Masters of the Universe

September 1, 2011

He-Man. You-By-Comparison-Not.

I don’t know much about the Masters of the Universe, but evidently they appear in toy stores everywhere, a Saturday morning cartoon series, and a previously released animated feature film. The storylines, it seems, are full of grotesque characters and incredible mayhem and violence. Kids, of course, love ’em.

Now the characters are in a live-action movie, called, rightfully enough, Masters of the Universe. This film pits those two great antagonists, He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and Skeletor (Frank Langella).

As it opens, Skeletor has darn near the entire universe as we know it within his bony grasp. But he must humiliate He-Man, because he hates the fact that He-Man is good, and covered with flesh. (Lots of flesh—Lundgren is the blond behemoth who fought Stallone in Rocky IV).

But He-Man still has control of this gadget that makes noises and emits rays and somehow holds the key to the contest. It falls through one of those holes in the space-time continuum, and lands in a small town on Earth, 1987. The Masters follow. A girl (Courteney Cox, famed for dancing with Bruce Springsteen in the “Dancing in the Dark” video) and her boyfriend mistake the thing for one of those new Japanese synthesizers.

So the rest of the galactic superbattle takes place on boring old Earth. There are a couple of good reasons for this: The same fish-out-of-water routine worked well in Star Trek IV, and you save a bundle of money shooting on a small town location rather than building a bunch of expensive futuristic science-fiction sets.

You can sit there and wonder why Frank Langella would appear in a movie such as this. You can sit there and wonder why Dolph Lundgren works so mightily to disguise his Scandinavian accent, when the future is probably multi-national, anyway. You can sit there and wonder what Barry (“Ernie”) Livingston, who plays the owner of a music store, has been doing since “My Three Sons” went off the air and why he’s in this movie rather than Back to the Beach with the rest of the TV dinosaurs. Then again, you can probably just as well wonder these things without going to the movie.

First published in the Herald, August 1987

Speaking of Barry Livingston, I noticed him in Horrible Bosses and looked him up at that time. The man is indefatigable, still filling out roles in Zodiac and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and the upcoming Hostel III. Good for him. For productivity, he can’t hold a candle to Billy Barty, who was also in this movie and who had a busy Eighties as well. As for the rest of Masters, I cannot say, but it must have had some sort of humor to it just on the casting alone.