Written by CaptainAmeriDave
Greetings! And welcome to a new series I’m starting titled: Fanta-Flix. In this series, I’ll be taking a step back in time to re-visit classic fantasy films and see how they’re holding up. You’ll likely have heard of some of them, but maybe you’ll discover a few gems along the way that you never got around to watching. So buckle-up and get ready to journey to the center of the universe as we tackle: Masters of the Universe.
The Masters of the Universe movie is based on the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon and toy-line that was popular in the mid-80’s. Trying to capitalize on the massive popularity of the kids show and its action figures (and the popularity of Star Wars), Cannon Films produced Masters of the Universe expecting it to be the next big thing. However, the movie had several things working against it that resulted in a largely unsuccessful reception. But despite these hang-ups, the movie has achieved a cult status over the years.
In the center of the universe, on the planet Eternia, a never-ending battle between good and evil is waging. Castle Grayskull, the fortress guarding the greatest power in the universe, has been sieged by the resident master of darkness, Skeletor. With his evil forces, he attempts to drain the Sorceress of Grayskull of her powers and open the Great Eye. Once he’s able to do this, he can become the most powerful man in the universe. Standing in his way is the protector of Eternia and Grayskull, He-Man. He-Man and his small band of heroes attempt to free the Sorceress from Skeletor’s evil army.
The plot revolves around a dwarf-like inventor named Gwildor who has created a musical cosmic key device that can create portals to anywhere in the universe IF you have the right tones. Skeletor steals the device. This is how he’s able to enter Castle Grayskull and take over the fortress of good. He-Man and his friends, Man-at-Arms and his daughter Teela, discover Gwildor and find that he has another key. They are able to enter Grayskull, but are forced to flee before they can save the Sorceress.
In the chaos, they land on a random planet, Earth. There they meet up with two natives: Kevin, a young musician and his girlfriend, Julie, whose parents have died in a plane crash. The two discover the key and mistake it for a fancy new musical instrument. Skeletor’s lieutenants, led by Evil-Lyn, pursue the young natives in order to obtain the other key and eliminate He-Man as a threat once and for all.
The Police get involved and Detective Lubic begins investigating the disturbances. He soon becomes a thorn in the side of good and evil in the process. He ultimately aids He-Man and his allies, but not without causing some trouble as tensions begin to rise. In the ensuing battle between good and evil on Earth, Skeletor’s forces are able to gain the upper-hand, though it takes Skeletor himself to turn the tide of battle. Skeletor then strands He-Man’s allies on Earth without a way home.
Luckily, Kevin’s musical abilities allow him to recreate the missing tones from the key. He and Gwildor are able to reproduce the effect needed to return to Eternia and join the battle against Skeletor. In a climactic final battle, He-Man and Skeletor are able to summon the greatest power in the universe and settle their score once and for all.
What’s Good About It… and What’s Not
As I eluded to earlier, this movie had several things working against its success. The foremost being that it came out a little too late. See the He-Man cartoon and its associated toy-line’s popularity spiked over a two year period from 1983-1985. During 1986 the popularity of the franchise had seen a severe dip. That being said, the line and show had been so popular that a big movie could have potentially rekindled interest in the brand. But by its release in 1987, they really needed a home run for that to happen. Unfortunately, what we got was much more mediocre than master. The movie itself isn’t a bad fantasy movie for its day. But it is a bad He-Man movie.
Which brings me to my second point: the movie deviates too far from its source material. For the fans who were holding on to the franchise, they were sorely disappointed. Hoping to see the magical world of Eternia and its colorful inhabitants, they were met with (in most cases) watered-down versions of their favorite characters along with a host of other unknown original characters given prominent roles that stole character development time from the heroes and villains in which they were already invested.
At this point, you’re probably thinking I don’t have anything good to say about the movie. But I actually find it quite enjoyable to revisit from time to time. I was young enough when I saw it, that the inconsistencies bothered me far less. I watched it a LOT growing up. And I think if you can look at it less as a true He-Man movie and more as a loose adaptation, there are some fun things here. Firstly, the plot is not horrible. The cosmic keys and the music behind opening portals across the universe is interesting and has some payoff. The score has an amateurish Star Wars feel to it. The final battle, while poorly shot, does achieve an epic feel by the end of the movie. The movie shows a lot of heart especially towards the end. But maybe the best thing is Frank Langella’s performance as Skeletor. He portrays a level of acting that’s probably deeper than this movie deserves and he is far more intimidating and downright frightening than the cartoon version ever was. And make sure you stick around after the movie for one of the original post-credits scenes.
Maybe the biggest problem with Masters of the Universe is that it was a He-Man movie. It just can’t quite escape its shadow as the He-Man movie that could have been. Were it just its own thing, it might’ve achieved a higher level of success of its own accord. I think that’s why, despite its shortcomings, it’s been able to garner the cult status that it has. If you can put aside your prejudices towards what might have been, I think you’ll enjoy this movie for what it is: fun 80’s fantasy. Or maybe you’re one of those people who hated Prince Adam and Orko. In which case, this one’s definitely for you!
If you’re interested in watching the film, you can currently catch it for free on Youtube.
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