How bad was the 1987 Dolph Lundgren He-Man attempt?
In short…very, very bad.
Not only bad enough to kill any shot Dolph Lundgren had at becoming a leading A-list star, but (combined with Superman IV: The Quest For Peace) bad enough to bankrupt Cannon Films.
I remember my older brother and I pleading with our parents to take us to see this movie in theaters. And I remember the look my father threw me as the movie ended: it was a combination of embarrassment and disappointment in me for selling him on the movie.
The film had potential. The He-Man Filmation cartoon was at its peak. The toy lines were flying off the shelves at Toys ‘R’ Us. Dolph was fresh off his popular performance as everybody’s least favorite communist boxer in Rocky IV. They even got 80’s staple James Tolkan!
So why was it so awful?
The film lacked any kind of identity whatsoever. Were the producers going for “campy”? Were they intentionally combining the worst elements of Star Wars with Conan and a little Thor mixed in?
The majority of the movie took place on planet Earth as opposed to He-Man’s home world of Eternia even though the original script called for much of the story to take place on Eternia and Snake Mountain in particular. The film had a $22 million budget, which was huge for a mid 80’s sci-fi movie. It obviously didn’t go to set design or exotic location shoots. So it must have gone to costume and special effects right?
Well it didn’t go towards Skeletor’s bad Halloween version of Emperor Palpatine. Talented actor Frank Langella did what he could with the dialogue but why turn Skeletor into the demon love child of Palpatine and the Crypt Keeper?
While on the topics of “stiffs” (get it? Crypt Keeper & death?), what was the deal with Dolph’s uninspired performance? They could have filmed his portion utilizing stop-motion animation with an actual He-Man action figure and it would have shown more emotion. Director Gary Goddard had concerns about Dolph’s acting abilities from the beginning, but Dolph came packaged with the movie. “I was concerned that Dolph would be able to carry the scenes. …[so] I did my best to restructure the story almost through the eyes of Skeletor.”
There are lots of stories about the production difficulties on this film.
Mattel gave strict orders to the production staff on what He-Man could not do, such as kill or inflict harm on any living creature. This resulted in the generic Stormtrooper like villains that he was forced to do battle with. Rumor has it that Mattel later changed this rule after toy sales saw a decline during movie production.
Mattel executive Paul Cleveland saw rough cuts of the film and “just about had a heart attack” when he heard Dolph speak. “I said it’s okay if He-Man has a little bit of an accent, but you gotta be able to understand him.” Director Goddard wanted to bring in a voice actor to dub over Dolph’s voice, but “But [producer] Menaham [Golan] was like, ‘nope, we’re gonna stick with Dolph.’”
(It should be noted that Mattel had so much control over production because they funded the whole movie. Initially, Mattel and Cannon we going to split the cost of the film 50/50. Mattel funded the first half and then when it came time for Cannon to write checks, they were already broke.)
Ever wonder why the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor was so anti-climatic? Almost as if the duel was un-choreographed and simply shot in front of bright spotlight? Well that is because it was. Mattel was so frustrated that they shut down production and let the director finish with only a limited staff.
The musical score was recorded with numerous orchestras with numerous conductors. The score was composed by Bill Conti but Conti did not conduct his score because it could not be recorded in the United States as “there was a musicians strike or something like that… So it went to various places.”
And if you thought all this was bad, the only thing that could have been worse was a sequel! The rumors of the plots for the sequel were ridiculous. Per Wikipedia:
The sequel titled “Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg” was written and followed He-Man as he returned to Earth to battle Skeletor, who had left Earth as a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The film was also to feature Trap Jaw and She-Ra. Pro surfer Laird Hamilton was originally planned to replace Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and the only aspect known about the sequel’s screenplay was that He-Man would have returned to Earth disguised as a professional quarterback. With a low budget of $4.5 million, the sequel was to be directed by Albert Pyun, consecutively with the aborted Spider-Man movie. The project was abandoned when Cannon would not pay Mattel‘s fees.
The idea of a He-Man reboot has been kicked around Hollywood for some time now. Most recently producer/director McG has the rights and numerous stars such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson attached. Hopefully “Franchise Viagra” can make something happen…
Sidenote: Ever wanted to be He-Man? My wife and I went as He-Man and She-Ra for Halloween a few years ago. We came second in the costume contest, losing out to a sexy police officer.