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Cannon Fodder: Over The Top and Masters of The Universe Revisited

Published at: Aug. 6, 2012, 9:34 a.m. CST

 

 

What’s Up Contenders? Terry Malloy here, reporting live from the Waterfront:

 

Cannon Fodder is an ongoing column which will re/visit the entire canon (ahem) of feature films produced by Cannon Films. Launching some of the biggest action careers in film history, such as Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cannon Films were the ultimate purveyors of mid-budget cheese throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s. Cannon Fodder will explore the entire filmography of this storied production company (in no particular order) and will do its best to prepare AICN readers for the upcoming release of Mark Hartley’s definitive Cannon Films Documentary; Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

 

And although Cannon Films was not run start to close by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus for the entirety of Cannon Films’ existence, they are the power players that gambled big and eventually lost big with this prolific production house. Each edition of Cannon Fodder will briefly explore what level of involvement the loveable cousins had in each film. Because there are several dozen titles in the Cannon Canon, each installment of this column will cover multiple titles. 

 

 

 

 

Over The Top (1987)

 

I revisited Over The Top for the first time since the glory days of VHS this past week. To my shock and surprise, Over The Top really is not an action movie. It is, however, a steroidal drama. What you have here is Sylvester Stallone playing a character with the greatest tough guy name ever conceived in all of filmdom: Lincoln Hawk. Hawk is a big rig driver who we meet just as he is attempting to rekindle a relationship with his young son, Michael (David Mendenhall). I found the first act to be pretty refreshing in the pace of its exposition. With notable forward momentum, we learn that Hawk and his son are entirely estranged. And that Michael’s mother is sick and hoping that father and son can rekindle some kind of relationship. We also learn that Robert Loggia is a mean-hearted old sumumabitch. And by that I mean that Michael’s grandfather wants to raise him and wants Lincoln Hawk nowhere near their privileged family. 

 

 

On the road to meet up with ex-wife/mom, Hawk and Son begin the slow process of reacquaintence, and we learn that Hawk is a burgeoning competitive arm wrestling contender. All of this develops fairly naturally for a film that has only one level: 11. As the inevitable arm wrestling tournament approaches, ‘80s power ballads will accentuate the drama. Will Hawk be able to prove himself to his precocious young son? Will Michael decide to stick with his dad or be raised by a wealthy old codger? Will the world ever meet either of these guys half way? Hell no! You’ve got to go out there and take what you can in this world. One arm wrestling match at a time.

 

Over The Top adheres strictly to the Stallone formula, and while it never quite reaches the greatness of a Rocky or a Rambo, and never warranted a sequel, Over The Top is kind of a blast. 

 

Things You Will Only Ever See In THIS Movie

 

  • A greased up palooka with a weight lifting setup jerry rigged into his hauler. 
  • A montage sequence that shows you a real dude’s elbow being dislocated on screen!
  • Professional Wrestling’s Terry Funk drinking motor oil to psych out his opponents. 

 

How Many Tablespoons of Golan/Globus Are Added?

 

The cousins are pretty heavily involved this time out! Menahem Golan is credited as the Director of Over The Top. And both Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan are credited as Producers on the film.

 

How Can You See Over The Top?

 

I recommend allowing the power ballads (many of which were written or performed by geek favorite Giorgio Moroder) to wash over you and to hit the road with Hawk and Son. You’ll never for one moment question how it will all turn out. But who doesn’t want to see Stallone beat the odds in whatever blue collar scenario he finds himself in?

 

I was able to watch the film on Netflix Watch Instant, and as of this writing, it remains available in that format and can also be rented on disc at Netflix. It also appears to be purchasable in both DVD and Blu-ray formats on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 

Masters Of The Universe (1987)

 

I’m engaging in a bit of a personal Dolph Lundgren retrospective of late, brought on by the amazing new release of Red Scorpion on Blu-ray. I had never seen that particular title before, despite being a pretty big Lundgren-ite. And so it came to pass that I decided I absolutely HAD to revisit some of Dolph’s greatest classics. In case you were wondering, yes, I’d consider Masters of the Universe to be a Dolph classic. 

 

Again, this was a film of my youth which I had not experienced since that bygone era where regular trips to the video store were commonplace. I was a massive fan of He-Man as a boy, and was just young enough to play with all the toys, watch all the cartoons, and be TOTALLY confused by the big screen adaptation of Masters Of The Universe.

 

Where is Orko? Where is Battle Cat? Who are all of these additional characters I don’t recognize and why is this movie set on Earth?! As a boy, I really wasn’t the smartest cookie. I mostly swallowed what was fed to me by the entertainment complex. But my burgeoning film critic brain was really confused by Masters Of The Universe.

