Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Got The Power!

Continuing my quest to watch every movie in the Los Angeles Library catalog.

Masters of the Universe (1987)

Master schlockmeister Menahem Golan – producer of the infamous Chuck Norris Missing in Action I thru LXVI films and Superman IV: Sorry For The Last One With Richard Pryor – attempted to snatch up the Star Wars audience and toy action figure crowds with this live-action version of the He-Man toy universe. What resulted was a cross between a Sid and Marty Krofft show and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

Standard action fantasy plot: Bad guy Skeletor (Frank Langella, having loads of fun under make up) wants the power of Castle Grayskull, which will make him ruler of all Eternia and/or the universe. The only thing in his way is a shitload of muscles with a mullet named He-Man (Dolph “I must break you” Lundgren). Both sides of the issue have lots of colorful characters with equally colorful names: Man-at-Arms, Evil-Lyn, Beast Man, Teela, Saurod, Karg, Douchebag and Dick Head (probably kidding with those last two). Rounding out the crapitude is my favorite performer Billy Barty, he of little person fame, playing Gwildor the diminutive keymaster. The make up designed for Barty reminds me of nothing so much as a Bruce Vilanch troll doll. (see for yourself)
This is the kind of film where it looks like the actors were cast to be themselves rather than actually create characters (hey, it worked on American Graffiti). There was no Steven Spielberg-like direction given to them. According to IMDb, this 1987 film is the first movie by director Gary Goddard, and pretty much the last one, not counting a pair of 3D shows in the early 2000s. Frank Langella really struts his stuff and gives life to Skeletor (maybe he should have directed). Too bad the same can’t be said for Dolph Lundgren’s heavy browed He-Man. His mullet (business with Skeletor up front, party at Grayskull in the rear) is a better actor. A pre-Friends Courteney Cox dances in the dark with a pre-Star Trek Voyager Robert Duncan McNeil playing her van-driving (is this the 1970s?) musician boyfriend.

The action and fight scenes are very Saturday morning kid safe, which is to say totally boring and completely uninspired. It's so safe it makes the battle scenes in the original Star Wars look like Saving Private Ryan. The special effects are extremely dated, which is good when you look at it through nostalgia-tinted glasses, but bad when you realize MOTU’s special effects were supervised by Richard Edlund, who worked on the original Star Wars which still holds up on that end today. The make up effects on Gwildor and the other monsters looks very stiff and more than a bit silly. This is the kind of movie where way too much time was spent on deciding what various optical effects were going to look like (Cosmic Key light shows, dimensional doorway effects, energy bolts, assorted cosmic crackle) rather than writing a strong story with memorable characters and finding an appropriate action director to bring it to life. And your movie is called Masters of the Universe, that's UNIVERSE, so do we get fantastic otherworldly vistas? Nope. We get Vasquez Freakin' Rocks and Whittier, CA. I think I saw some Gorn tracks in the Vasquez Rocks scenes. And Whittier? What could be more out of this world than Whittier, CA? Thanks, Menahem!

There’s been talk for a few years now of bringing He-Man and the Masters of the Universe back to the big screen. Maybe they can cast the real Bruce Vilanch to play a giant troll.

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