Comic Book Movies 101: Masters Of The Universe

After his breakout in Rocky IV, Dolph Lundgren got his first leading role in the 80s big-screen adaptation of one of the most popular cartoon series of the time. Transformers had decades to wait, but He-Man (oddly enough) managed to make it to the big screen with little fuss. Amazing, considering that concept, production costs and design would require someone with imagination and an iron fist to rule over the budget.

Fans of the cartoon were immediately dismayed by the fact that the story takes place mainly on Earth, and not on Eternia. We come into a story with no jungles, giant castles or princely fortresses. Instead we get a wasteland that seems to have appeared in the later days of an all-out war between good and evil. Prince Adam seems to have stopped existing in his normal form (probably a good thing, as his medieval blond bob has gone, but the rocker’s mullet he boasts isn’t much better). He’s in newly designed, and much less iconic, He-Man garb. Seems someone took a leaf out of the Conan book for this one.

Castle Greyskull has been overrun by Skeletor’s army. Skeletor, played with zest by Frank Langella, looks awfully rubbery for a skeleton. His army of monsters don’t fare any better (check out Beastman), with some very half-arsed designs, and little-to-no character.

He-Man has a few more human-looking sidekicks (Man-At-Arms, Teela) along with a little guy who looks like a reject from Labyrinth or Legend, and is played by Billy Barty from Legend. He’s the equivalent of a scientist in this film.

The plot is a bit weird, but basically our heroes find themselves transported to modern day (1980s) Earth with a few baddies on the hunt. The object of everyone’s desire seems to be to find the majestic Key (which I’m not even going to waste time trying to describe – let’s just say it looks nothing like a traditional key).

Enter the young teenage Earthlings (hello, Courtney Cox) who happen upon this discovery and end up trapped in the middle of a battle between good and evil. And with a few token pain-in-the-arse cops (Back to the Future’s James Tolkien on his usual slacker parade) to get in the way, the adventure continues until Skeletor manages to get the upper hand, invade Earth, but end up losing in a climatic fight in Castle Greyskull.

It’s a real shambles, a real guilty pleasure and very, very, VERY 80s. But considering that the early to mid-80s had a whole slew of fantasy projects from the Conans, to Legend, Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, Ladyhawke and many more, He-Man seemed a logical choice for a studio looking to cash in on the fantasy fad. It’s just not as good as some of those other films.

Lundgren stomps around trying his best, but his accent kills most of his delivery (especially the trademark line of “I have the power”). But if you think that’s bad, a post-credits skit has Skeletor pop his head out of his supposed grave and claim that he will be back. No you won’t, pal. The work done on a sequel ended up being used for the Van Damme vehicle Cyborg!

Naturally I had to go to YouTube and check out the opening theme from the cartoon show. Literally nothing carries over to the film. Not that amazing theme tune, not the fact that Adam bellows every line in the introduction (“Together we protect Castle Greyskull from the EVIL FORCES OF SKELETOR!!!!!!!!!” Classic). Still, you’ve gotta laugh at the fact that when He-Man finishes addressing the audience, he runs at us and punches the camera’s lights out for apparently no reason. We’re also missing Skeletor’s great voice and his insane cackle, there’s no Cringer, and Castle Greyskull completely loses its actually pretty cool design from the cartoon too. Urgh!

If you want a great chuckle, head to YouTube and look up The Skeletor Show. It’s a real hoot!

Steven Hurst

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