Masters of the Universe

Small Soldiers

Year: 1998
Directed By: Joe Dante
Written By: Four different people are credited with the writing of this film.

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is a silly movie that only could have come out of the late 90s when technology was changing faster than the populace could keep up with it. A time when the internet was still young and it was vaguely plausible that the government made chips that could turn toys into tiny terminators. I was 16 when this movie came out and liked it enough despite how silly it was. When it made its way into our collection it did so for one reason. It was one of the last things Phil Hartman did before he died. In fact the movie was released after his death in 1998.

I was a big fan of Phil Hartman both from watching reruns of his time on Saturday Night Live and hearing him regularly as a voice on The Simpsons. He was such a talented comedian with such a fantastic voice. The circumstances of his death were so sudden and tragic. His death was so shocking that it floored the entire Hollywood community. He was shot to death as he slept by his wife, who had a sudden break down and committed suicide before police could take her into custody. Words can’t describe how unfortunate and shocking it was. The world was robbed of an exceptional entertainer for seemingly no reason and I still feel the loss if I watch The Simpsons and catch a Troy McClure episode.

This may be a silly movie but even into adulthood I am still a big fan of action figures. As a child I loved nothing more than working my imagination with my toys. Playing out various scenarios I had seen in movies or on TV I could occupy myself for hours with my action figures. I was a big fan He-Man and the Ninja Turtles until I graduated to G.I. Joes before discovering the X-Men toys and never quite growing out of those. To this day it is not unusual for me to display a cool toy I find in my office or around my home. I try to limit these things to my home but now as I sit at my desk at work I have a comic book Negan action figure standing before a mini replica of the Iron Throne right behind me.

So while this movie may be a bit childish I am still inclined to enjoy a film about action figures coming to life to do battle with one another. It’s even more up my alley as the toys in the movies were influenced by some of my favorites. The Gorgonites were heavily influenced by Masters of the Universe and the Commando Elite were obviously influenced by G.I. Joes.

I like the cast of this movie enough to think it noteworthy. Most of these characters didn’t mean much to me at the time but in hindsight it is fun to see younger versions of guys like David Cross and Kevin Dunn. I loved Cross as Tobias Funke on Arrested Development, and though I didn’t like him in this movie I thought Kevin Dunn was hilarious as the dad in the first Transformers film. Even before his awesome series Rescue Me I was a big fan of Denis Leary and I liked him in this film. Kirsten Dunst is nothing more than a typical female teenager in this film but I have always been a fan. Since she gave the fantastic performance as the child vampire in Interview with a Vampire, at some unreasonably young age she was able to stand toe to toe with the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. It was impressive enough to set a lasting impression on me. There is also a small cameo here from the SNL star Cheri Oteri and I loved her because she always made me laugh.

I think Tommy Lee Jones was an awesome choice for the voice of Major Chip Hazard. The 90’s were the golden days for Jones and his voice lent some credibility to this silly film. Originally Director Joe Dante wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger and the cast of Predator to voice the Commando Elites but sadly that didn’t work out.  So they used Tommy Lee Jones as well as actors from The Dirty Dozen.

Also lending credibility with his voice was Frank Langella as the voice of Archer. The man who once brilliantly brought Skeletor to life in an equally silly movie, Masters of the Universe, is someone I can’t help but get behind. At nearly 80 years of age he is still going strong as an actor and that is impressive all by itself. He started acting in the mid 60s and is closing in on over 100 acting credits during his time.

This movie was directed by Joe Dante whose primary career was in television. He did manage to use this opportunity to drop several Easter Eggs from his most famous film within the movie. There are several references to Gremlins within the movie as Gizmo is both mentioned and seen throughout the film. I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of Joe Dante but he did helm a movie I sincerely love. Innerspace has been a life long favorite since childhood and I could never disregard something done by the creator of that film.

Before closing this out I think there is one more random fact about the movie that makes it noteworthy. This movie features the Led Zeppelin song Communication Breakdown. It’s noteworthy simply because it is so rare that Zeppelin songs appear in films. I am probably simply forgetting but I can only recall one other film that featured music from Zeppelin. Any Given Sunday had a really cool segment set to Fool in the Rain. If you can remember a movie that featured Zeppelin leave a comment because I would be interested in knowing.

This isn’t a movie I can ever recall recommending to anyone but I still think there is plenty here to make worth wild. If you are a grown up man child like myself who still has an affinity for action figures and toys then you might like this movie. If for no other reason it is worth your time simply to get a taste of a comedian and entertainer the world was robbed of far too soon. This isn’t an exceptional performance from Phil Hartman by any means but it’s what we were left with and that makes it worth it.

NEXT MOVIE: Smoking Aces (2006)

 

 

 

 

 

Masters of the Universe

Year: 1987
Directed By: Gary Goddard
Written By: David Odell

RYAN’S REVIEW

I was born in the 80’s, need I say more? What young man sired in that decade didn’t grow up loving He-Man and the battle for Castle Grayskull? When I was a kid watching this movie, action figures in hand, it didn’t matter what the quality of the movie was. All that matter was that it was He-Man, and that made it awesome.  I have owned this movie for years now and still love watching it from time to time to fulfill my own personal nostalgic needs.  I still love this movie but will admit that it has plenty of flaws.  I think there are specific reasons to argue that this movie is awesome as well as specific reasons to argue that it is garbage.  Unfortunately there is no middle ground in that scenario and the overall product is in all truth less than stellar.  Despite that, I see plenty in this movie to justify my opinion of it while knowingly and intentionally overlooking the things that can be easily criticized about the film.

