The Castle Grayskull gang are makin’ a comeback! Masters of the Universe, once Mattel’s borderline forgotten in-house brand, has seen a resurgence in public awareness and licensing over the past year. He-Man and Skeletor are popping up in car commercials, video games, designer toys, more designer toys, statues, comic books, shirts and even underoos.
And then there’s the long-fabled film. You know which one I mean – the one that seems to go into hibernation every six months, poking its head out of its cave just long enough to announce a new writer.
This got me thinking – just what is it about this movie that’s been making it so hard to get made? And then I realized: Eternia is a pretty crazy place.
For those of you unfamiliar, in the world of Masters of the Universe, pretty much everything is fair game. At its core, it’s high fantasy with elements of science fiction, but to leave it at that wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface. We’re talking underwater and subterranean kingdoms, galactic empires, animal men, cowboys, ninjas, aliens, dinosaurs, ghosts and anything else you can think of.
That’s a ton of stuff to wade through if you’re adapting it, particularly since there are multiple canons that contradict each other at times. It can’t be an easy task to decide what’s right for a cinematic version and what isn’t. So I’ve decided to lend a helping hand. I’ve compiled a list of some of the characters that Sony would be foolish not to use in their big screen adaptation. Also, just to be on the safe side, I’ve also assembled a list of characters they should probably avoid.
I’m a sweetheart like that.
(Now obviously there are characters whose presence in this theoretical movie are a given. He-Man. Skeletor. Battle Cat. Man-at-Arms. Teela. King Randor and Queen Marlena. Those go without saying. The characters below are examples that the casual fan might not be familiar with.)
Let’s start with who the movie should include.
There has never been – nor will there ever be – a time when giant rampaging ogres/trolls/orcs/giant scaly monsters seem out of place in a fantasy adventure story. They’re what you call a staple of the genre. And Whiplash here fits the mold perfectly.
A hulking brute covered in thick green scales, Whiplash hails from a vast underground region known as Sub-Ternia. Though his race, the Caligars, have sided with the Eternian royal family more than once, Whiplash himself once led a contingent of warriors as part of a massive uprising. Long since banished over this act of betrayal, he now serves as Skeletor’s personal wrecking ball on the battlefield. For an audience, it’s only that very last part that matters.
In a two-hour film during which you’ve only got so much time to establish so many things, Whiplash is that classic concept that doesn’t need explaining. You don’t need precious seconds to explain why he has a three-eyed, super-powered visor or the innate ability to control animals or why his bottom half is a spinning top. While characters like Mer-Man and Clawful probably don’t need much explaining, aquatic monsters tend not to seem super threatening if you’re more than one hundred yards from the nearest beach. Sometimes it pays to keep things simple. When a big scaly monster with a thrashing tail shows up on screen and starts throwing Eternian troops left and right, the audience immediately knows what he is and that he’s here to kick He-Man’s ass.
Plus, as far as the brand’s pun-tastic character names go, his is one of the least offensive.
Anyone who’s familiar with the She-Ra cartoon can tell you that the Great Rebellion is chock full of brave and courageous women who fight evil. This, of course, is awesome; girls should absolutely kick ass alongside the boys. In fact, while the Great Rebellion is really a story that probably wouldn’t be told in the first film of the franchise – it would need to focus on a newly empowered He-Man trying to protect Castle Grayskull from a freshly resurgent Skeletor – I’m all for borrowing some of its lovely ladies to make the movie a little more gender balanced. As it stands, the Masters of the Universe and the Evil Warriors each only have one female member.
So why Netossa? Because of all the different Great Rebellion girls to pick from, her abilities are among the most grounded. Damn near every one of them has some sort of crazy super power (as do, admittedly, most of the Masters of the Universe). Whether it’s ice powers, light powers, angel wings or all-seeing peacock feathers, these lasses are basically the Etherian X-(Wo)Men. Unfortunately, like Syndrome says in The Incredibles, “When everyone’s super…no one will be.”
But Netossa doesn’t have superpowers. She’s just an athletic warrior and a certified pro at casting nets to capture or entangle her foes. That’s always made me think of her as something of a gladiator. I can totally see her being slightly redesigned with a little more armor – you’d have to keep the badass blue hair though – and striding through battle, catching evil warriors in her net and then knocking them the **** out with her shield.
Plus she wears her nets as a cape and makes it work! Fierce!
3) The Eternian Council
Ever since Marvel Studios started the Avengers train, everyone and their mom wants in on the shared universe synergy. Warner Bros. has already started it with their DC Comics franchises. Sony took a go at it with Spider-Man before throwing their hands in the air and aligning with Marvel/Disney. Even Paramount is now trying to do it with Transformers. There is quite literally no way that Sony isn’t eyeing that opportunity with the Masters of the Universe franchise, especially since it’s a property that has already spun off into several different sub-stories. It’s practically tailor-made for this kind of thing!
But to make that work, Sony needs to start world building with the very first film. That’s not to say that they need to cram the film with extensive exposition. They’re better off taking a show-don’t-tell approach, especially with a universe as brimming with lush visuals as Eternia is.
With one scene, the filmmakers could establish what an insanely diverse and rich social and biological system Eternia has. That scene? A meeting of the Eternian Council. Just picture the camera sweeping across a line-up including Chief Carnivus of the Catfolk, Lord Dactus of the bat-like Speleans, Ceratus of the Caligars and King Chooblah of the yeti-esque Kulataks. Remember how jaw-dropping it was to see all the different creatures in Hellboy: The Golden Army‘s troll market? Each one with a potential story all its own? That’s what I’m picturing here. The characters don’t even all need lines; their very existence on screen opens up entire lands, races and stories to explore.
And for ****’s sake, use practical effects!
Yes, technically this is Skeletor. Or rather, this is the character who becomes Skeletor. That is to say, this is the character who gets merged with another character to become Skeletor.
You see, Keldor is the half-brother of He-Man’s dad King Randor. He’s also half-Gar, a race of humanoids who betrayed and assassinated the original King Grayskull. Cast out of the court for his heritage, he eventually attempts an unsuccessful coup that results in a vial of acid getting redirected into his face. Dying, he turns to his mentor Hordak – himself a powerful techno wizard imprisoned in another dimension – who combines Keldor with a demon known as Demo Man. The resulting skull-headed monstrosity goes on to terrorize all of Eternia under the name of Skeletor.
Still with me?
Sure, condensed to a single paragraph that sounds like a lot. Still, it’s not so much that you couldn’t capture it within five to ten minutes of screen time. Remember – a hero is only as interesting at the threat he overcomes. Unless ol’ Boneface actually has a backstory, he’s just a spooky looking wizard with a seriously metal ram skull staff and an annoying cackle. A villain you can empathize with, even if just a little, is always better than one you can’t.
Plus, if reality television has taught us anything, it’s that audiences love family drama.
5) Trap Jaw
Trap Jaw would work because he serves a purpose. One of Eternia’s defining aspects is that it’s a land where magic and technology exist hand-in-hand. He-Man, Skeletor and Castle Grayskull give us all we need of the former. But what about the latter? Where’s all the crazy tech at?
That’s where Trap Jaw comes in. Trap Jaw, aka Kronis, is a blend of man and machine. His lower jaw is a bear trap that would give James Bond pause. His arm is a cybernetic Swiss Army Knife that can turn into a hook, a vice grip, a blaster rifle or a myriad of other offensive weapons. It makes for a distinct eye-popping look that doesn’t require a lot of explanation.
Which isn’t to say that you can’t explain it. Sure, its great to have some villains that are just there to tear up scenery (see Whiplash above), but as I said with Keldor, a villain with a backstory is naturally a more interesting obstacle. And Kronis here has a pretty good one. He was formerly Keldor’s right-hand man until he decided that his boss had gone a little off the deep end once he was, y’know, bonded with a demon. Striking off on his own, he raised his own army and challenged Skeletor.
Skeletor responded by shattering his arm and punching his jaw off.
As one does.
Rebuilt into the cyborg Trap Jaw by Skeletor’s minion Tri-Klops, Kronis once again serves the dark lord but as a much more dangerous tool than he ever was before. Imagine Skeletor coolly explaining that little bedtime story right before siccing Trap Jaw on the heroes. It’d make both of them a Hell of a lot scarier.
Also, that little loop on top of his helmet? That’s for zip lining. For realsies.
Of course, those are some of the characters that would probably work well in the Masters of the Universe cinematic universe. But for each of those, there’s another character that…well…head to the next page and see for yourself.
It’s not that Faker is a bad idea. It’s more that he’s an idea that’s been done many, many times.
Faker is straight from the “evil doppelganger” mold. Sometimes he’s a magical clone of He-Man; sometimes he’s a robot designed to replace him. Also, he’s usually blue. Either way, he looks like the champion of Eternia, and Skeletor uses him for his own evil purposes. Also, sometimes he wears Skeletor’s clothes which is…kinky? Let’s call it kinky.
Like I said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of an evil duplicate. Plenty of much respected properties have done it. The Justice League has the Crime Syndicate, Star Trek has the mirror universe, Kermit the Frog has Constantine, Ernest P Worrell has Felix Nash; it’s an established and time-honored trope. If a hero is around long enough, he or she is probably going to wind up with an evil duplicate. It’s like a tradition.
However, that doesn’t mean you lead with it. Sure, if they somehow get to He-Man 7: The Secrets of Trolla, then maybe we can start to consider the idea. But, we’re still struggling to get the first film out of the gate here. If the evil duplicate story arc is your go-to plan when you have the kind of sandbox that this property offers you, then you’re probably one of the reasons this movie hasn’t gotten made yet. And frankly, he’s not that important a character. The toy pretty much only exists because they were able to make it without spending any new money on tooling.
Seriously though – you just know this guy was named at 4:55 on a Friday afternoon.
There is a long history of Masters of the Universe characters being based on animals. In the original toy line alone there’s a bumblebee man, a lobster man, a spider man (…not that one), a winged ape man, several snake people, and a dude with a robotic elephant head (more on him later). And then there was the skunk guy.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Stinkor.
Amazingly, this was a character that the Filmation crew in charge of the original animated series actually thought was too outlandish. They vowed to never use the “walking fart joke” on the cartoon. He still got a (somewhat infamous) action figure though. The plastic used to make it was mixed with patchouli oil. To this day, Stinkors all over the world continue to stink.
The character actually received one of the most extensive backstory updates in the 2002 rebooted animated series. No longer an actual skunk, he was now a thieving criminal Odiphus and a member of a small cat-like species called the Paleezeans. An accident in Tri-Klops lab mutates him into a humanoid cat-man who constantly generates a horrendous stench…and of course just happens to have the coloration of a skunk.
Let’s not kid ourselves – a skunk is a skunk is a skunk. While it might make for a pretty entertaining half hour episode of an animated series, the idea of watching a live-action He-Man battle a walking, talking skunk monster frankly…stinks.
3) Plundor the Spoiler
Probably one of the property’s most polarizing characters, Plundor the Spoiler is…he’s…
Yeah, he’s a purple bunny rabbit.
A one-shot villain from an episode where Skeletor erases He-Man’s memory and sends him hurtling through the “Crossroads of All Universes,” Plundor has used his evil robotic R.A.B.-bots to conquer the planet Draedus and strip it of its resources by the time he runs afoul of Prince Adam and the gang. He’s somehow distilled the entire planet’s life essence into a single laboratory beaker and plans to auction it off for billions of space dollars. This is, admittedly, no more bizarre than many of Skeletor’s plans on the show.
