Interview by James Sawyer - Feb 2010
Gary Goddard made his directorial debut with the 1987 live action "Masters of the Universe" film. Trying to bring a children's toyline to life in a serious manner while battling budget and studio constraints proved a daunting task, but Goddard persevered and completed the film amidst the turmoil. Fans have had unanswered questions regarding both the film and the process behind making it for years. Using questions submitted through he-man.org and mastersoftheuniversemovie.blogspot.com, Gary sat down to shed some light on some of these untold secrets...
The most commonly asked question from fans relates to deleted scenes - were there any sequences filmed for Masters of the Universe that ended up on the cutting room floor? Or were there any major scenes in the script that didn’t make it to the filming stage? For example, there’s a closing scene in the comic adaption where Man-at-Arms and He-Man explain to Julie & Kevin that the original colonizers of Eternia were from Earth’s NASA space program. Was this scene in the script or was it ever filmed?
Well, the last scene – the farewell scene – was slightly longer and really gave a kind of “Wizard of Oz” ending to the story – and at the preview screenings (two of them) people actually got emotional – it brought tears to people’s eyes. But I lost the battle with the Studio who demanded we trim it. There were other trims and cuts too – but I think the one that hurt the film the most was here at the farewell scene. Essentially Julie (Courteney) has a “moment” with each of her Eternian companions, leading to her departure. That scene got cut in half – and I think – we lost the heart of the moment. Other than that, yes, a number of major sequences were cut along the way to the screen, some during the shoot, some prior to the script being approved for production. In one of the first drafts, yes, the American Flag reveal was there – but having already seen that in the first Star Trek and others,I thought we’d leave that out of this first movie, so that decision was mine. Prior to production starting, I had added an entire sequence involving the caves beneath Grayskull where the Snakemen have come in order to help defeat Grayskull, joining with Skeletor. The heroes are dragged into the tunnels and a lot of action takes place amid the tension of them trying to escape from the caverns.
That sounds amazing, but would have probably been a very costly and challenging thing to film. I'm sure that making a film based on this property was filled with decisions and challenges like this. What would you say was the biggest challenge in bringing Masters Of The Universe to life on the big screen?
Juggling the needs of the movie with the desires and directives from both the Studio and Mattel Toys. At the time we started production, the He-Man toy line was beginning to wane, and Mattel was desperate to see the toyline live again. Yet, at first, the directive was “He-Man cannot kill anyone” – and I remember saying – “well this is an action movie and He-Man’s going to have to kick some serious butt or we are going to have a problem.” The reason we came up with the robot-like sentry guards, and reason we never saw them underneath the masks, was NOT because we were emulating Star Wars (as some critics positioned), it was because the compromise I reached with Mattel was “so long as it does not look like He-Man is killing PEOPLE, then he can blast away” – so we created the complete body suits that left it to the viewer’s discretion – man or machine under the armor? Who’s to say? At one point, Mattel did not want me to punish Beastman (as he was a “regular” in the TV show and toyline) with the “energizing dissolve” in punishment for not doing as Skeletor bid. Hence, the new creation of Saurod – a villain we could dispose of as necessary for the drama of the story. Juggling Mattel’s desires and goals with the fact that Cannon Films was (unbeknown to us working on the movie) months away from going Chapter 11, created a very fluid environment during pre-production and then especially during production. There were shooting weeks when the crew threatened to stop because money was not in the bank to cover their checks. I would get assurances from the studio that the money would be there by the day’s end, and then I would coax, beg, plead, for the crew to give me the day – and in the end – they money did come through. There were many challenges to making the movie – but most of them were more having to do with the financing of the project and the day to day approvals that Mattel and Cannon both held.
It's odd that Mattel was so stubborn on certain things, but so flexible on certain aspects of the existing canon. Many of the concepts used in the cartoon and toyline were not used for the film, such as the Prince Adam/He-Man relationship. We know that many things weren’t used due to the constraints of making a live action film, but were there any elements of the existing canon that you really wanted to bring into the film but for whatever reason weren’t able to?
