It should come as no surprise that a "Masters of the Universe" movie was made. Ever since Mattel Toys gave birth to the well-muscled Eternian warrior He-Man in 1982, sales of He-Man, Skeletor and fellow dolls have risen over the billion dollar mark. Worldwide, children have gobbled up more than a thousand "Masters of the Universe" licensed products while a daily animated cartoon show is watched by millions of viewers in 32 countries. As any parent who has every stepped on a He-Man doll in the middle of the night will attest, the "Masters of the Universe" characters are here to stay. So, a big-budget, live-action FX extravaganza based on the "Masters of the Universe" world seemed the next logical step.
"Masters of the Universe," directed by Gary Goddard from a script by David Odell, stars Dolph Lundgren as He-Man, Frank Langella as Skeletor, Billy Barty as the dwarf genius Gwildor, Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn, Jon Cypher as Man-at-arms and Chelsea Field as his daughter Teela. Making up the Earth contingent in the war against Skeletor are Courteney Cox as Julie, Robert Duncan McNeill as Kevin and James Tolkan as Detective Lubic.
Production Designer Bill Stout created the futuristic sets as well as a number of first-time characters. Michael Westmore handled makeup chores while Richard Edund and Boss Films created the complex visual effects.
The story unfolds in the mythical world of Eternia. The gentle Sorceress of Grayskull Castle (Christina Pickles) is captured by Skeletor and his assistant Evil-Lyn and imprisoned in an energy field. He-Man, fresh from battle, arrives on the scene and, with Man-at-arms and Teela at his side, is confronted by the fact that Skeletor is absorbing his prisoner's power. The trio retreat to the hovel of Gwildor who informs them that the only way to save the Sorceress is a Cosmic Key. A stray bolt of lightning accidentally sends the key into a time warp and present-day Earth. He-Man and friends track the key to Earth, where they are followed by Skeletor, Evil-Lyn and a group of otherworldly bounty hunters. The key has been discovered by a pair of teenagers who are thrown into action-packed confrontations with the denizens of Eternia before the entire group is transported back to Castle Grayskull for a final battle with Skeletor and the forces of evil.
The transformation of "Masters of the Universe" from toy to movie began in 1982 when producer Edward R. Pressman was attempting to sell the merchandising rights to another of his sword and sorcery epics, "Conan the Barbarian." It was during a meeting on that matter that it was suggested that a movie based on the enormously popular "Masters" characters might be a very viable idea. Pressman contacted screenwriter David Odell with a storyline that would expand the interest in a "Masters of the Universe" film to a wider, adult audience."I had a reverse kind of 'Wizard of Oz' story in mind that would take the 'Masters' characters out of Eternia for a time and into our world," comments Pressman. "It seemed like a good idea that could be made on a reasonable budget and, most importantly, be interesting enough to attract a non-child audience."
Odell began working on the script while Pressman began the search for studio interest in "Masters" and just the right directory to bring this epic fantasy to life. Getting a studio to go for "Masters of the Universe" was still four years away. Pressman found his director two years up the road in the person of Gary Goddard. Goddard's background, prior to taking the "Masters" helm, was in the area of staging and directing live theater. He also created the concepts for the Japan National Pavilion at EPCOT Center and conceived and staged the "Conan the Barbarian" show at Universal Studios.The young directory spent the next two years in limbo; polishing the script with Odell and waiting for a firm commitment from a studio. Cannon Films agreed to make "Masters of the Universe" and production began late in 1985 on an immerse soundstage at Laird Studios and at a number of outdoor Southern California locations.Goddard intended that the film avoid being a carbon copy of the toys or the cartoon series. He also took great pains to take the movie in a direction that would play well to adults and to create a sense of Eternia as a place where real people live."It was important to me that all the characters in this film live and breathe," says Goddard. "Which is why, rather than looking for superficial muscle-bound types when it came to casting, we deliberately set out to find actors and actresses you don't normally associate with this type of material. We deliberately went after people like Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella and Meg Foster. They are actors with real talent who we knew could bring something extra to their roles."
"Masters of the Universe" completed filming in early 1987 and Goddard, looking back, is quite happy with the results. "What has always intrigued me was the essence of what made the 'Masters' characters so popular. What I found in making this film was that it was the blend of sword and sorcery and science fiction that struck the nerve. Those are the elements that have made 'Masters' so successful in other forms. And those are the elements that will make the 'Masters of the Universe' film successful as well."