 

Watching it this past week, I found myself enjoying the film a lot more than I am supposed to. Masters of the Universe is a film that falls victim to the Golan/Globus school of filmmaking. Cannon Films infamously went after some of the biggest and best rights they could, such as Superman, Spiderman, and He-Man. Once they secured these rights, however, they saddled their productions with minimal budgets and often interfered with the productions heavily. First time director Gary Goddard offers a very genuine, anecdote-filled commentary on the DVD copy of the film that I just watched.  He seems to look back fondly on the experience, but it is clear that he pulled off some sort of miracle simply by getting a watchable film completed. Cannon even shut down the production 3 days before principle photography completed and Goddard had to fight for an extra day just to shoot the climactic battle between He-Man and Skeletor!

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For you folks who were not children of the 1980s, what the hell is Masters of the Universe? Despite the scorn aimed at Battleship this Summer, Masters of the Universe was actually a property that first existed as a toy line featuring barbarian-style characters drawing from sword and sorcery visual motifs. The toys then became a popular cartoon series that added a more convoluted (and homoerotic) layer to the ongoing adventures of He-Man and his battle against the minions of Skeletor.  

 

The film begins in Eternia, with Skeletor having captured Castle Greyskull. I love that the film begins with Frank Langella’s Skeletor in control, and He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and his friends on the ropes. Narration tells us that Castle Greyskull is a sort of Stephen King’s Dark Tower kind of deal. A castle that holds the power of the universe. This power is neither good nor bad, but it is ultimate. The galaxies remain in balance with He-Man and his Sorceress in control of the power. But all existence comes under threat when Skeletor “has the power.” 

 

Sadly, the film goes off the rails quickly when (due to budgetary restrictions and studio cowardice) our heroes must escape Eternia and plunge through a dimensional portal to modern-day earth. Although non-period, Main Street USA is easier to shoot on a budget, it really isn’t the best battle ground for scantily clad warriors and otherworldly creatures. 

 

Masters of the Universe and Thor actually have a lot in common in this sense. Both films would have been better if they had been set entirely (or mostly) in their own magical realms instead of shoehorning a visit to Earth into their plotlines. 

 

But in spite of this, Masters of the Universe manages to include a kitchen sink’s worth of sci-fi and fantasy tropes into its run time. I’ve always loved that the world of He-Man fully incorporates both swords and tech. Many a battle features He-Man wielding both sword and laser gun. Add hover boards, practical creature designs ripped straight from the Star Wars universe, and a super hot evil Sorceress (Meg Foster) to the mix, and Masters of the Universe offers an enormous amount of entertainment with its limited budget.

 

Is Masters of the Universe ultimately a good film? I’m going to have to say no. But is it significantly better than history has proclaimed it? Yeah, it kind of is. 

 

Things You Will Only Ever See In THIS Movie

 

  • Courtney Cox and Dolph Lundgren on the same screen at the same time.
  • Frank Langella with a horribly altered face.  Oh, wait, The Box.
  • Dolph Lundgren holding a sword aloft and shouting “I have the power!” (Which kind of gave me goose bumps of nostalgia even though it is pretty terribly executed.)
  • Billy Barty in heavy makeup swiping a bucket of ribs with a grappling hook.

 

How Many Tablespoons of Golan/Globus Are Added?

 

As mentioned, it seems that Masters of the Universe suffered from pretty sweeping budget cuts, as well as significant studio interference over the content of the film and even the shooting schedule. So my guess is that the Golan/Globus cousins were highly involved in this financial fiasco. And yet, both Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan received only a Producer credit.

 

How Can You See Masters of the Universe?

 

Although this film is riddled with the pocks of gutted budget, truncated shooting schedule, and a genuinely silly property to begin with, it is quite easy to have a blast watching Masters of the Universe. Mixed in with the behind the scenes drama there is some fun filmmaking craft on display here. Some of the creature effects are really clever, if Star Wars-inspired. And there are so many sci-fi fantasy elements thrown into the mix that Masters of the Universe would make an awesome double feature with something like Krull or hell, even THOR! 

 

I actually rented a DVD of Masters of the Universe from Austin’s own I Luv Video because I had remembered that it wasn’t available on Netflix. However, after double checking you can rent the DVD of Masters of the Universe directly from Netflix

 

And who would have believed it, but Masters of the Universe is getting a 25th Anniversary Blu-ray that is available for pre-order on Amazon and is set to release on Oct. 2nd, 2012.

 

 

 

And I’m Out.

 

Terry Malloy

 

AKA Ed Travis

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Ed_Travis

 

 

 

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