follow us on twitter

dOc on facebook

Microsoft Store

Share: email   Print      Technorati.gif   StumbleUpon.gif   MySpace   digg.gif delicious.gif   google.gif   magnolia.gif   facebook.gif
Permalink: Permalink.gif

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

BCI presents
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Season One—Vol. 1 (1983)

"Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, 'By the power of Grayskull.' I HAVE THE POWER!"
- He-Man (John Erwin)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: October 18, 2005

Stars: John Erwin, Alan Oppenheimer, Linda Gary
Other Stars: Lou Scheimer, Erika Scheimer, Michael Bell
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (animated fisticuffs)
Run Time: Approx. 710 min.
Release Date: October 18, 2005
UPC: 787364649495
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C+B+C+ B

DVD Review

From the prevalence of ironic Nintendo T-shirts to the recent return of slap bracelets, mega-corporations are making a bundle selling 20-somethings on 1980s nostalgia, correctly assuming that the only people who remember the decade fondly are those of us who spent it eating Frankenberry and watching Transformers. There is no better example of this diabolical marketing stratagem than the recent DVD releases of season sets of poorly animated '80s cartoons like Jem!, G.I. Joe, and, finally, my own personal holy grail, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

First aired in 1983, around the same time Mattel introduced the companion line of toys in an attempt to compete with licensed franchises like Star Wars, He-Man is set in Eternia, an oddly futuristic comic book world of Conan the Barbarian-style sword and sorcery. Though loosely based on a much darker D.C. comic, the series, from Funimation, low-budget purveyors of cheap, popular animated shows like Fat Albert and even the cartoon Star Trek, tells the story of the weakling Prince Adam, who becomes the heroic He-Man by, er, raising his sword and shouting about having the power. His pet tiger Cringer gets in on the action, too, transforming into Battlecat, and the pair, with the help of stalwarts like Teela, Man-at-Arms, and the wizard Orko, do battle with the villainous Skeletor and his minions of... inept darkness, including baddies with some very descriptive monikers, like Beast Man, Mer-Man, Trap Jaw, and Clawful. Not that you can forget, say, Ram-Man or Buzz-Off, the giant bee, fighting for the forces of good.

Between the ages of, oh, two and five, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe pretty much encapsulated my burgeoning identity. I spent my formative years running around with a plastic sword stuck down the back of my PJs, trying to explain to my mom that He-Man didn't have to wear diapers, so why should I? Though He-Man probably didn't wet the bed (I can't say the same for his alter-ego Prince Adam, however). Come to think of it, that bushy red Speedo is little diaper-esque...

But I'm getting off track. The point is, the best, and probably only way to enjoy He-Man these days is through a thick, glossy sheen of nostalgia, because, well, it's not exactly the thrilling spectacle that captured my feeble, three-year-old imagination. Granted, at the time, it was groundbreaking (though mostly because it was the first cartoon to blatantly promote a line of toys, a formula that continues to this day). The character designs are imaginative and memorable (which probably explains my outright lust for the toys... Mom and Grandma caved under the powerful force of my preadolescent charms and whining fits), but the show itself is pretty dull to my now slightly more mature eyes. Ninety percent of the dialogue is humorless (Skeletor definitely gets in some good one-liners, and more laughs than "comic relief" Orko), and most episodes suffer from a distinct lack of plot, concentrating instead on lots of action. There's not much in terms of continuity or character growth, and every show follows a pretty specific formula.

What's most surprising, today, is the caliber of talent working behind the scenes. At one time or another, He-Man's writing staff included everyone from Paul Dini (who helped turn Batman: The Animated Series into what many consider the best comic book adaptation ever), to D.C. Fontana (who penned a few installments of Star Trek: The Next Generation , including the premiere, Encounter at Farpoint), and even J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 (though he joined the staff in Season Two). That's not to say that their work necessarily offers a glimpse of future greatness—all were very young at the time (in interviews, Dini said he was still in college), and their scripts were hampered by the amount of stock footage in Funimation's library. There was a limit to the amount of new footage that could be created for each show, so a lot of little bits were often changed around and reused (in fact, Orko's original name was Gorpo, but it was changed because the O on his chest allowed the animation to be flipped and recycled).

Scripts were also carefully crafted to include a strong "pro-social" message (using the buzz words of the day), and as a result, the ostensible barbarian epic is about as dangerous as a box of Smurfs. Despite controversy from parent watch groups in the early 1980s, the show is certainly never dark or violent. Any assertions that it promoted witchcraft and satanism were just stupid. I was going to slaughter those innocents eventually, anyway.

This set collects the first 33 of the 130 episodes eventually produced. The show went on to spawn a popular spin-off, She-Ra: Princess of Power (so that's where they got the idea for Xena) and a truly, magnificently excruciating live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren, but by 1987, the series had grown stale, and, according to a recently released book examining the phenomenon, profits dropped from $400 million to $7 million from 1986 to 1987. Still, like everything, it has its fans, and there are more than a few He-Man fansites active today (Cartoon Network even re-launched the show in 2003, to mild indifference). As for me, well, some of my old He-Man figures are sitting in a box in the attic, and every once in a while I pull them out to re-live my relative youth. The DVD set has a similar effect, with the added bonus that I don't have to get all dusty in the process.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Considering the series' age and questionable production values, He-Man looks decent on DVD. Colors are pretty bright and solid, though they appear a little oversaturated at times, with some visible blooming. The source materials sometimes look a tad dusty and grainy, but are really pretty clean, overall. A nice effort.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereo, Spanish Stereoyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in a rather flat English stereo mix. Everything from dialogue to music has a slightly muffled sound, harsh and a little airy. It's not really all that distracting after a little while, but these tracks really show their age.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 132 cues and remote access
Production Notes
2 Documentaries
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Character, creature, and artifact profiles
Extras Review: He-Man makes his season-set premiere with a pretty powerful collection of bonus materials. The presentation is top-notch, for one thing, from the colorful box art to the nicely decorated discs. The menus are all fully animated, each episode features four chapter stops, and the chapter selection screens include plot descriptions and episode trivia.

The 33 episodes are spread across the first five discs, while the extras fill up Disc 6. There's the 22-minute The Secret Origins of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, an exploration of the roots of the series from conception to production, featuring interviews with the originals producers, writers, and artists. It's full of fun trivia and an interesting discussion of the controversy the show caused when it premiered (idea man Lou Scheimer maintains that every episode was packed full of "pro-social" goodness). A nice retrospective piece, if a bit on the sunny side.

Also of note is the 27-minute The Stories of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a near episode-by-episode summation of the first batch of episodes, featuring brief interviews with the writers and directors who put them together.

The episode The Taking of Castle Grayskull is presented in complete, animated storyboard form alongside the finished show, while a detailed text and image gallery offers profiles of various characters, creatures, and artifacts from the world of Eternia.

Five scripts are viewable via DVD-ROM (PC or Mac), and the set includes a nice booklet and two of 32 collectible art cards from comic book artists Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe has a pretty specific target audience—males born between, say, 1976 and 1985—but that's apparently enough to support an enduring merchandising empire and the release of what is, in retrospect, a pretty lame show on DVD. What a wonderful world!


Back to top

Microsoft Store

On Facebook!
Promote Your Page Too



Original Magic Dress.com

Susti Heaven

Become a Reviewer | Search | Review Vault | Reviewers
Readers | Webmasters | Privacy | Contact
Microsoft Store