Sunday, September 03, 2006

I have the power!

I rented Masters of the Universe, as I said I would in Masters of the Universe, after reading comments about it by John Byrne comparing it to Jack Kirby's New Gods.

Picking up the box, I read the description, "Planet Eternia and the Castle of Greyskull are under threat from the evil Skeletor who wants to take over the planet. A group of freedom fighters, led by the heroic He-Man are accidentally transported to Earth by a mysterious Cosmic Key which holds the power to make Skeletor all-powerful. Once on Earth, He-Man joins alliances with two teenagers as they attempt to find the key and return home."

This was promising, as that's remarkably close to "The New Gods" storyline, in which Orion travels from the paradise world of New Genesis to Earth in order to stop the evil Darkseid from discovering the key to dominating the galaxy, called the Anti-Life Equation.

Honestly, though, once one gets past some surface similarities, Byrne was certainly overstating the case in calling it "the best New Gods movie". I'm sure that has something to do with the general mundanity of Byrne's taste compared to mine.

The movie itself is tremendously mundane compared with either He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or "The New Gods" and not, in any manner, to its service. It comes alive on Eternia and goes nowhere whenever it travels to Earth.

The animated He-Man series debuted when I was twelve. I was a tad old for it, having already discovered Conan, in both Robert E. Howard's stories and Marvel Comics wonderful "Savage Sword of Conan" series, but my friends and I did watch it regularly and discussed in on the Four Square court.

I continued watching it even longer than I continued having a group to discuss it with, as I tended to spend my afternoons caring for my younger siblings. The greatest joy of the show was seeing how they incorporated the strange characters who were designed as toys and with marketing in mind. There was plenty of creative minds at work and, at its best, a madness of creativity. It was hampered by the mediocre Filmation animation, the standards for held for its audience and the need to provide a moral for each story.

The movie is likewise at its best when its showing off the wonders and imagination of the concept. Frank Langella and Meg Foster are dynamic and spirited as Skeletor and Evil-Lyn. The Eternian costume and set designs, in part by Jean "Moebius" Giraud, are stunning and dynamic.

Sadly, however, the movie ties itself to a rather boring story about Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill as a generic '80s teenage couple. I can see they were working keeping the budget manageable and appeal to an older audience, but there's nothing fresh or exciting about these.

Honestly, once I was watching I found myself, as a man in his 30s, wishing He-Man would jump onto Battle Cat and charge or that Fisto or even Stinkor would appear.

Our Eternian heroes themselves are kind of a mixed bag. Dolph Lundgren, who gives an amazing performance in Johnny Mnemonic, is passable but ultimately uninspiring He-Man. Jon Cypher is a solid and amusing Man-At-Arms. Chelsea Field, on the other hand, is abysmal as Teela, projecting merely a kind of humorless grouchiness in place of anything like a character. They all seem to work within the fantasy world, but on Earth, these characters all fall flat along with the movie as whole.

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