FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*
I was too old to have been enthused by the 1983-85 cartoon series HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. I don't mean that I had grown too old for superheroes and similar adventurers. I mean that by that time it was easy for me to spot most of the influences from which the cartoon-- principally devised to sell the Mattel toy line-- had been constructed, and it seemed a very ramshackle construction indeed.
I saw similar problems with the 1987 live-action movie, but it had one advantage over the cartoon: it wasn't constantly trying to sell me toy-figures with goofy names like "Ram-Man." I'm not even sure if I saw the film in a theater, though I might have given it a chance had it appeared in one of the "dollar theaters" of the period. If I saw it without spending much, that might explain why I find it easier to take than many Golan-Globus productions of the time.
MASTERS is little more than your basic duel between absolute good and absolute evil as they vie over a magic doohickey called "the Cosmic Key." Almost everything about it is indebted to the SUPERMAN film-franchise that was launched in 1978, and which Golan and Globus attempted to pick up in an ill-fated fourth film. There's a copycat John Williams-esque score, a bombastic credits sequence, and various lower-tier actors in fancy costumes.
Yet MASTERS isn't nearly as bad as either SUPERMAN IV or the two HERCULES films. True, the film does itself no favors-- except in the financial sense-- by having most of the fantasy-action take place on mundane Earth, as He-Man's group and Skeletor's gang contend for the Key. But the David Odell script does play the superhero action fairly straight, aside from a typically unfunny comic relief (Billy Barty playing a Muppet-like dwarf named Gwildor). Frank Langella has often been praised for imbuing his Skeletor with sophisticated menace despite acting through a heavy mask. But I thought Dolph Lundgren managed to keep a fair amount of dignity despite the opposite handicap: having to swagger around in barbarian-garb and showing off his pectorals almost non-stop.
There are of course two innocent humans who get mixed up with the good guys: one who would go on to become a "Friend" and the other who would become a long "Voyager." The latter is an amateur musician who gets the chance to save the universe with his skills, leaving his girlfriend with the major role of-- well, betraying the good guys to supposedly save her parents. Not exactly standout roles for either actor.
Still-- I've seen much worse than this bit of derivative but nicely mounted nonsense.