masters of the universe 1987If you haven't already guessed, this week's Movie Club pick was inspired by the recent news that Sony is planninga new Masters of the Universe flick.

Hollywood's first attempt to bring MOTU to the big screen was a major flop, financially and critically. Director Gary Goddard's incredibly tedious low budget He-Man movie failed to make a dent at the box office for studio Cannon upon its release in 1987. It was slammed by critics for its poor action sequences, stock script and characterizations, and overall flat tone. This was not the fantastic live-action adventure the movie's teaser posters had promised.

But there's still hope for a good MOTU movie, or at least a better one, anyway. Sony has hired Predators scribes Mike Finch and Alex Litvak to pen the new version. I have no idea if these guys can write compelling characters or a decent story, but judging by the Predators footage I've seen, they're more than capable of dreaming up some fun and intense action scenes. And technological innovations in the age of Iron Man and Avatar are giving me hope that Hollywood can finally bring the magic of MOTU back to life in high style.

Forgive me if I sound too optimistic, but I'm a big fan of this franchise and I would love to see it come back in a big way with a fantastic new movie. Still, it's likely that the new MOTU film will end up looking more like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra than, say, the previously mentioned Iron Man or Lord of the Rings. But that's OK. I'm sure whatever we end up with will be a hell of a lot better than watching sweaty-pecked Dolph Lundgren shuffle his way through suburbia for ninety minutes.

motu scene

This Aint He-Man!

I remember being severely disappointed in this film when it was released. I was only eight-years-old, but I knew that this was not a good movie. I could overlook the garish, low budget set design, the clunky action sequences and the overall grimy look and feel of the whole thing. What bothered me the most was how much it got wrong.

hemanI know it's an old and tired pastime for nerds to gripe about the inaccuracies in movie adaptations of their beloved franchises, but gimme a break. I was eight. The Internets weren't even born yet. I was just a goofy, TV-obsessed kid hoping to see a kick-ass version of his favorite cartoon come to life on the movie screen. So, please, allow the child in me to gripe ...

My first beef with the movie was that most of the action took place on Earth instead of the strange and colorful world of Eternia depicted in the animated series. Even then, I knew that budget constraints and the filmmakers' lack of imagination had made it impossible for Eternia to be properly represented onscreen. So we got a few desert shots to stand in for the fantasy world, and the action was swiftly moved to the burbs of the boring ol' US of A.

The next big thing that bugged me was the exclusion of the beloved cartoon character Orko. Instead, the movie gives us a grotesque troll named Gwildor (Billy Barty). I know a lot of fans hate Orko, but it was a huge letdown to see classic characters left out of the movie in favor of new characters. Along with Gwildor came hard-to-love newbies like Karg (Robert Towers), Blade (Anthony De Longis) and Saurod (Pons Maar). Some of these faces made it into Marvel's MOTU comics, but they were strangers to most kids and fans of the TV series. At least Beast Man shows up, but where were Mer-Man, Trap Jaw and Panthor? It's likely that the studio created the new characters in order to market and sell more action figures to we kiddos, but I doubt the plan worked. I don't remember buying or ever wanting to buy a gross looking Karg figure.

A Tribute to Jack Kirby?

It was also clear that Goddard had little to no interest in making a Masters of the Universe movie. He-Man's back-story is never dealt with, the characters don't have the rapport they did in the series, and the drab colors and set design stood in stark contrast to the series' vibrant colors and upbeat tone.

Instead, the director was apparently trying to make some kind of homage to comic book legend Jack Kirby. According to reports, Goddard even went as far as to try to hire Kirby as the film's conceptual artist, but the studio nixed the idea. He intended the film to be a "motion picture comic book" inspired by Kirby's Fourth World saga and the Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom stories. It's possible that Goddard's original vision for the project would have looked more like the typical MOTU design style, but he was apparently met with studio resistance while trying to turn the movie into something more epic and fantastical.

skeletor

Maybe It's Not
That Bad

Viewed as just another '80s fantasy adventure film, MOTU gets by with fun effects and a typical good vs. evil story that sometimes offers lip service to fans of the series (Lundgren yelling "I have the power!" after reclaiming his sword). There are actually a few fun moments here, and even Gwildor gets in a laugh or two. Of course, it all seems inspired by other, better fantasy films of the time. Bill Conti's title theme pretty much apes John Williams' scores for both Superman and Star Wars, and its one of the many, many things about the movie that make it feel like such a Z-grade affair.

The performances range from overcooked to mind numbingly dull. Lundgren pretty much looks the part of the greatest champion of the universe, even though he's dressed in what looks like bondage gear, but he has no personality here. He wears a dazed and confused expression for most of the movie, especially during the hovering disc sequence toward the end. A young Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill show a lot of spark, but they never make the terrible dialogue come to life. Langella, however, is appropriately creepy as Skeletor, hissing his way through the movie while the score and cinematography so desperately want to make him the next Darth Vader.

The person who seems to be having the most fun is James Tolkan as lovable hard-ass Detective Lubic. Sure, he's pretty much playing the same character he played in the Back to the Future movies, but it works. I loved watching him unload a shotgun on Skeletor's guards, Mr. Strickland style. At the end of movie, Lubic decides to remain at Castle Grayskull to retire and explore Eternia and all of its wonders. Unlike the filmmakers, he had the right idea.

So what did you think? Are you looking forward to the new movie?
CATEGORIES Features, Reviews, Sci-Fi