin to realize that the truth may not be as simple as they'd hoped. Join them as they go from interview to interview of conflicting stories about how it all began–and try to figure out who's lying and who's telling the truth–in this fun, informative doc that plays like the 'King Of Kong' of the toy world.”

Do with that what you will! The clip in question is what we're interested in here, and it features some pretty wild behind-the-scenes trivia courtesy of “Masters of the Universe” director Gary “I Had To Direct This Picture Under The Most Extreme Circumstances You Could Imagine” Goddard, production designer William Stout, executive John Weems and more folks involved in creating a film that would ultimately go down as one of the most notorious flops of that year. See below for a list of highlights from the clip (which you can watch in full at the bottom of the page).

1. Director Gary Goddard was “concerned” about Dolph Lundgren's ability to carry a film.

Goddard was so nervous about Lundgren (who came pre-packaged with the project) that he was forced to make a rather unconventional narrative choice to salvage the movie:

“I was concerned that Dolph would be able to carry the scenes. …[so] I did my best to restructure the story almost through the eyes of Skeletor.”

That's right: Goddard had so little faith in his lead actor that he structured the plot of his summer fantasy-action movie around the villain. Allow that to sink in for a second.

2. He-Man wasn't allowed to kill another living being in the movie.

The Darth Vader-looking robot goons that made up Skeletor's army left the film open to charges of being a “Star Wars” rip-off, but according to Goddard they were a necessity after Mattel — which exercised strict control over the way the characters were portrayed — told him that He-Man could not inflict physical injury on a flesh-and-blood being:

“Everyone says, 'oh, they copied 'Star Wars.'' No, we created generic robot warriors so that He-Man could smash and fight and blast them, because he couldn't actually do that to anyone living.”

Uh-huh. About that…

3. Panicked Mattel executives — who were counting on the success of the film to boost sales of their action figures —  gave Goddard free reign to break the rules they had set up after “He-Man” toy sales declined precipitously during production.

“'We don't care what you do,'” Goddard recounted of the conversation. “'Have him kill people. Blood, guts, gore, sex, do whatever you have to. Just make sure this movie's a hit.'”

Kill one of your actors for real! Whatever you have to do, Gary.

4. Mattel executive Paul Cleveland was horrified when he saw a rough cut of the film.

“I saw the rough cuts, I listened to Dolph Lundgren's voice, and I just about had a heart attack,” said Cleveland, adding later: “I wanted to re-dub his voice, get someone else to speak for him. In his contract, he had the right to [dub] it two or three more times, and he finally got it to where it wasn't too bad. I said it's okay if He-Man has a little bit of an accent, but you gotta be able to understand him.”

That is a low bar, sir.

5. Goddard still wishes they had brought in another actor to dub over Lundgren's voice.

And the Dolph Lundgren anecdotes keep coming…

“To this day I wish we'd have done it,” said Goddard, who actually brought in a few other actors to perform the task before being shot down. “But [producer] Menaham [Golan] was like, 'nope, we're gonna stick with Dolph.'”

“Nope, we're gonna stick with Dolph” is certainly one form of integrity.

6. Goddard wasn't initially sold on Courteney Cox.

I don't understand it either. Let us try and wrap our heads around this shocking confession:

“Courteney Cox had just done the Springsteen video. In fact, that was how she was — this is the girl who's in the Springsteen video. That's how it was sold to me. …She was good, but I just didn't feel that she fit the part. Cause she had actually done what a lot of actresses do. She had put on a lot of makeup, she wanted to look very sexy. but this role was more of an all-American girl. But my casting director [Vickie Thomas] actually was the one who said 'I wanna bring her back in one more time, I want you to look at her one more time.' …She called Courteney and said 'ditch the makeup, come in in jeans, just be yourself.' Courteney came in the next day in jeans, no makeup, as herself. …she just nailed it that day. And I knew right then, okay, she's the one. …She had great natural ability and I think she did a great job.”

7. Mattel had to bankroll the entire production after Cannon Films, which was suffering through financial difficulties, reneged on the agreement to put up half the budget.

“Cannon worked out this deal with Mattel. The deal was that Cannon would put up half the money, and Mattel would put up half the money,” said production designer William Stout. “And Cannon told Mattel, 'okay, you put up the first half.' So Mattel put up the first half, and we very quickly burned thrugh that money. And so Mattel said 'okay, time for you to kick in the second half.' And Cannon said, 'no.' So Mattel had to pony up the rest of the money if they wanted to see their film made.”

Thank goodness it all worked out.

8. The studio put the kibosh on the production in the middle of filming the climactic battle sequence.

“They shut me down on the set in the middle of the battle,” said Goddard. “Literally with someone picking up a card and putting it in front of the camera and saying 'You're done.' In the middle of a shot.”

The powers-that-be ultimately allowed Goddard to film the sequence with limited crew, leading to the rather underwhelming final result.

“Even though we shut down the set, I kept [Frank Langella] and Dolph and [director of photography Hanania Baer] and I got them to let me shoot some footage of them battling. It wasn't very well choreographed. It was a very quick choreographic job.”

9. Double Tony winner Frank Langella was very, very invested in his role, god love him.

“Frank was very particular about what he thought would work, what he thought wouldn't work,” said production designer William Stout. “His ideas were very right on. …The cloak, for example, it had to move just right. We kept designing and building different cloaks until he got one that just moved perfectly. And it was really Frank Langella who made that character come to life.”

Too late to give the man an Oscar for this?

Here's the clip: