Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Masters of the Universe

My two part experiment to mash a convention with repertory screenings kicked off Friday night at the historic and beautiful Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood with 1987's Masters of the Universe. Mattel had really come through, providing display cases full of figures from the 1980's through today, Castle Grayskull, Snake Mountain, 6 foot character displays and a 15 foot tall He-Man statue that barely fit inside the lobby! Pretty In Plastic kicked in with an awesome mounted bust of Battlecat, one of less than a dozen in existence and valued at a cool 8 grand. We had a solid turnout for the evening and one by one our guests arrived. Myself, programmer and voice actor extraordinaire Grant along with editor at large Jim Branscombe spliced together a pre-movie clip show of beautiful randomness that included the credits to Dolph Lundgren's awe-inspiring workout video Maximum Potential, He-Man toy commercials and a fan edited version of 4 Non Blondes What's Up featuring Prince Adam and Cringer.

Mattel had provided a dozen rare figures from their Matty Collector line to give out as prizes and we got right into the film. The 35mm print looked solid for being nearly 30 years old and the audience was enthusiastic, cheering, clapping and laughing at all the appropriate moments. Starting on war-torn Eternia, the evil warlord/wizard Skeletor (Frank Langella) has taken Castle Grayskull, where mystical forces are housed and give the power to become the Master of the Universe. With keeper of the house The Sorceress (Christina Pickles) captured, it's up to a small band of Eternian heroes to save her including the ultra heroic He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), troop commander Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher), his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field) and locksmith/inventor Gwildor (Billy Barty). You see, Gwildor has invented a music based Cosmic Key that can open a doorway to anywhere, which Skeletor used to infiltrate Castle Grayskull and take over. During a botched rescue attempt, Gwildor frantically opens a doorway our heroes escape into, landing on...Earth! There, with the help of two local teens (Courtney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeil), He-Man and his crew battle Skeletor's pursuing mercenaries (including Robert Towers as Karg and Anthony De Longis' Blade) while dealing with earthly customs like eating fried chicken and ribs and trying to get back home, free The Sorceress and save Eternia.

This was the first film I ever saw in a movie theater and I've loved it ever since. The last time I saw it was in 2009 or so at the now defunct Regency Fairfax down the street from the New Beverly which played the film a couple of years ago, both times screening at midnight. It's become my staple to not only spread the gospel of the 80's and 90's but also take midnight back to prime time. For me, much of MOTU still works. The Castle Grayskull set is huge, impressive and immaculate, the costumes ornate and unique, the action crackles with a kinetic swashbuckling energy while the cast is terrific and most of the matte painting, laser blast, pyrotechnics and space door special f/x look great. Bill Conti's epic score gives the flick a Star Wars meets Superman scope, Dolph is picture perfect as a living action hero while Frank gets to dig his teeth deep into the fiery yet sorrowful Skeletor. Plus the message of there being only one of you in the universe is still a great message.

After the film, I called down our panelists of director Gary Goddard, production designer William Stout, Teela Chelsea Field, Karg Robert Towers, Blade Anthony De Longis and armor suit makers Robert Short and Max Cervantes:

- Goddard has a background in large scale theme park attractions as well as theater. Always wanted to be a filmmaker, made films in high school, never gave up and his mother always encouraged him.
 - Chelsea Field was a dancer before auditioning seemingly twenty-five times for MOTU and it was her first acting role. Auditions had no scenes per se, acting out action, fighting with swords and laser guns. Had met Goddard to discuss Conan stage show previously and he remembered her.
- William Stout originally hired as storyboard artist but hit it off with Goddard, both loved Jack Kirby while hired production designer didn't see eye to eye with director or have faith in film.
- Anthony De Longis worked on Conan the Barbarian stage show, worked with William Stout on a Roger Corman flick after Masters. Played Blade and doubled Frank Langella for final battle where Skeletor is in a huge helmet the size of the New York skyline.
- Robert Towers knew Goddard from Conan as well. Went through lots of auditions as Goddard was adamant performance had to come through prosthetics. Had a great time with Billy Barty who always brought great energy and told dirty stories. Went through 3.5 hours of make up and could barely eat.
- Robert Short's shop produced 300 some suits of armor in 30 days.
- Grayskull was biggest set Hollywood had seen in 40 years, two stages with wall knocked down.
- Goddard described the difficulties of the film that included costumes, contact lenses that almost made wearers blind, make up, pyrotechnics, fights, stunts...everything but rain. Cannon Films also going out of business, was told three times that there was no money. Would tell cast and crew that they were already there, go ahead and shoot day and figure it out. Producer went to Mattel for money.
- Field hasn't seen film since opening, only 2nd time, lots of 30ish guys walk up and freak out about Masters. Best summer of her life, most fun she ever had on a shoot. Night shoots felt like they went on forever, was only 6 weeks, only getting about 4 hours a night on Whittier streets. Fond memories of working with James Tolkan, Jon Cypher, Cox, McNeil, etc.
- Frank Langella was in town and wanted to come but had to head back to New York early, drat!
- Great to work with, 2-3 hours of make up and anchors the film. Goddard spread story to more characters versus giving all to He-Man and somewhat telling story through villain's eyes.
- Big film for Cannon but still a skeleton crew, department assistant Josh Olson would go on to write Oscar nominated A History of Violence.
- Strapped Dolph to a truck for the Air Centurion sequence, had him 30-50 feet up a ladder.
- Towers kept some costume pieces and wig, Goddard has Skeletor's sword, Field kept memories, Stout has 200 paintings, Max has some armored suits and revamped for Alien Halloween costume, Short has a garage full of molds and suits, De Longis has a sword, donated one to charity.
- It was William Stout's birthday, we wished him a hearty "Good journey!" and I passed out cupcakes after.
- Field warned her son that it would be very cheesy but was surprised how well it held up. Everyone gave massive props to Goddard for making for such a great experience, keeping things rolling even though Cannon was falling apart behind the scenes.

 It was a beautiful night paying tribute to one of my favorite films and a warm up for the next day which would include 12 hours of setting up, hosting and running a mini-convention, 4 screenings and 4 panels, phew! Until then, don't say goodbye, say "Good journey!".

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