Let’s start with what I like about this movie.  Aside from the simple fact that it is a film about He-Man, and that makes it awesome, there are several things this film did well.  The costume design and make-up done by the special effects team was incredible.  Skeletor looked awesome and Frank Langella did an incredible job with the part. Langella was eager to play the role because he had a young son at the time who, like myself and so many other boys, was obsessed with He-Man. I think his enthusiasm for the role can clearly be seen in the film because his performance was head and shoulders above all the other actors involved. Meg Foster also did a terrific job playing Evil-Lyn and her make-up and wardrobe were great.  In fact all of the bad guys in this movie look awesome.  Skeletor’s mercenaries are a highlight of the film when their appearance is only taken into effect.  Otherwise these guys are generally only seen running away from the action as the black robots are destroyed in mass quantities by He-Man and his associates.  He-Man too I will say was great but only because he looked the part so well.  Dolph Lundgren was certainly a great physical specimen although his acting left much to be desired.  It’s not really his fault because when this movie was being made he was not really fluent in English being from Sweden. He has apparently said his experience making this film was the worst he has had as an actor and he refused to reprise the role in the planned sequel that ultimately never got made.

There was a sequel planned and anybody who watched the movie through the credits could see that Skeletor lived and declared that he would be back.  The planned sequel did get scripted and cast with a replacement for Lundgren (it was a professional surfer who was cast) but was never made when the studio that produced the film crumbled financially.  I was able to find out very little about what the sequel was intended to be like but what I did find out all seemed really lame. I read that He-Man was disguised on Earth as a high school quarterback (really lame if true) and that Skeletor was also disguised on Earth as some sort of business man with diabolical desires.  I don’t know how accurate any of that is but that is what I read and in truth not much is actually known because that script was never made public. There was another script written at some point while they were continuing to try and get a film made. The other version was much more apocalyptic and when the film failed it was converted into the script for the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Cyborg.  So it seems like the movie would have blown whether the studio went bust or not.  The studio was very difficult to work with as I understand it with the making of this first film as they were already having financial troubles.  The movie went way over budget and the director had to plead with them just to get the ending shot.  If you will notice in the climax of the film nearly everything looks different once He-Man gets his sword and begins to fight Skeletor.  This is because the final fight between the two was shot months after the initial shooting was finished and wasn’t done until the studio finally allowed it to be done.

Now, on to what was wrong with this movie.  I think the biggest problem is simply that the story written called for most of the film to take place on Earth.  This was necessary with the budget restraints on the film as making a movie that took place entirely on Eternia would have been very costly.  Unfortunately nearly everything that happens on Earth is a bit ridiculous.  It takes four really nasty looking mercenaries to take on a teenage girl and they can’t even accomplish that? Detective Lubic’s character, played by James Tolkan from Back to the Future, was awful and did nothing but bring the film down.  His assumption that the cosmic key may have been Russian are quite humorous and a clear example of the fears still lingering in the late 80s from The Cold War. The character of Gwildor was really lame and even as a kid I didn’t like him.  He was a made up character put in the place of Orko, who would have been difficult to have in the film because of budget and technological restraints. Some of the mercenaries were made up for the film as well and I have specifically never understood that.  Why make up characters when you have such a rich gallery of villains to choose from.  It wasn’t from the lack of effort to make them because the characters that we see in the film all look incredible.  It’s a decision I couldn’t find out anything about but I didn’t really like it. At least we got to see Beast man, but it would have been cool to have more like Whiplash, Trap Jaw, or Tri-Klops.  Although, if all these guys were going to do in the movie was run away from the action I don’t know how cool it actually would have been.

Also worth mentioning is the cast in a few other roles.  This was one of the first featured films Courtney Cox ever appeared in.  Jon Cypher played the part of Man-At-Arms and did well with it.  Some might remember him better from his role on Major Dad that aired during the early 90’s. Barry Livingston, known mostly from his long run on My Three Sonsplayed the music store owner.  Frank Langella, while great the whole time as Skeletor, did not actual perform the final battle scene with He-Man.  That was done by Anthony De Longis, who played Blade in the rest of the film.  De Longis also choreographed the fight scene itself, as well as any other time he himself sword fought with He-Man.

There has been talk for years about rebooting this franchise but nothing has ever come of it.  At one point it looked like it might actually get made and John Woo was tagged to direct it but that fell apart a long time ago for reasons I don’t know.  I have my doubts that another He-Man movie will ever be made but that’s not a bad thing.  Maybe He-Man belongs where he is now; a relic from a decade that makes guys my age get nostalgic.  That or the fact that who else would they ever get to play He-Man? Maybe the guy sounds ridiculous when he opens his mouth and tries to talk but otherwise Dolph Lundgren looked the part to a T.  On the other hand, Skeletor is too cool a character to be locked away in the 80’s basement.  This is not a movie to be watched with a critical eye, and I doubt many will find it as entertaining as I do today but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s worth your time.  If you were a He-Man fan and have never seen this I say go get it and check it out.  If you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about then check out The List and read a different review.

AMBER’S REVIEW

Such a fun movie to watch. I have no recollection whatsoever of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe from being a kid. I didn’t know anything about it until I met Ryan. I don’t really remember the first time he introduced me, but I know now it was important to him as a child, because a lot of different things in our life go back to He-Man or Battlecat. I really like the nonchalant attitude I can take while watching this movie.

masters-of-the-universe_movieposter_1376939269

I actually really like this poster. I think they take the necessary space to show you the important characters of the movie to bring in the fans, and then shows the human aspect to give you some foreshadowing of what the premise of the movie might be. There is a glowing light behind He-Man. It’s quite awesome. This in truth is just another montage poster of characters from the movie, but giving that I think the movie is so carefree, I am giving this poster a pass. How could you hate on this?

NEXT MOVIE: Matchstick Men (2003)