As a five-year-old kid, the movie I obsessed over more than any other was not Indiana Jones or Star Wars. No. It was Cannon Films’ camp, cheesy and much-reviled He-Man movie Masters Of The Universe. And I still love it to this day.
Widely dismissed as a naff Star Wars knock-off with dodgy acting and even dodgier production values, it was the result of ’80s schlock kings Cannon – who we profiled a few months back – attempting to break through into mainstream blockbusters, and failing miserably. It was a confirmed critical and box office flop.
Not that five-year-old me cared.
I adored it. I was crazy for it. I used to dance around the room excitedly as Dolph Lundgren’s beefcake hero made mincemeat of anonymous henchmen and BDSM-styled bounty hunters, and tangled with the complexities of ’80s America after escaping there through a hastily opened portal.
I would cheer during the music shop laser shoot-out, exploding keyboards and all, thought Evil Lynn looked like the most badass thing ever – and must have watched the whole 100 minute movie maybe thirty times in the space of six months. I bet I drove my parents mad.
But there’s a serious side to this. Sure, I loved the action, and the spectacle, even if I’m forced to acknowledge now that the sets look pretty cheap, the outfits kind of ridiculous and some of the interplay between sci-fi fantasy and ’80s fashion kind of weird.
But this was probably one of my first real introductions to the fight between good and evil in cinema. And you can call me an idiot if you like, but to this day I actually can’t watch the following video – specifically the first 30 seconds – without getting tears in my eyes:
The moment when He-Man draws his sword and yells “I have the power!”, I really felt – and still feel – that vivid sense of triumph over evil, and adversity, in a profoundly powerful way. Our hero has suffered, been battered and bruised, and his ruthless opponent is now little less than God. Yet against all the odds, and through all that pain, he has emerged victorious.
As a five-year old, it was utterly awe-inspiring – and it didn’t hurt that I adored the cartoon series too of course.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that esteemed stage and screen actor Frank Langella took the role of Skeletor precisely because his then four-year-old son was such a huge He-Man fan – and he proceeded to enthusiastically plunge himself into the role.
The result is one of the greatest scenery-chewing bad guy performances ever seen in a movie, with Langella completely dedicated to bringing sneering menace and megalomanical madness to the roaring, craggy-faced fiend.
Is it hammy? Yes. Sure it is. But it’s also got shades of Langella’s Shakespearean experience in there and (whisper it) a fair dose of gravitas.
Langella still considers it one of his favourite parts – and he delivers every line with relish.
Credit is also due, I think, to the superb soundtrack from Oscar-winning composer Bill Conti, who previously scored Rocky, Escape To Victory and Karate Kid.
The music is a John Williams esque treat that brings a lot of added excitement and weight to the drama, in spite of those cheap-looking sets and outfits. The central fanfare is – I assure you – an air-punching piece of euphoric bombast to rival Williams’ Superman.
Indeed, said fanfare is a crucial reason why I still get emotional during the aforementioned showdown. Music and memory has that power, and Conti’s music strikes that nostalgic, childhood chord with me.
I could go on about other aspects of the film that really appeal, like its quietly subversive commentary on (then) modern society, and the way in which He-Man is a hero who really does suffer and reach his lowest ebb en route to victory (clad in chains, and tortured no less).
But I think I’ll just urge you all to go off and watch it for yourselves, with cynicism levels turned down if at all possible.
I think it still stands as a genuinely enjoyable family action blockbuster, and succeeds on its own terms.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m just off to dance around a room and shout “I have the power!” in front of my TV for the next 100 minutes. I hope you get the urge to do the same.
This article is part of our ongoing, affectionate ‘Bad Movie Week‘ – a celebration of so bad it’s good.