Indefatigable Israeli producer Menahem Golan spent the entirety of the myth-obsessed 1980s chasing down his piece of the American dream to repeatedly diminished results, culminating in the fiasco that put the first cycle of Superman films on indefinite hiatus. In 1987, he funneled no less than $22 million into a feature-length excuse to cover Frank Langella’s face in albino Silly Putty, send him strutting down an endless marble catwalk suspended above a pair of bottomless pits, and hiss out veiled references to his own intergalactic virility as the arch villain Skeletor. Can’t imagine what went wrong there. Still, at least Langella’s professional loquacity gives Golan’s lunatic 1987 production of Masters of the Universe some level of fraudulent literacy, which was all but necessitated owing to the decision to cast monosyllabic Asgardian body slab Dolph Lundgren in the role of He-Man, the Castle Greyskull-defending closet-freak alter ego of daisy-pressing gym bunny Prince Adam of Eternia. (Apparently Lundgren wasn’t keen on slipping into pink tights, because instead of hiding his true identity, his He-Man spends his entire working day displaying his freshly oiled muscles in nothing but a loincloth and leather straps, as it is so much more conspicuously masculine.)
Like so many big-screen adaptations of otherworldly fantasy franchises, Masters of the Universe bends over backward to spend most of its running time on Earth, of all places. In David Odell’s scenario, He-Man’s sidekicks Man-at-Arms and Teela help rescue a dwarf locksmith named Gwildor (Billy Barty, of course), whose new Cosmic Key invention opens portals between any time or place within the universe through the power of its spinning S&M tuning forks. Skeletor has one, but Gwildor still has the prototype on hand, and the band of TRON jumpsuit-wearing freedom fighters travel to Earth for some reconnoiter. Gwildor’s little BBQ sauce-covered fingers drop the Cosmic Key somewhere in Cheap To Film, U.S.A. and it’s recovered by teens Julie (still coping with the loss of her parents in a plane crash) and Kevin (still coping with his lack of musical talent). They power it up, Kevin plays a few John Tesh licks, and Skeletor and his army track the signal and gear up for a showdown.
Masters of the Universe is too ridiculous to attain the mythic heights of the movies it baldly rips off (Bill Conti’s score apes Star Wars and Aliens in roughly equal measure, and the participation of James “Principal Strickland” Tolkan isn’t the only element that gives off déjà vu of Back to the Future). But it’s also far too carefully corporate to lapse into even accidental distinction. Masters of the Universe is so inept it fails to even out-gay its source material in the retroactive camp scavenger hunt. No small feat when about one-third of the running time is devoted to Lundgren’s sweet roll pecs.
Not that Masters of the Universe was likely ever a particularly good-looking film, the transfer doesn't look particularly restored from its earlier DVD release. It looks just good enough to reveal just how shoddy the process shots were executed, and how darkly lit other scenes ended up. The disc's true failing is its shrill "master audio" mix, which suffers from both tinny registers and a faintly perceptible pulsating effect.
The only bonus feature aside from the theatrical trailer, which occasionally reminded me of Damon Packard's irresistible send-up of '80s blockbuster salesmanship Dawn of an Evil Millennium, is director Gary Goddard's commentary track, which sets the tone right away with Goddard simply reading names from the opening credits out loud. Anyone hoping for some insight on how the project went awry won't get much dirt here. Goddard's observations are of the strictly "glass completely full" variety. Sure, at one point he notes the movie went over budget and fell behind its shooting schedule, but even that admission leads him to speculate that it gave the movie an extra element of urgency and energy.
No one is up to Frank Langella's pouting Skeletor in Masters of the Universe.