DVD Dungeon: Masters Of The Universe

This week, the Dungeon gladly accepts the dubious film adaptation of a cartoon classic...

The art of the TV-to-film adaptation is a tricky one. Not only have you got to respect the source material, you have to do so while making a fresh, entertaining production in its own right. Then there are the fans. It’s a fine line to walk, reinventing a story that is so well known and so well loved by those who watched it the first time round and invariably, the movie adaptation will anger some and annoy others. However, there are those that get it right. Early buzz, plus DoG’s own Ron Hogan, suggests that Get Smart is one. For my money, 2006’s Miami Vice was another.

On the other hand, Masters of the Universe demonstrates exactly how not to do it. The 1987 flick gets thrown in the Dungeon thanks to its many, many crimes against cinema.

On the face of it, the film had the perfect actor in the lead role. Hulking Swede Dolph Lundgren was handed the role as He-Man, his larger than life frame and shock of blond hair making him the perfect fit for the perma-tanned male from Eternia. His striking frame on the DVD cover, with his hilariously pointy nipples particularly noticeable, perfectly embodied the bronzed hero from another planet. Dolph’s perhaps questionable acting CV was irrelevant; this not exactly a role that would require the flexing of any acting muscles. Rather just the constant flexing of Dolph’s massive biceps, triceps and, naturally, those nipples.

However, while the fans were undoubtedly presented with the right man for the job, they were certainly not given the right story. For the biggest problem with Masters of the Universe, and the reason it’s shackled up and being whipped by eager guards right now, is that the film adaptation criminally discards almost everything you know about He-Man’s universe in a way that makes The Phantom Menace’s midi-chlorian fiasco look tame in comparison.

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For starters, in the original cartoon series, He-Man had his rather annoying, yet far more sensibly dressed, alter ego Prince Adam. During the entire film, not once do we see Dolph out of his ludicrous S&M-inspired costume as not once do we see his other identity. Not even, which would have been far less conspicuous, when he ends up on Earth.

Oh, and how ridiculous it all gets then. Enlisting the help of two human teenagers to help him get back to Eternia (one of which is a young Courtney Cox) is all a bit silly to be frank. It’s He-Man for God’s sake. He-Man! Hanging out with a couple of kids called Julie and Kevin just doesn’t feel right. Not right at all. Just the concept of the two world’s colliding is all wrong, with He-Man, Skeletor et al sticking out like a sore thumb on our planet and proceedings looking far too comical as a result.

Then there’s He-Man’s mighty weapon. In the cartoon series, He-Man fought with, and drew all of his super strength from, a huge sword. Inexplicably in the adaptation, he does much of his killing with guns and there are no examples of his super strength on display, just some strong dude from outer space kicking the crap out of other strong dudes from outer space.

Old favourites from the show are forgotten about, as characters such as Orko and Mer-Man are neither present, nor referred to at any time during the film.

The biggest problem of all though stems from all these smaller, more minor issues. Because without He-Man’s super strength, without Prince Adam, without several of the key characters that made up that distinctive universe, and with the uneasy marrying of two poles apart universes, what we’re left with is an adaptation that has completely lost all focus of its original source material.

The result is a bog standard science fiction flick that has little in common with the TV series, or the Mattel toys. Case in point are Skeletor’s band of robotic guards with whom he rules Eternia. Introduced for this film adaptation, it’s with their help that old pasty face has managed to conquer Eternia. Since when did Skeletor need robot hoards to demonstrate his power?

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In the end, the film adaptation is an abject failure because it comes across as more of a bizarre, low budget version of a Star Wars-inspired Sci-Fi flick rather than a big screen version of an extremely popular, and well established children’s TV show.

Apparently a new adaptation is planned for 2009. Fingers crossed it’s better than this first effort, or at the very least is set in the universe we all know and love.

DVD Dungeon: Schumacher’s Batman films…