Movies

Was 1987’s ‘Masters Of The Universe’ Really That Bad?

With the recurring rumors about a new Masters of the Universe film someday becoming a reality, one thing that keeps coming up is the notion that such a project would have to be better than the 1987 live-action version starring, inexplicably, Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella. But to be honest, when you revisit the movie, as an adult, it’s actually… fairly impressive?

Admittedly, it’s got all the hallmarks of an ’80s trainwreck. It’s produced by notorious cheap cheese team Golan and Globus and distributed by their equally notorious Canon Films. Gary Goddard, the director, is better known for his work on Broadway and making theme park rides and Disney dance numbers and, apparently, will finally debut his second movie this year. Then, there’s Lundgren, who followed up his breakout role in Rocky IV with this movie and has regretted it ever since.

Look at this trailer, for the love of Orko. How could this thing be any good?

Yeah, there are some problems. Dolph Lundgren clearly has no idea what to do with either a sword or a script for most of the movie, for example. And it’s got almost nothing to do with the cartoons, which some people may consider a bit of a liability. But, truthfully, the movie’s a lot more fun than you remember.

Goddard deserves way more credit, and it’s kind of a shame that he didn’t get another crack at the movies. He’s a true-blue nerd, and his theatrical background helps him make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Keep in mind that nobody saw how the movie could be made for less than $40 million, and that the He-Man sequel, which eventually became the Jean-Claude Van Damme ‘classic’ Cyborg, had the rich budget of $4.5 million. Goddard actually has an amusingly frank commentary track on the movie where he notes a lot of the budget wound up going to the Eternia set… which was barely used. Goddard even had to pay to get the final fight scenes on film, but the fact that he cares in of itself shines through.

What also elevated the proceedings is a fair amount of the cast. Frank Langella has said Skeletor is one of his favorite roles, and it shows. Having around pros like Billy Barty, playing the thankfully less annoying Orko stand-in Gwildor, and Courtney Cox also helps, and Goddard can actually direct his actors.

The budget also has the pleasant effect of focusing the movie. It doesn’t try to cram in every last action figure because they didn’t have the budget for those costumes, so by default, some of the dumber ideas were thankfully left aside. It also helps that the movie is full of nice little touches, like Evil-Lyn seeing exactly where the finale is going and ducking out the back, or the fact that fantasy creatures are not immune to shotgun blasts.

That said, there’s not much that can be done about Lundgren, sadly. He’s fine whenever he doesn’t need to talk or fence, the problem being he’s called on far too often to do both. And the seams do show even with Goddard working overtime to hide them. Just as an example!

It’s undeniably a movie made on the cheap, and inarguably, to perfectly capture the cartoon, it would actually need that $40 million.

Sadly, this movie isn’t available on streaming, but the DVD and Blu-Ray are appropriately priced. And if you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it since you were a kid, give it a shot. It’s not perfect, but it’s probably far better than you remember.

This is an update of an article that ran on March 5, 2015.

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