The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Announcement

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

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Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.

--Matt

Friday, May 7, 2010

Masters of the Universe (1987)

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I've been meaning to review this one for a long time, but even after I introduced the Wild Card post so I could include non-DTV films here on a weekly basis, I just wasn't sure how I wanted to attack it. It's been made fun of and laughed at so many times, right? What more could I do with it? But after a long Dolph absence, I knew I needed to do something, so I rented it anyway. When I popped it in the DVD player, though, I saw the word "Commentary" on the menu, and thought: "this could be promising". Turns out all it is is director Gary Goddard, but still, it allowed me to get some questions answered about why this turned out as badly as it did.

For those that don't know, Masters of the Universe is loosely based on the action figures and the 23 minute cartoons that acted as advertisements for said action figures. Dolph Lundgren plays He-Man, and Frank Langella (yes, that Frank Langella) plays Skeletor. Skeltor has taken over Castle Grayskull, and Dolph and his crew use some kind of device to go to Earth, and then they need to somehow find the device and get back, while Skeletor wants the device too and he wants He-Man so he can kill him and show all of Eternia that he's the true king.

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Before watching the film with Goddard's commentary, I had always thought the people involved with making it were either lazy or arrogant or both; that they thought that because the cartoons were so simple and silly, they could throw together a script and make a movie about it without much effort. I was wrong about that. According to Goddard, Golan-Globus came to the writer, David Odell, and said write us a script about He-Man that's set here on Earth so we can make it cheaper. Then they went to Goddard, who hadn't directed a film before, and said make us this film adaptation in under $17 million and in quick enough time that it can be out for the summer. That explains a lot, and makes me more sympathetic to how bad the film turned out.

I have to respectfully disagree with him though, when he says that all in all the film was a success, or rather, that it turned out well. No it didn't. He also said a lot of people my age see it as one of their all time favorites. Again, no they don't. Maybe they tell you that, Mr. Goddard, because you sound like a nice guy in the commentary, and after hearing what you had to say, I fully believe you did everything you could to make this a success, but it was sautéed in wrong sauce from the start. Someone brought you in out of medical school to perform open-heart surgery on the back of a moving truck without all the instruments you needed. He-Man on Earth to save costs? And then you said you didn't want to do this or that because you didn't want it to look too much like Star Wars? Didn't you realize the whole thing looked too much like Star Wars? Critics called it the "Star Wars of the 80s", and you completely ignored that in your commentary, when it was obvious to all of us. I'm willing to accept that you and everyone else involved did your best to make this as good as possible, but good as possible isn't good.

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This was Dolph's first film after Rocky IV, and when you tack on the distribution disaster of The Punisher, his fate as a DTV star was pretty much sealed. Universal Soldier might be seen as an exception, but he played second fiddle to Van Damme there. It was Masters of the Universe and The Punisher versus Bloodsport and Cyborg that paved the paths for both actors, and though Van Damme eventually made it to where Dolph is, and though from Dolph's demeanor it would seem he's fine with the way things worked out, it's interesting to wonder what if, isn't it? Surprisingly, this was a little light on the Dolph, but what there is of him, is awesome as usual.

Masters of the Universe, though a financial strain on Golan-Globus and Cannon, was not the one that ultimately took it down-- that honor goes to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace-- but it didn't help. If you're interested you can read the Wikipedia article on Golan-Globus and Canon by clicking here. Who knows where'd they'd have ended up if they'd stuck to low-budget action and Oscar winning foreign films, but they had the rights to Mattel and Marvel properties, so it only made sense to want to use them. The problem with those things, as we're seeing now, is they're an all or nothing proposition: they either need to be nine-figure blockbusters, or they shouldn't be made. I know in the mid-80s $17 million was a lot for a film, but in the 2010s nine figures is a lot for a film too; and I also know that throwing money around doesn't always work either (see Transformers: Rise of the Fallen), but keeping the budget artificially low, or trying to make Masters of the Universe on the cheap, isn't a recipe for success either. Again, it's either all or nothing, and they tried to just go with more than they usually spend instead of all, and ended up paying more for it.

