It's no coincidence that Dolph Lundgren took on the role of a franchise action hero character like He-Man directly after he starred in 'Rocky IV' with Sylvester Stallone. His enormous physique and menacing demeanor were truly awe-inspiring. Stallone was ripped, but Lundgren towered over him in that movie featuring a body with muscles in places I didn't think muscles could be found. It's natural that Hollywood thought Lundgren might end up being the town's new action star.
'Masters of the Universe' came out in theaters in 1987, at the height of He-Man's popularity. The cartoon and toys were extremely popular, and a movie seemed like a logical next step for the franchise. Lundgren fit He-Man's impossible body structure and mirrored his Scandinavian appearance. It was a perfect fit. It's too bad that Gary Goddard's movie turned into a cheesy B-movie right from the outset and became more of a laugh-at-it-with-a-bunch-of-friends cult movie than a respected fantasy action movie.
To Goddard's credit he creates a fairly kid-friendly universe in which He-Man and Skeletor (Frank Langella) appear as giant action figures dueling for the universe's ultimate power. The whole movie feels like something imagined by a child in the 80s as he plays with his He-Man toys in his room. The problem with this approach is that the movie never has any real sense of dread. It's a live-action cartoon and plays out as such.
He-Man lives on a planet called Eternia where Skeletor's forces of evil-doers are plotting to take control. They've already entombed the planet's sorceress in an impenetrable force field and are now seeking to harness the power of Grayskull in order to rule the universe. Because when you're big, evil and look like a giant skeleton, why wouldn't you want to rule the universe? He-Man battles back against Skeletor with the help of his ragamuffin group of renegades which includes an ugly little dwarf named Gwildor, a headstrong soldier (Jon Cypher) and the soldier's even more headstrong daughter (Chelsea Field). Skeletor has legions of Stormtrooper looking troops and He-Man has these three allies. He's grossly outnumbered, but when you're sporting what I assume is a sixteen-pack (Lundgren is insanely ripped in this movie) then maybe numbers don't matter much.
The battle soon finds its way to Earth as He-Man and his crew are accidentally transported there. On Earth they meet a young teenage couple. Julie (Courtney Cox) and Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill) soon become embroiled in the scuffle for universal power, as the movie checks another cliché off its growing list.
Looking back on 'Masters of the Universe' it's glaringly obvious that it's a product of the 80s. The only way it could've been any more 80s is if there was a slap wrap included in the purchase of this Blu-ray. This isn't a bad thing per se, but it's almost too hard to get over the movie's era-related corniness. Especially the key that opens interstellar doorways by playing synthesized musical notes.
Personally, I find it fun to watch 'Masters of the Universe' laughing at it the entire way. Lundgren's acting flatlines, giving us a glimpse of what his future starring roles would be like. He was great in 'Rocky IV' because he simply had to stand there and look menacing as hell. Here, not so much. Most of the time it feels like Goddard is directly off screen telling him exactly what facial expressions to make ("Okay, now you're happy, so smile!" "Now He-Man is angry. Grimace!"). Langella is great as Skeletor though. Buried underneath that dated make-up, Langella provides a perfectly threatening voice for the villainous action figure that he is. The story is a hodge-podge of sci-fi/fantasy ideas and never feels like it really nails down who He-Man really is. However, it's a nostalgia thing, right? If you grew up loving He-Man and therefore loving 'Masters of the Universe' then you'll most likely be chomping at the bit to own this on Blu-ray. It's one of those movies that people remember fondly even though the corniness factor is off the charts.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Released by Warner Bros. 'Masters of the Universe' comes on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc. It comes in a standard eco-friendly keepcase and is for Region A use.
As with most lower-tier catalogue titles from the 80s, 'Masters of the Universe' definitely shows its age. It's predominately soft in the mid- and long-range shots. It has some errant noise here and there. The colors seem a tad faded. Fans need not fear though. Even though the Blu-ray has some issues that should've been expected given its age, the movie has never looked better.
I was actually very pleased with the amount of detail provided in the movie's many close-ups. I don't remember the DVD of the movie offering nearly as much visible facial hair, pores, freckles, and intricate smile lines. Sure the added detail betrays the make-up that was used on Langella's face more than once, but overall the effect is accurate detail when the camera closes in. When the camera pans back is when the picture gets expectedly hazy. Hair becomes less detailed and clumpier. Skin tones appear a little washed out. Whites become fuzzy and bleed past their edges as softness takes its toll. Edges aren't nearly as crisply defined as they are in close-ups.
Like I said earlier the colors have a slightly faded look to them. Primaries are a little dull. Again this is most likely due to the film's age and the recording equipment used to shoot it, rather than the Blu-ray transfer itself. I wasn't lying when I said that even with its shortcomings that this is the best the movie has ever looked. I've watched this movie on VHS and DVD and can attest that the Blu-ray delivers more detail than you'll ever get in the previous releases. Artifacting is kept at a minimum, although banding is evident in a few Eternia scenes where Skeletor addresses the planet's population. Blacks seem deep enough. Shadows harbor a bit of crush, but nothing that should really detract from viewing. It isn't a flawless presentation by any means; however it's definitely worth the visual upgrade if you're a fan of the movie.
A new mix hasn't been provided here. This time around the stereo presentation is a lossless one though. We get a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track this time around. I must admit that as a fan I was hoping for a surround sound remix for this movie.
The stereo does produce quite a bit more resonance than its DVD counterpart. For one thing LFE in the mix seems to be quite a bit clearer. Explosions and laser blasts have a bit more heft than they did with the DVD's lossy mix. Dialogue still sounds tinny though, along with the musical soundtrack.
That's really all I can say about the audio here. Dialogue is clear and that's about it. It's a mix that will get you through the movie, but if you were hoping for Warner to do a little more with this release you'll probably end up disappointed.
Oh, 'Masters of the Universe.' What else is there to say? It's a perfect example of just how corny many 80s sci-fi movies were. Not only that, but we're able to witness Dolph Lundgren's movie career in a flawless microcosm. It starts out with a whole lot of promise and then slowly fizzles away into appreciative cult obscurity. 'Masters of the Universe' is fun to remember. It isn't a great movie by any means, nevertheless nostalgic attachment is reason enough to lightly recommend it.