Review: Masters Of The Universe (1987)

Composer: Bill Conti

Label: Edel/Silva Screen Records

Catalogue Nr.: 5095-2

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He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was originally a cartoon TV series created during the early 80's for advertising the popular toys from Mattel. The enormous success of the toy-cartoon bundle lead to the creation of several re-incarnations of the series and the life action movie Masters of the Universe. I personally grew up with the TV series The New Adventures of He-Man during the early 90's which failed miserably but I loved every episode of it when I was as a kid. When I heard there was a movie, I immediately had to watch it though it is really weird how kids approach films. Even some real silly movies can turn into pure magic if you have watched them as a kid and that's exactly how I feel about Masters Of The Universe. Today, the film feels like an unfunny Star Wars spoof but, to be fair, it was the movie that actually got me interested in science-fiction. Beside that, there are some quite positive things about this film, like Frank Langella's excellent performance as Skeletor or James Tolkan's performance as Lubic the cop.

The score:

Bill Conti's score for the film was actually one of the first scores that I really enjoyed even though I was not fully aware of it at the time. But I always found myself humming passages and themes from the score whenever I was playing with He-Man toys after watching the film, so it must have certainly left a strong impression on a five years old kid. Several years later, my interest in film music grew stronger and I wanted to check out more music from Bill Conti, only to find out that just a handful of his scores were available on CD. Film music fans accused the composer for ripping off John Williams, especially for the main title theme of Masters Of The Universe which was bashed as being a copy of the Superman march. Well, I can't hear any Superman in Conti's score at all but the Williams influences are certainly there especially during the rather playful action music. It feels like the film was heavily temp-tracked with pieces from several different scores from John Williams (which is certainly possible since Williams had his high point during the 80's) and Conti did his best to work around that. Most of Conti's music suffers from edits and cuts in the film and was mixed on a rather low volume but it still somehow managed to be effective in the end.

Conti is one of the true masters of brass and "Main Title & Eternia Besieged" is the perfect evidence for that. It is introducing the controversial main theme of the score with a rousing adventurous sound. The main theme goes into a variation of the march for Skeletor which had always been one of my favourite villain themes (my one and only favourite from a time before I heard Darth Vader's theme from The Empire Strikes Back). It is followed by the underused theme for the sorceress and a passage with dark fanfares that shines with a very nice usage of the brass section and an elegant variation of the main theme for a solo flute as Skeletor's troops are rampaging on the planet and He-Man is fighting them. "Gwildor's Quadrille" features a comedic tune which was mostly unused in the film. "Quiet Escape" is a nice action sequence in which we first hear the epic theme for the cosmic key. This theme always appears in the film whenever the key is used and can be seen as an integral part of the story.

"Earthly Encounter" starts with a sad statement of Julie's theme for woodwinds and strings and goes into a rising ostinato while Skeletor's theme kicks in at the end when his mercenaries are introduced. "Battle at the Gymn" is a wild mixture of sneaky suspense stuff with slightly banging metallic percussion and dark action music with brass. The sound is even getting playful at times when Conti integrates Xylophones and other light percussion but it really tends to become over-complex at times. A fast string ostinato version of Julie's theme dominates most of the first half of the cue when Julie is trying to escape the mercenaries The main theme kicks in when He-Man is coming to rescue her and a heroic fanfare ends the cue which feels kind of over-complex at times. "Procession of the Mercenaries" is rather dark with some statements of Skeletor's theme and a rising ostinato for high played strings when Skeletor is punishing the mercenaries. "Evilyn's Deception" is a real highlight because Judie's theme is perfectly used and turned around here as Evilyn is luring Judie.

"Centurion Attack" was mostly unused in the film and is somewhat of a let-down because it is simply too busy without any real musical or thematic development and thus it becomes uninteresting rather quickly. Well, certainly not every cue can be as great as "Skeletor the Destroyer" which is a nice, full-blown dark march for Skeletor and can be seen as the highlight of the score. I just love it how Conti starts off with the beautiful cosmic key theme that suddenly goes into this dark march. "He-Man Enslaved" is a rather subtle cue with a variation on the main theme accompanied by militaristic drums which is comparable to Basil Poledouri's "Punishment / Asteroid Gazing" from Starship Troopers (1997). "Transformation of Skeletor" is a dark, epic piece which rises as the power of the universe is being absorbed by Skeletor.

"Kevin's Plight / After Them" starts with a subtle variation of Judie's theme before some suspense music begins. The fun really starts during the second half of the cue with fast-paced action music, fanfares and a thrilling trumpet solo. A magnificent variation of Skeletor's march interrupted by a wonderful heroic motif is the highlight of the cue. The ending of "Julie's Muzak" even offers a little film music in-joke: there is a lush and overly romantic waltz for strings which is actually used as source music in the film. It comes from a speaker when Kevin is trying to figure out the melody of the cosmic key but the music is nerving him so much that He-Man's companions shot the speaker. That's why the waltz ends abruptly on CD. "The Power Of Greyskull" is another action cue for the duel between Skeletor and He-Man with one of the best statements of the main theme and a dark fanfare that erupts when Skeletor meets his master.

"Good Journey" is a beautiful and very broad cue which features the only full orchestral statements of Julie's theme with a variation of the cosmic key theme in the middle and a short statement of the main theme at the end. "He-Man Victorious / End Titles" is a nice summary of all themes in best Star Wars fashion and a nice finale for the score.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 79%

Score as heard on CD: 88%

TOTAL: 84%

 

The presentation:

There are two different releases of this score, one from Varese issued in 1987 and an expanded issue from Silva in 1992. Both releases have become ultra rare collectibles but if you are looking for a MOTU score release then I would recommend the 1992 expanded version which features more than 20 minutes of additional music. The recording sounds rather flat and lacks of excitement. Especially the brass is rather weak but you can easily fix that by increasing the higher frequencies with an equalizer. Another remastered and expanded edition would certainly be possible since the score was recorded in Germany which means there are no re-use fees to pay. The virtually non-existent availability of both releases is clearly a huge minus here.

Presentation by the Label: 44%

 

Summary:

Masters Of The Universe is a rousing and adventurous work which almost gets lost in the details. In some of the over-complex and busy cues Conti does not really make enough use of his fine themes but brings in so many ideas that actually don't offer enough recognizable development. It takes some time to get into these cues ("Battle at the Gymn", "Centurion Attack") but whenever he makes use of his themes it becomes highly effective. The score suffers from various edits in the film but is still an integral part of the story. Certainly no classic but still one of Conti's best symphonic scores and highly recommended if you can stand some slight references to John Williams in a sci-fi/fantasy score.

 

                                     Tracklisting:

01.  Main Title / Eternia Besieged (07:25)
02.  Gwildor's Quadrille (01:51)
03.  Quiet Escape (02:39)
04.  Earthly Encounter (04:23)
05.  Battle At The Gym (06:29)
06.  Procession Of The Mercenaries (02:50)
07.  Evilyn's Deception (02:43)
08.  Centurion Attack (05:52)
09.  Skeletor The Destroyer (03:11)
10.  He-Man Enslaved (04:42)
11.  Transformation Of Skeletor (02:30)
12.  Kevin's Plight / After Them (09:13)
13.  Julie's Muzak (01:47)
14.  The Power Of Greyskull (03:33)
15.  Good Journey (04:40)
16.  He-Man Victorious / End Titles (05:13)

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