Masters of the Universe (1987)

Happy Halloween from Frank Langella!

Happy Halloween from Frank Langella!

So, Masters of the Universe recently showed up on Netflix streaming, and I decided that I would live-tweet my viewing of it. Before diving in, I was under the impression that I had seen it before, back when it was new, which would have meant that I was about 6 years old. Having now watched it at 33, I think I was mistaken about that, because I did not remember one single, solitary thing about the movie. Not even vague impressions. So, how is Masters of the Universe when you see it for the first time as an adult? Well, better than I expected, actually, though that’s not saying much, since I expected it to hit roughly Troll 2 levels of magnificent incompetence.

I knew, going in, that it bore very little resemblance to the toy line/cartoon show that inspired it, but for some reason (probably the many, many pictures of a shirtless, sword-wielding Dolph Lundgren that decorated its advertising campaign) I was expecting something more in the vein of assorted Conan-alikes a la Beastmaster, and instead I got something wedged midway between Star Wars and Flash Gordon. The Star Wars parallels are particularly egregious, with Frank Langella’s Skeletor looking a lot like Emperor Palpatine, using weird purple Force lightning, and even falling down a big long mechanical pit at the end, not to mention the budget stormtrooper-wannabes who make up his army, or the fact that the music mostly sounds like rejected tracks from the Star Wars score. The Flash Gordon elements come up more in the costumes which, honestly, are kinda the high point of the whole shebang. Of special note are Skeletor’s leveled-up boss armor, Meg Foster’s Evil-Lyn outfit, and the Sorceress’ hat, which looks like it was made out of my grandma’s chandelier. Some of the bad guys look pretty great, too, although the best one, Saurod, is also the first one to get killed off, presumably because his makeup was the most expensive. (He was, incidentally, played by a guy whose real name sounds like it could have come straight outta Star Wars: Pons Maar.)

Also a surprise to me was that Masters of the Universe had what I think of as “the Beastmaster 2 storyline” where they all traveled to “present day” earth. (Although Masters of the Universe came out several years before Beastmaster 2, so it would be more accurate to say that Beastmaster 2 had the Masters of the Universe storyline.)

None of which should indicate to anyone that Masters of the Universe is actually good. Frank Langella does his best with what he’s got, but that ain’t much, and Meg Foster seems a little pissed about being in every scene that she’s in, which works for the constantly-put-upon Evil-Lyn, but Dolph Lundgren gives probably the worst line-reads of a career not exactly known for its nuanced portrayals, his sweaty bare chest doing most of the acting for him, and even a very young Courteney Cox delivers all of her lines like she’s talking to someone over the shoulder of whoever she’s actually supposed to be speaking to. Still, if you’re looking for silly space fantasy with goofy costumes and decent actors performing shamefacedly, you could do worse than checking out Masters of the Universe while it’s on Netflix streaming. If you go in with a bar set low enough, you might even be pleasantly surprised!

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