He’s also voiced in a manner that we’ll generously call “less than intimidating.” Between the character’s purple fur and his high-pitched, foppish voice, I’ve often wondered if he wasn’t meant as a thinly veiled (for the time) gay joke. Although, according to another character from the episode, he’s apparently driven a number of different animal species to extinction. That’s definitely some villainous cred right there.
As I alluded to earlier, there tend to be two camps when it comes to the character. There are those (myself included) that like him for being campy and fun and different and those that hate him because he’s so different and so campy and also a giant purple bunny. That he worked at all is largely a testament to the nature of the show he appeared on. He almost certainly would stick out like a sore thumb in a modern live-action version of the property. Plus he’s about as far removed from the main players’ story arcs as a character in the universe can be.
Still, I’m absolutely hoping for a big purple bunny in a crowd shot.
4) Snout Spout
Ah, Snout Spout. The heroic warrior with a robotic elephant head because, really, why the **** not? If you’re going to go crazy designing characters, go all the way.
Originally called “Hose Nose” in his first appearance, this poor guy was some random schmuck kidnapped and experimented on by Hordak. I can only assume that, besides being a biological and technological genius, Hordak was also tripping balls on Etherian LSD at the time. Seriously, one of his other experiments involved turning a guy into a human/race car hybrid. Hordak was clearly on the really good stuff.
Anyhow, Snout Spout is the team’s resident firefighter. Like any good firefighting elephant, he drains local rivers and lakes with his trunk, stores the water in a tank on his back and then snots it back out through the aforementioned trunk when the need arises. I guess it also doubles as a riot hose? Either way, it’s kind of gross.
The original toy is also the most depressed looking action figure you will ever own. Granted, I suppose I would be too if I had a damned robotic elephant head. That was regularly part of his character arc though. Snout Spout was often wallowing over what he’d been turned into and paranoid over what other people thought of him.
|This guy gives frickin’ Eeyore a run for his money.
Every single Masters of the Universe character has a special place in my heart (…maybe not the Mighty Spector) and that includes Snout Spout. That said, I think we can all agree on the fact that’s a little too out there for a live-action take on He-Man.
5) Fearless Photog
And last but not least we’ve got this guy – Fearless Photog. Here’s a character with a good deal of infamy to his name already. You see, in 1986 Mattel decided to hold a contest where kids could submit their own ideas for characters. The winner, twelve-year-old Nathan Bitner, would receive a $100,000 scholarship, a five-day Disneyland vacation, and see his character Fearless Photog join the Masters of the Universe ranks as an honest-to-goodness action figure. Or that was the plan anyway.
As the saying goes, two out of three ain’t bad.
For reasons that have never been made totally clear, the figure never got made. Most knowledgeable parties tend to agree that it was probably some combination of the line’s waning popularity and the fact that the character would have required all new tooling. To Mattel’s credit, they did finally get Fearless Photog made twenty-six (!) years later as part of their Masters of the Universe Classics series.
Absolutely none of this changes the fact that this is a man with a camera for a head.
I mean no disrespect towards Bitner. It’s a hell of a lot more creative a design than I ever would have come up with at age twelve. Hell, it’s probably better than I can do at age thirty-one! And the character’s power even makes sense within the scope of his design. As he records his enemies with his face, he magically drains their life energy and projects their defeated image across his chest.
Actually, now that I write that out – that’s kind of ****ing dark for a twelve-year-old. Are we sure Photog isn’t, like, an Eternian serial killer?
Either way, Eternia may be a pretty crazy place, but…it may not quite be crazy enough for ol’ camera head here. Also, I just realized I’m vetoing the guy with a movie camera for a head when talking about the movie. Ha!
…I wonder if his head shoots IMAX?
What say you? Is there a particular character you think would rock our socks in the theater? Or one you hope to Grayskull never sees the silver screen?
Previously by Jeb Whitlock
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