Tuesday, March 13, 2012
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987)
I have a confession to make. In 1987, while in the company of several friends, I paid good money to see the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE movie in the theater. You might roll your eyes and ‘tsk tsk’ me for this waste of time and money and I would agree with you. What the Hell was I/we thinking? The cartoon series the film is adapted from was easily one of the lamest Saturday morning adventure shows ever created- dull, superficial, pseudo educational and artless. I can remember mindlessly sitting through a few episodes sometime in the mid-80s and trying to convince myself that they were worth watching. They weren’t. When your main hero character runs around waving a huge sword and never actually cuts, or even attempts to cut anyone, you know the show sucks. I understand that the reason for this pitiful fact is that television was going through one of its periods of dealing with a spasm of over-the-top ‘parental’ concern about violence on TV but it doesn’t make MOTU any less boring. When you can’t have violence in an action oriented show you not only neuter it but you also make all the hardware and activity surrounding the story seem harmless and without consequence. I’d much rather there be a restrained amount of violence permitted in an action cartoon with the often harsh repercussions of it shown as well. This would demonstrate to children that violence has real effects and that there are often unintended repercussions to violent acts. But that is not what we got in cartoons in the 1980s and history has shown it to be a sad, sad period that only squinting nostalgia can make seem grand.
How could a good film be made from such neutered, crippled material? We’ll probably never know because the one attempt in 1987 made so many mistakes that anyone trying again will be saddled with the bad taste left by its massive failure. How bad is the Masters of the Universe film? I’ve heard fans of the show (there are some, trust me) complain that the film was a bad representation of the story. While I agree that the film is terrible the TV show was awful as well, folks. Let’s not fool ourselves.
So why did I rewatch the god-awful MOTU film? Why compound the error of paying money to see this turkey in 1987 by sitting though it again? Simple curiosity is my only defense. I had no hopes that it would be revealed 25 years later to be a hidden gem that time had burnished in a way that was impossible to discern when I was a teenager. I didn’t think the sad-ass story would suddenly be impressive. I didn’t think that I would feel less sorry for the pretty good cast flailing around spouting insipid lines of dialog so juvenile as to make a Michael Bay film seem Shakespearian. I didn’t think the sad plot involving the MOTU cast coming to modern day Earth would somehow be palatable either. No- the reason I watched it again was curiosity. That and the fact that I bought a DVD copy of it for $3 about a year ago and it was just sitting there, laughing at me. Three dollars is clearly about five dollars too much to have paid for a copy of this film but I couldn’t resist. It’s a weakness- a disease! And so, to justify owning the damned thing, I watched it.
Oh, the pain!
One of the worst things about watching MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987) is that you can see the cast trying to make a silk purse here. They are, one and all, throwing themselves into the thing and working to be convincing. They might have had good reason to think this mess would somehow work. If you look at the Enternia sets built for Skeletor's castle its clear that some thought went into the way things look. The use of forced perspective is good and the matte paintings add depth to the colorful interiors. The costumes aren't bad either and Dolph Lundgren certainly looks He-Man-ish enough to make running around with his oiled chest out seem plausible. Frank Langella tries his best to emote evilly through the silly latex skull mask they have slapped on his face. Even the beautiful, pale eyed Meg Foster is creepy as Skeletor's main henchwoman. The problem is that the story they chose to tell never lets you accept the fantasy of what they are trying to sell. I'm sure it was a cost cutting idea to have the MOTU characters jump to Earth and blow up cars but the juxtaposition of the big silly fantasy elements with the mundane world of keyboards and cops deflates any chance of getting into the mind-set necessary to enjoy this sucker. You are constantly being reminded that you're watching plastic crap and silly laser bolts with no chance to get caught up in the thin characters or situations. The film is a dud.
But I have to say that I just might have to listen to the director's commentary included on the DVD. (Yes- that would mean watching the damned movie AGAIN but I have access to beer.) This guy helped write the Bo Derek TARZAN movie! He's got to have some crazy stories and I bet they are much more entertaining that MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. Of course, this is the only feature film he directed so I can't wait to hear why no other such gigs came his way. I anticipate the sound of bitter tears dripping onto the microphone or even the dark tale of an artist misunderstood! Could be good.