Though gritty reboots of childhood nostalgia are all the rage today, there were a relatively unexplored phenomenon back in the 1980s — which might explain, in part, why the 1987 He-Man movie Masters of the Universe is such an unmitigated disaster.
A quick scan of its credits reveals plenty of red flags: it stars Dolph Lundgren, who could barely speak English when the movie was made. Its producers are Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, who ran the schlocky film studio Cannon Films. And horrifyingly, the director is Gary Goddard, who has long been the subject of accusations of sexually abusing minors.
Because the movie was unpopular from the moment it debuted and is now mostly forgotten, little material exists about the production process. But what details are known reflect a movie set in a continual state of chaos and misery.
The costumes in particular are cited a point of pain: Tony Carroll, who played Beastman, had to wear prosthetic teeth that made him drool into his mask, making it heavier and heavier as filming went on. Anthony De Longis had a costume made of steel pipes that weighed so much a costume designer urged him not to wear it. As Evil-Lyn, Meg Foster had to wear a 45-pound costume that gave her bruises all over her groin.
Another actor who played a lizard henchman had a costume that didn’t allow him to see or to sit, so he had to lean against a board with a hole specially cut out for his tail.
The production was rushed and poorly funded, to say the least. But it was also hampered by peculiar corporate requirements. Mattel forbade He-Man from killing anyone, so all of the bad guys had to be made into robots. There was a contest for He-Man fans to win a cameo; the winner was hastily added to a throne room scene with prosthetics completely covering his face and given the name “Pigboy.” (Those prosthetics later caused the contest-winner agonizing pain when they were removed too quickly.)
Dolph Lundgren has said that working on the movie was the ultimate low point of his career, perhaps because his accent renders his lines so incomprehensible. Lundgren was supposed to be dubbed over by an English-speaking actor, but that was deemed too expensive when the movie exceeded its budget, so the garbled dialogue remained.
Much of the on-set chaos stems from the bizarre management at Cannon Films, a company notorious for churning out low-budget disasters. While they occasionally had a hit like Breakin’, their fare was generally extremely lowbrow and cut as many corners as possible.
In fact, Masters of the Universe only had half of the funding originally intended for a different movie. The company was slated to produce a Spider-Man film, but wound up gutting that project and shifting half of the money into the He-Man movie, with the other half going to the reviled Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Production careered toward disaster as it went way over schedule and over budget. Executives halted production after spending $7 million more than they’d planned, with the ending of the movie still incomplete. An elaborate conclusion to the film was scrapped due to the sets already in a state of disassembly; and filmmakers shot a hasty conclusion so that the movie could be released.
For all that trouble, the film was universally panned. But now, thirty years later, a He-Man movie is once again making the rounds in Hollywood, with a release date slated for Dec. 2019. Here’s hoping the new batch of filmmakers have learned from those who fumbled the project that came before.