Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Masters of the Universe (1987)

Last year, Frank Langella created Oscar buzz for his portrayal of the late Richard Nixon. For many, Langella brought to life the very personification of evil. I am of course talking about Skeletor.

Masters of the Universe, aka "That He-Man Movie," was released in 1987, based on a successful cartoon and a successful line of toys that resulted directly from Mattel creating a generic version of Conan the Barbarian to avoid marketing toys based on an R-rated film (and to get around paying royalties to the studios or Robert Howard's family). The film ends up being an entertaining and somewhat bizarre combination of Star Wars, Back to the Future and Conan, all set to the music from Superman.

He-Man is played by Dolph Lundgren, the 6'6" bodybuilding Swede who had recently starred as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. At this point, Dolph's English was severely limited, but his pecs do an admirable job conveying his emotions. After all, he's playing a TOY version of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Skeletor is played by Langella as the sort of scenery-chewing super bad guy that can only exist in children's movies. "Serious" films always justify or rationalize what makes their bad guys bad, but Skeletor is pretty much the worst guy in the world, and he seems pretty okay about it. He quotes Shakespeare and possesses a gravitas that is either way over the top or possibly not over the top enough, resulting in most of the film's memorable quotes. He may not be complex, but Langella really does a great job of being so evil that when he gets thrown into a bottomless pit you want to high-five someone.

The story is that Skeletor has taken over Castle Greyskull (which seems like a perfect fit), and is really close to complete control of the planet of Eternia, a Tattoine-like planet populated by about five people. The key to his success is a "cosmic key," and to ensure nobody else knows about it, Skeletor hires some goons to take out the inventor, an annoying dwarf (Billy Barty). Of course, hiring goons never works, and He-Man and his pals Man-At-Arms and Teela save the annoying dwarf and learn that he's the only guy who can stop Skeletor. After a big fight where about a thousand poorly aimed lasers graze past He-Mans chiseled abs, the four heroes use the key to go to some new planet.

It was at about this point that the filmmakers ran out of money, and we suddenly find ourselves in suburban California (the film says New Jersey), where a young Courtney Cox and her boyfriend find the key and immediately assume it to be some sort of Japanese synthesizer. Skeletor sends out the most bizarre looking goons on his payroll after Courtney Cox, including Beast-Man, Lizard Guy, guy with one eye, and Beetlejuice guy. Fortunately, He-Man arrives on the scene and saves the day, but not before ruining prom for everyone.

Finally, Skeletor gets serious and sends His Girl Friday Evil-Lyn (a very hot Meg Foster) to get back his key and back to the plot. Evil-Lyn exploits Courtney Cox's feminine weaknesses to get the key back, and Skeletor shows up in person to have a parade through a completely empty California town- it's like the Rose Bowl parade, only at night, and no one's there! Skeletor zaps Courtney Cox's leg, then forces He-Man to surrender while he leaves everyone else on this "tasteless" planet. Ouch!

Of course, Cox's boyfriend, who is totally in a band, remembers the music notes needed to go to Eternia, so all the rest of the heroes head back to rescue He-Man, along with a grouchy cop and part of a classic car. Skeletor becomes even more powerful, but he's fighting freaking He-Man here. What's the power of a God compared to Dolph Lundgren's physique? Good triumphs, and in an attempt to rip-off one more movie, Courtney Cox wakes back up at home, and her parents are alive again somehow. Then the professor shows up and says there's something wrong with He-Man's child in the future, and… wait, I just made that up. It would've been awesome, though.

Why you should watch it:

Dolph Lundgren, Courtney Cox, Frank Langella, and Meg Foster (the chick from They Live) isn't enough for you? How about an 80's camp-fest featuring a phenomenal performance? I'm talking about Dolph's abs again. The film's lack of a budget, combined with its bizarre combination of Back to the Future, Star Wars, and Conan. It's like the best movies of the late 70's and early 80's were thrown into a blender. Also, check it out for Langella's performance. Cartoon Skeletor was a whiny ass. Langella elevates him into this clever, calculating bad guy, outwitting He-Man and his friends on a regular basis. The more I watch it, the more I root for Skeletor.

When you should watch it:

On a Saturday Morning/Early Afternoon (after cartoons)

Quotable quotes:


Skeletor: Surrender to me and I will spare their miserable lives, or perish with them on this primitive and tasteless planet.

Skeletor: Now. I, Skeletor, am Master of the Universe! YES! Yes... I feel it, the power... fills me. Yes, I feel the universe within me! I am... I am a part of the cosmos! The power flows... Flows through me! Of what consequence are you now? This planet, these people. They are NOTHING to me! The universe is power! Real, unstoppable POWER! and I am that force! I am that power! KNEEL BEFORE YOUR MASTER! Fool! you are no longer my EQUAL! I am more than man! MORE THAN LIFE! I... am... a... GOD! Now. You... will... KNEEEEEL! KNEEEEL!

Arbitrary ranking system:

4 Golden Skulls

Awesome monologue:

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