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Wow, I'm already at paragraph seven. I guess no comment on Courtney Cox's first film, or that a future female Trekkie heartthrob was in this as well as Cox's boyrfriend, or how much I loved the toys as a kid, or even James Tolkan not telling Tom Cruise how he'd have him flying cargo ships of rubber dogshit out of Hong Kong. If I only have one paragraph left, I'm using it on Frank Langella. Goddard couldn't say enough about how they wanted to make the Skeletor mask look a certain way so it would retain Langella's facial expressions, which is fascinating, because Goddard, who hadn't directed a feature film before that, and hasn't really since, understands a simple truth that James Cameron and a bunch of Avatar honks didn't: that great actors do so many subtle things with their faces, and that subtlety adds so much to the film. Anyway, Langella is a true professional actor, and he didn't mail in this role at all. He put the same amount of effort in here that he did in Frost/Nixon, which is amazing.

If you haven't seen this before, go for it, you'll have a great time. If you have seen it, and hate it, maybe reading this review, or watching it on your own with the director's commentary, will allow you to be a little more sympathetic. Though Mr. Goddard isn't same quality of director as another Goddard we all know (Jean-Luc!... sorry, I had to do that...), he did the best with what he was given. Who knows what a modern Masters of the Universe would look like today, but there's no guarantee it'll be better. That doesn't excuse this one, just puts it in perspective, at least for me.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093507/

9 comments:

  1. I'll amdit freely that I own this film and it happens to be one of my ultimate guilty pleasures despite how dumb it is(and despite how embaraased Lundgren looks to be in it, he actually called this film his all-time worst moment), and I actually found Courtney Cox more likeable here then in some of her latter films(like Scream 3)

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  2. I believe this was made in 1987...Because Cyborg was meant as a sequel and such would be difficvult if Cyborg predated such by 3 years.

    Everything about this film I said in my original review. I don't hate it so much as I am indifferent and bored with such, although giving credit where credit is due the beginning and ending set design is nifty. Everything else was lame.

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  3. If you go to the image page, I have the date correct. I'm glad you pointed it out though. I wrote this post the same day I did Snake Eater III, which is where the mix-up occurred.

    Great guilty pleasure. According to the director, that set design was almost all real, with a few matte paintings around the top. They put two sound stages together to make it the length it was, and Goddard had intended for He-Man and Skeletor to have a huge sword fight at the end, which was why the set had differing levels. Golan-Globus made him wrap filming before he could shoot it, though, hence the ending we got.

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  4. The thing about The Punisher which you bring up, This movie does have a following. Indeed considering how it was mostly a STV product...It still found an audience. In fact it actually got rereleased in director's cut 20 some years later (Certainly it was one of those midnight Rocky Horror Picture show revivals) But that speaks volumes, plus The Punisher did the wise thing of going for action over everything else and hence why I think it became a cult favorite.

    Masters on the other hand I think just have the fans of the show and really bad movies in its corner. It actually broke even or made a little more than the budget as it made 17,336, 370 and the budget I believe was 16,900,000 something. So it really is a stretch as a box office bomb since it broke even(Rental sales it did decent as well) and it didn't really hurt Cannon much. Also for Superman 4 in terms of budget 17 mil wasn't bad at the time. A decent movie could be made for such.

    I think another factor working against it is PG-Dolph which is never as fun as R-Dolph. I would argue Red Scorpion hurt Lundgren's career the most. Which could've been why New World didn't release The Punisher, why I Come In Peace and Showdown got such small advertisement (All did very well on video and overseas like The Punisher) Hence such is why Universal Soldier had a star pairing hence why Lundgren is actually mentioned in The Expendables. A far bigger Lundgren bomb was Johnny Mnemonic which is ironic cause acting wise him and Takeshi Kitano were the best things about such.

