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Masters of the Universe
IMDB Rating: 5.3/10 from MG6 votes
Release: 17 December 1987 (Netherlands) /

Masters of the Universe

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Director: David Odell,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: The planet Eternia is in the aftermath of Skeletor's war on Castle Greyskull, which he has won after seizing Greyskull and the surrounding city using the Cosmic Key developed by the Thenorian locksmith Gwildor. The Sorceress is Skeletor's prisoner and he begins draining her powers as he waits for Eternia's moon to align with the Great Eye of the Universe that will bestow god-like powers upon him. Once on Earth, He-Man and company team up with two teenagers as they attempt to find the key and return home. However, the dark lord Skeletor and his vile minions are soon hot on their trail as they bring He-Man back alive. Written by Anthony Pereyra [email protected]}

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Critic Reviews


Just as some movies that should be great turn out to be awful, some movies that should be awful turn out to be great - Masters of the Universe. Unfortunately, for a film that's based on a cartoon that today's 20-somethings used to watch in the 1980's, none of the said 20-somethings are going to admit to liking it now. Few will give it a chance and realize the direction is good, the acting is good, the music is good, that it's exciting, funny, scary, suitably epic and absolutely action-packed and that it looks fantastic. But Superhero Cinema does. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was a hugely successful mid-80's cartoon based on a line of action figures. The success of each fed the other, as well as a popular comicbook and loads of other merchandise. Finally in 1987 came the big one: the motion picture.

What looks like suicide at first glance - converting a cartoon based on action figures into a full-length feature - gets more appealing when you look at thes ource material closer. The cartoon is a epic hybrid of fantasy and sci-fi, with ancient castles and sorcerers mixing with laser guns and cyborgs. It also has a very mythic feel, mixing Ancient Greece-era monsters and challenges with fairy tale locations.

There are also hordes of exotic characters - warriors, mutants, monsters, magicians of every description, so the film makers could pick the coolest ones to bring to the screen. The ones they've chosen are He-Man and his arch enemy Skeletor (obviously), amazon-type female warrior Teela and her dad Man-At -Arms, the Sorceress of Grayskull, Skeletor's second in command Evil Lyn (which is always pronounced 'Evil-In'), and Beastman. Added to these are four characters that were created for the film - Gwildor, a dwarf-like inventor, Karg, a cross between Captain Hook and a bat, snake-like Sauron, and Blade, a sword and knife-obsessed slaphead. So that's eleven fantasy characters running about, which is a pretty good total.

Masters of the Universe succeeds because it takes the cartoon and adapts not it's superficial qualities, but it's essence into a movie, turning it into a mature sci-fi/fantasy adventure. This is where so many comic and cartoon based movies fail. They don't adapt their source material properly to make a successful feature film. You need to make the movie a natural progression from what it's based on, altering the look enough so it looks acceptable in real action, altering the characters into real people, choosing actors who can give real performances. It's not simply dressing superstars up as characters from a comic or cartoon, it's re-imagining the ideas as a movie. MotU does this perfectly. You can fault it as a film itself, of course, but you can't fault it as an adaption.

The production design is superb, with some superbly realized sets and costumes. Everything has been adapted to look more realistic on the big screen. The cast give uniformly decent performances. Nobody lets the side down - these are all 3D characters, not cartoons. Dolph Lungren proves he's one of the European bodybuilder brigade who can act. Frank Langella gives an outstanding performance as Skeletor, his powerful presence almost bursting out of the TV and into your living room. Langella gives a shining example to all actors portraying comicbook and cartoon characters in live action. There is a pervading sense of dread whenever he appears, especially during Castle Grayskull sequences, and the script gives him some awesome lines which he delivers with pure evil dripping from his voice.

The monsters are pretty bloody scary, especially for a family film, especially the Beastman (who's had a 'the' added to his name). The sequence where they invade a school gym and chase Julie around it is excellent, far more exciting and scary than similar chases in many horror films (including some of those Courtney Cox has been in). It's also, like the rest of the film, surprisingly violent, as the bad guys attack Julie with swords, claws, laser guns and high velocity darts. That she manages to escape is not unbelievable at all, because of the way the chase is staged - it's just a relief she gets out of there, the goal of any such chase scene. The sheer ammount of bad guys that the small band of heroes has to face adds greatly to the drama.

Setting half of the movie on Earth has it's advantages and disadvantages. It does give the film a human component, and two ordinary teenagers to be pulled into the adventure with. It also makes the monsters scarier - rather than being in a distant galaxy, they are in the neighbourhood, viciously attacking people and destroying whatever they come across. On the other hand, it would have been cool to see some more of the war torn Eternia and the planet's weird inhabitants and locations, but MotU had a relatively small budget, so that sort of stuff was off limit anyway. A little too much time is spent on the almost soap-opera angle of Julie and Kevin, but it helps flesh out their characters to make them believable.

MotU is also packed with action, and we do mean packed. There is an outbreak of violence every 15 minutes or so, usually even less, and there is variety and imagination among the content, unlike many action films, which consist of repetetive shoot outs and nothing more. It could possibly be said that it's quantity over quality, as some of it, particularly the shoot-outs, are badly filmed, and none of the action ever reaches adrenalin pumping. However, it's good enough, in-yer-face and quite exciting to watch, with He-Man taking out hordes of bad guys with his sword, laser beams everywhere, mass destruction and some good old rough and tumble. And all the action grows organically from the story - none of it seems put in simply because the movie needed an action scene at a certain point.

One of MotU's greatet assets is it's atmosphere. The sense of an intergalactic civil war is tangible, as is the sheer menace of the villains, the desperation of the good guys, the growing sense of doom as Skeletor captures the Cosmic Key. There is a cower-behind-the-sofa scariness similar to that of TV's Doctor Who.

If Masters of the Universe was re-released at cinemas this summer, people would realize how good it is compared to the blockbuster summer fare we get these days. And all for $17m, which was hardly anything, even in 1987.

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