Ratings: Marnie, n/a; Masters of the Universe, 2/5
“Stay where you are, He-Man! One more move and your friends will not live to see another day! I give you a choice. Return with me to Eternia as my slave and save their miserable lives, or perish with them on this primitive and tasteless planet. Surrender your sword!”
This may seem like rather a strange double bill, and indeed it would have been, were it not for the fact that, as it turned out, the video case for Marnie was empty. So, for the first (and hopefully last) time, a film has been retired from Movie Lottery, on the basis that it has disappeared. It’s a shame, really, because Marnie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is a nasty, though very interesting film; the same can not be said for Masters of the Universe, a camp, ridiculous, 80s kids film that I watched last night for the first time, with little to no knowledge of He-Man. Perhaps the film would mean something more had I the benefit of childhood nostalgia, though I must admit to have rather enjoyed it regardless.
I missed the first few minutes, due to being filled in on some of the history behind these ludicrous characters, but the general gist of the film is this: He-Man is good, and likes wearing nothing but a harness and pants. Skeletor is bad, and you can tell because he wants to control the universe, wears a lot of black, spouts a lot of rhetoric, and has a skull for a face. There’s a device called a Cosmic Key, built by an irritating goblin-dwarf creature, and even though he already has one of his own, Skeletor wants it. Unfortunately for him, his minions (who look exactly like Darth Vader) are pretty useless, and He-Man, two of his friends, and Gwildor (the goblin) escape with the Cosmic Key and land rather unceremoniously on Earth, where they join up with two teenagers and try to stop a galactic war from breaking out. Or something.
Although it seems like Masters of the Universe is a sequel – it throws you into the action immediately, and Skeletor has already taken over Castle Greyskull on the planet Eternia – but in fact it is the first and only film of what was most likely intended to become a franchise. Released in 1987, just following the peak of the toys’ and cartoon’s popularity, it was a flop on release, not even recouping its $22 million budget in the US. This is no real surprise – there are few (if any?) films inspired by toys that have been truly successful (yes, I realise Transformers has done rather well commercially, but critically? Well, I’m sure you know yourselves). Masters of the Universe is particularly shoddy; as a badfilm fan I appreciated its stupidity, but I wonder would even a child have been convinced by any of it?
The story itself is completely generic, and is marginally better once He-Man and his cohorts arrive on Earth, where they are disgusted by people’s meat-eating habits, quickly upgrade a car’s engine (because they care about the environment, obviously), and do not once consider wearing “human” clothes so they blend in a bit more. Luckily they arrive in America, and the native language on Eternia is English, so that’s one problem they don’t have to worry about. Even more fortunately, they meet orphan Julie (Courtney Cox) and her boyfriend Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill), who very quickly accept all the unbelievable stuff going on around them. Having mistaken the Cosmic Key for a newfangled synthesiser from Japan, Kevin and Julie become instrumental (ha!) in helping good defeat evil.
The fairly big core cast is necessary, because He-Man himself is quite possibly the dullest hero ever conceived. Even his name is dull: He-Man. Man-Man? That’s almost as bad as the literal translation of Manos: The Hands of Fate, or Ro-Man from Planet Ro-Man! Unlike Ro-Man, however, He-Man has absolutely no personality whatsoever – although, I should say, Dolph Lundgren does look exactly like an action figure. It’s truly uncanny. Luckily, there are plenty of other people (and creatures) to distract from our hero’s inanity. Frank Langella should particularly be commended for his role as Skeletor – despite being entirely covered by a cloak and mask, he chews the scenery in every scene, overemphasising everything and making the most evil of villains both pompously theatrical and, at times, even genuinely sinister (albeit in a camp kind of way.)
Despite the film being a fairly long (for a kid’s movie) 100 minutes, there’s non stop action to keep sugar-filled children entertained. Most, but not all, of this takes place in Julie’s hometown, where apparently every single other inhabitant goes to bed at 8pm and therefore remains happily oblivious to the aliens, portals, giant hovercrafts, and full-scale war going on in the streets. It doesn’t make any sense, of course, and the action is frequently poorly choreographed, overly dependent on psychedelic, epilepsy-inducing light shows, or pathetically harmless (the bad guys are particularly poor shots), but somehow Masters of the Universe is actually quite entertaining to watch. It races along, and when viewed today is on a par with Flash Gordon for dodgy effects and silly, overwrought concepts – but would I watch it again? Well… possibly.