CAN MATTEL'S SUPER
TOY TURNED SILVER SCREEN HERO SAVE CANNON FILMS?
toys with MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
By Steven Simak, Galactic
Journal, n°23, Summer 1987
"I still have my Marvel
comics collection, all the X-Men, Fantastic Four and The
Avengers. You name it I've got it," says Gary Goddard
the first-time director of Cannon's epic Masters of the Universe
based on the popular He-Man toy line.
Goddard, who attempted unsuccessfully to secure the film rights
to Conan while still in high school, bas been driven by science
fiction and fantasy all his life. At 21 he was employed by Walt
Disney World to direct shows for the theme park eventually creating
many attractions including a showcase for Epcot. Universal Studios
called upon his imaginative touch for many of their tour attractions
including the 2010, Conan and King Kong exhibits.
Goddard's company, Landmark Entertainment, is responsible for
construction and entertainment projects all over the country
, dealing with such clients as MCA, Six Flags and Ceaser's Palace.
Admittedly, such credentials are impressive but whether Goddard
can create an entertaining motion picture that is a financial
success in a genre believed to be dead is the real challenge.
"Fantasy films as a genre are here to stay. The problem
with Legend," he says, "is that it was a beautiful
film but you didn't care about the characters. A good movie will
stand the test of time in any genre. It always comes to the same
basic thing, you can have great special effects, great action
but if you don't have good characters at the core d1at you care
about then you really don't have a movie."
"The perception is that fantasy movies don't do well. But
Sword and the Sorcerer did very well and Conan
bad a very big opening two weeks. It didn't sustain because apparently
the movie was a little too violent to attract a wide audience.
But if you look at the Star Wars films, Raiders of
the Lost Ark or Back to the Future, the really big
bits, you'll find that they are very entertaining, well paced,
with good stories, characters that you care about and not a lot
to offend people. They're not overtly violent or overtly filled
with sex. That's how you open up to a larger audience. You can't
start chopping people's heads off and expect to find a wide audience."
Even Goddard, however , admits that there were many problems
inherent in translating Masters of the Universe into a
live action motion picture from its cartoon origins. The script
written by David Odell, not unlike his screenplay for the failed
Supergirl, initially placed a greater emphasis on camp
but in this case was toned down by Goddard who felt that he couldn't
ridicule the material. "I hate these pictures that are half
action and half making fun of what they are doing. None of them
"For Skeletor, Frank Langella and I together basically created
every line that you hear. It's a total transformation of that
role based upon our working relationship. "
The 22 million dollar production itself presented large organizational
problems and, as always, there were props and pyros that one
could guarantee wouldn't work when needed forcing Goddard into
a constantly changing production schedule. A perfectionist, he
admits that his determination to get things right may have been
perceived as indecisiveness by those working on the picture.
"I tend not to make a decision just for the sake of making
one even if the schedule demands it. I push people to get things
right and don't accept them until then. It puts more pressure
on people because it delays the final decision which is required
for someone to say that their responsibilities are done because
I've approved it."
Masters of the Universe is a variation on the classic
struggle between good and evil. Two powerful opposing forces,
He-Man and Skeletor, are pitted in a life and death Struggle
and must now confront one another in a final battle that in an
intimate twist occurs on present day earth. "It's very tough
when you have Ming the Merciless taking over all of earth - what
does that mean? So we made the decision to involve two teenagers
here on earth to give you someone you can identify with. They
represent the terrors and horrors that can befall us here. "
One key to transcending the two-dimensional characters of the
animated series was the casting of Frank Langella in the role
of the evil Skeletor. "I wanted to show a different kind
of villain, someone who is shaded more in line with the Phantom
of the Opera. You realize that he's a villain but there's something
else going on underneath that as well. Frank is an actor who
can give you that multidimensional layer even behind the makeup
that's required for the role. What really convinced me was that
I happen to see him on Broadway years ago in Amadeus playing
Salieri. I've never forgotten that performance. He was brilliant.
It was that which convinced me that he would make a great Skeletor.
Unlike Skeletor, the role of He-Man provided Dolph Lundgren,
who Goddard described as the physical embodiment of the character,
with less of an opportunity to expand upon the range established
in the cartoon. While not attempting to create a hero with an
arched eyebrow, Goddard did admit that the classic protagonist
in any genre is the center around which all the action takes
place and as such must move the Story along in the proper direction.
"My observation is that, in the Star Wars pictures
for instance, Luke is the least interesting character. It's Han
Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C3PO and all the surrounding characters
that you really found interesting. Luke is the lynch pin to the
whole Story . It becomes necessary (then) for the hero to stay
fairly driven and true to his course. In that sense he is one-dimensional
because he is your anchor."
"He-Man and Skeletor are the two opposing forces of life.
Light and dark, good and evil or whatever metaphor you want to
use. However it's not that simple because, much like what Ridley
Scott was trying to say in Legend, one doesn't exist without
the other. All of us have the He-Man and the Skeletor, the hero
and the villain, all of those things are in each of us. We wanted
to make each of those characters on the surface a clear representation
of that but we wanted them to have shadings of other human emotions
whether it be doubt or greed. "
Certainly, despite all the technical wizardry evident in Masters
of the Universe, the goals of the director at least seem
to be moving on the right course. Only time will tell if the
heroic He-Man can save Eternia and, not to mention, the financially
troubled Cannon Film Corporation. But Goddard has dramatic concerns
as well, as he puts it, "I consider myself basically a storyteller."