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  5. The only reason why I put The Punisher and Masters of the Universe together was to show how both, in different ways, killed the buzz surrounding Lundgren after Rocky IV. We've seen with Oscar winners like Cuba Gooding Jr. that it doesn't take much.

    I don't remember saying in my blog that Masters of the Universe was a box office bomb either, rather that it barely made the $17 million back through box office receipts that it spent, and a big reason for that was that the end product was underwhelming because they tried to cut costs. In the 80s, word of mouth was a much bigger seller of movies than it is today, and when the first reports from people were poor, they were only able to make that initial money from people wanting to see a He-Man movie. Think about Superman in 1979, which was the total opposite. The He-Man demographis doesn't have the dispodable income the 16-34 demographic does, and for Masters of the Universe to have been a success, they needed to make it something older kids would want to see, and they failed. Golan-Globus took a hit, not because they lost money, but because they didn't make anywhere near what they expected to make.

    I guess it goes back to your point about G-Rated Dolph, and that reminds me of what Goddard said: that Mattel demanded the film be kids friendly. If you notice a pig boy on Eternia at the end of the film, that was a boy who won a contest from Mattel to be in the film, and Goddard had to rush him in, get his make-up done, and sneak him into a shot, all while Golan-Globus were on him to wrap the film. Hearing Goddard tell it, we're lucky the film wasn't worse than it was.

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  6. I picked this up cheap during my re-introduction to Dolph (thanks to this blog) and it is in the queue waiting to be watched. Sounds like a good'un, in that not so good'un way. Perhaps best reserved for a beer, pizza and like-minded bad movie fans night?

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  7. I'm not trying to say it doesn't belong here (It does) I'm just saying it wasn't a bomb so much as a disappointment. Actually considering the whole process of it being released 4 years after its popularity they were lucky they broke even. Between Superman IV and Masters, my guess would've been that Masters would gross the 6 mill and Superman IV break even but it's weird how it goes.

    Actually Transformers movie (80s animated version, not the Bay crap) (at the time) got bad reviews but it ended up actually crossing over in appeal and now taht has a cult following now. I guess there are a lot of people that do like this film (I google searched such) but also I must put this in, as dull as Masters is (I loved Transformers 86 and found it actually had far more depth and was ahead of its time than many failed to see at the time) it is a competently made movie. It's just that it is very weak stuff.

    I just never cared for this movie. I give you that it's better than say the Power Rangers movies, Transformers (Bay versions) and G.I Joe but I think I would've enjoyed it as just a straight forward Sword and Sorcery flick. It's certainly not as fun as Conan The Barbarian, Beastmaster 1, Clash Of The Titans (80s) and (don't quote me on this as I haven't seen this in years but I loved it as a kid)Hawk The Slayer.

    I will give you though that it is way better than say the similarly themed Beastmaster 2. As well as most other sword and sorcery junkers, including Red Sonja and Conan 2.

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  8. That's the best way to attack it. If you're going it alone (which I was a few days ago when watching it for the blog), my recommendation is to watch it with Goddard's commentary

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  9. I see where the disconnect is, you're thinking because I posted it for the Wild Card, that I'm saying it's a bust. That's my bad, I should be clearer. The Wild Card post was originally for box office busts, but now it's kind of an anything goes spotlight on films that relate to what we're doing here. For instance, next week I'm covering Campaneros, the Franco Nero Western, which is considered a classic, not a bust by any stretch.

    I should also point out that I too don't care for Masters of the Universe, but I can see it as a guilty pleasure, and the commentary gave me a new take on it. I guess I'm not as harsh in judging it as I once was. The commentary lets you know, for instance, why they didn't go the classic sword and sorceery route.

    And I need to get my hands on that 1986 Transformers, because my nephew (who's 4) loves Transformers, and I think he'd love that more than anything. Remember the John Parr song for it? I should review that at some point.

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