The biggest complaint I always got at the time was “why didn’t you have ORKO in the film, and what happened to Battle Cat?” And of course, these were the pre-digital days of film making. The concept of having a little live action version of Orko floating around in the air in every scene he was in, was impossible given our limited budget. Likewise, doing a POOR stop-motion battlecat, or trying to deal with REAL Lion – was not just not practical – again, given our budget and schedule. As it is, what we attempted to achieve for $17,000,000 – was pushing the envelope. Also, whereas the TV show was created to sell toys, in a movie we needed to focus on a set of characters that we could get to know and care about. I created GWILDOR to provide an Orko-like comedy relief character, but one that would not need to be on wires in every scene. By the way, the idea of sending them to Earth allowed us to tell a story that did not INCLUDE Orko or Battle Cat, and did not involve Prince Adam, and yet, left it open for a sequel to bring them all into the story. In other words, Orko and Battle Cat and He-Man’s Prince Adam persona all could still exist – it’s just that under the threat of being on Earth, trapped away from Eternia, Battle Cat and Orko didn’t make the journey. With today’s digital capabilities, of course, any and all characters could be included. But at that time, on a limited budget, with a tight schedule, we already have a very ambitious script.
So did that prompt the decision to introduce new characters into the film (such as Saurod, Blade, and Karg) instead of using the pre-existing characters? Did Mattel have any influence in this decision?
New characters were necessary as we wanted to have the flexibility to would them, or as in the case of Saurod, even destroy them. With the “regulars” Mattel had strong feelings about keeping them pretty “as is” from their toy line, although we did convince them that if we were going to use a character like Beastman (which Mattel definitely wanted) that would we want to make him more believable – less cartoon like. So, I created the new characters Karg, Blade, and Saurod. Mattel loved them all and immediately added them to the toy line.
Relating to that last question, were there any pre-existing characters planned for the film that didn’t make it into the movie? We’ve seen concept art for She-Ra; any recollection as to how she figured into the movie and why she was dropped?
She-ra was considered for about five minutes – but I reasoned that we needed to focus on He-Man in the first movie – that we needed to have a central hero and a central villain that we could establish with audiences. Mattel wanted to have every character in the MOTU line up in the movie and I did my best to try and convince them we needed to focus on a central set of good guys and bad guys – I did not want to make a movie that would appear to be a commercial for toy sales.
Ah, you said "first movie" there! We all know that a sequel was planned (which eventually became the Van Damme film Cyborg), but were you ever involved in the planning of a second film? Would you have directed it and if so what sort of concepts and story would we have seen?
I had pretty much moved on after completing MASTERS and was deep into my own creation, CAPTAIN POWER at that time. I would have welcomed working on the sequel, but another director had convinced them HE could make a He-Man movie for $6,000,000 or less. I think that is what led to the CYBORG movie eventually. Mattel saw the script, or perhaps the storyboards, and pulled the license.
This somewhat relates to the last question, but if you were able to come back and do the new Masters Of The Universe film, with today’s technology and resources, what sort of story would you like to tell?
Well I think my idea always was – if the He-Man movie did well – that the sequel would take place on and in Eternia. We avoided this in the first move because there simply was not a budget for this, hence, the idea of stranding them on Earth. But the set up was always that we would rejoin them on Eternia where Skeletor, who had been cast into the pit of hell at the end of the first movie, has come out of the morass and found help among the Snakemen and perhaps part of the Horde – all living in the dark caverns underneath Grayskull. Armies would have been raised, and I had hoped to create something that fused Eternia into a kind of “Middle Earth” world – with He-Man going on a journey into Skeletor’s dark empire. Nothing was ever really settled – but thinking back, this is kind of where my head was at – at the time. I think actually, that approach would still work – and that with today’s audiences it would be even darker and harder edged than I had imagined. Also, now that Mattel no longer has their entire company riding on He-Man, I think they would be much more open to an epic saga of this kind. I think you even sense more openness even in the new animated series they did – which tried to fuse a bit of Anime styling into the He-Man Universe. But I think giving the story a sense of the Epic – and at the same time – making it a bit more intense – would only add to it.
In closing, many fans (me included) are clamoring for a special edition or blu-ray release of the film. Have you ever been approached for anything like this? Is there anything we as fans can do to help make this happen?
Yes – keep clamoring! If we can get a blu-ray made a very successful director friend of mine has committed to do the special interview for the blu-ray – so let’s make it happen!!! Clamor!!!
-----------------------So there ya go folks! A VERY big thanks to Gary for participating...and sending along these great behind-the-scenes photos for us to checkout!