Masters of The Universe
Daily Express 15th May 1987
A FANTASTIC plot is being hatched for the conquest of Britain. Plans are being made in hushed late-night transatlantic telephone conversations and the secret talks revolve around two cliff-hanger questions:
Will Britain succumb again to the Masters Of The Universe ? Will the nation's parents give in to the nagging of their children ? In the four years from 1982 more than £100 million was spent in the UK on He-Man and other action figures and paraphernalia linked to the Masters of the Universe toys.
This year's figures are not being disclosed. They are said to be good—taut not at their peak.
Mattel Toys, with their headquarters on the outskirts of Los Angeles and a British team based in Leicestershire, expect to change all that.
"We are planning the most concentrated marketing campaign ever," revealed the company's international marketing director Ken Ulrick who has just returned to Los Angeles after a UK visit.
And having taken over comic books and television... the success of the new battle for parents' purses rests with a movie version of Masters of the Universe—and on the broad shoulders of former Mr Grace Jones and Rocky IV antagonist Dolph Lundgren.
The blond, tall figure of bulging bicep is bringing to life the superhero favourite of boys aged from three to nine years old.
Although the film is not in cinemas here until next month you can see teenagers driving the California freeways with bumper stickers reading "Wanna be Dolt"
Lundgren expects to be He-Man for several films. Mattel and producer Ed "Pressman anticipated the sword and sorcery series to run like the big screen Superman and Star Trek features.
And marketing man Ulrick savours the idea of this "Timeless fantasy." In the £13 million movie version—a big slice of the budget went on creating a mock marble Castle Grayskull with roaring firepit, at Hollywood's Laird Studios.
In the film the troop from Eternia find themselves stuck on Earth. He-Man and his cronies must get home with the help of Earthlings, including Courtney Cox, the girl in Bruce Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark video, and—wait for it—new Masters characters.
They include Gwildor, a good but misguided techno-Genius who gets everyone in trouble in the first place. Also He-Man's nemesis Skeletor, played by Dracula star Frank Langella and his nasty companion Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster) get bad guy cronies Slade and Gaurod.
Which, of course, means with the planned UK Christmas release of the movie there will be new toys crowding the shop shelves.
Ulrick says: "We've got to expand to keep the interest. A boy's attention span is much Shorter than a girl's. Girls will play with the same doll for months. Boys stay with them for a much shorter time.
" We find at three years old it is their first toy. They may take it in the bath but they don't get into the ongoing story of Eternia until they're older.
" Those aged from four to six and seven are the main group. The story is more popular in Britain than America.
" During the four years to 1986 we did more than one hundred million pounds of business. The peak was 1985 and it's slumped from that.
" But this year our marketing and advertising will revolve around the movie."
The Masters TV cartoon series is syndicated in 32 countries and seen five afternoons a week across America.
But the film version took producer Ed Pressman, who was behind the Conan films as well as Meryl Streep's Plenty and David Byrne's True Stories, three years to negotiate.
" It took time to convince people that we were a proper company and our aim was to make a good original film, although different from what is seen on the cartoon shows.
" We didn't want to make a film aimed only at five-year-old children. It had to appeal to the general audience or at least to the teenage Star Wars audience.
" There will be new toys in the shops, absolutely. It's a big advantage having a popular name—it's also a handicap to be overcome. We were turned down by many studios because at first glance it appeared to be a children's commodity. I like to remember that Star Wars and ET had the same problem."
His other quite literally big problem was finding an acceptable He-Man. Superheroes may look like trees but they don't grow on them.
Pressman saw Lundgren on a TV talk show and was impressed.
Take of the blue satin jacket he was wearing when we met and Lundgren seems the perfect He-Man.
Lundgren said of the character : " He-Man doesn't necessarily get out of bad situations because he's the strongest and cuts off somebody's head. He might do it by using his wits. It's a little different to some other physical characters in the last couple of years. Not so much Rambo.
" Of course, the critics will try to put this character down, but that's basically being jealous. There has always been a need for heroes and their ideals. I mean, all the way back from the Greek gods and Homer and Shakespeare and Hamlet. All those guys were larger than life.
" He-Man is a good role model for kids. I'm not committed to He-Man for ever and ever. But, yes, for a couple more movies. The part is an J
Of course, Mattel's dream is that the world will love Lundgren from here to Eternia —and that the Masters of the Universe will win the battle of Britain's toyshops.
Keeping hefty He-Man super clean
DURING the three arduous months that actor Dolph Lundgren toiled In secrecy as He-Man in the £13 million fantasy film Masters of the Universe he was under close scrutiny every moment.
His watchdog was John Weems, a top executive with the California Mattel toy company, and his mission was clear: To make certain that the Image of He-Man, their phenomenally successful hot-selling toy, never tarnished.
Explained Weems: "He-Man means over a billion dollars In sales to us. My job was to make sure our Investment was not getting a black or bloody eye."
A few years ago the giant toy company signed a fat deal with Hollywood to manufacture Conan the Barbarian toys to cash In on the expected success of the Arnold Schwart-zenegger fllm. But the deal flopped.
Conan was so blatantly violent that the company decided It would be commercial suicide to bring out a Conan doll aimed at the children's market.
Today Mattel Is delighted with the choice of Lundgren as the blond Adonis He-Man.
Lundgren, best remembered as the vicious Russian heavyweight Ivan Drago who swapped punches with Rocky Balboa In Rocky IV, understands the company's concern.
"They don't want their all-American hero turned into a cold-blooded killer. There are no buckets of blood hi this film, no severed heads."
He-Man is a hero the world over. If he blotted his cinematic copybook Mattel Toys know It could be commercially fatal.
Hollywood has often turned to the comics to bring characters like Superman, Popeye, Flash Gordon and Orphan Annie to life on the screen. This is the first time a big-budget film has spun off from a toy.
After a long search Mattel and Cannon Films signed the Stockholm-reared athlete to play the most powerful warrior of the futuristic planet Paradise.
Looking like a candidate for the Mr World contest in gold and steel breastplate, baring his muscular body, Lundgren talked about taking the role. He worked religiously to turn his 6ft 61n frame Into 17st of sheer muscle.
"I didn't want to do this at first," he admitted. "I thought It sounded too much like a cartoon. I'm sure Christopher Reeve felt the same way when he first considered Superman.
"But I know this flm can go one of two ways, It can die or be a massive hit.
"He-Man Is a million miles from Drago, the fighting Russian heavyweight machine In Rocky IV. In this film I'm an American good-guy, a hero, who smiles, who can talk, and has a few good one-liners. Basically, He-Man's a leader not only because he's physical but because he's smart."
Lundgren said he understands why the toy company Is nervous about excessive violence.
"It's a bit like Disney keeping a watchful eye out for the Image of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.
"He-Man Is truly a Renaissance man, and this makes him a tremendous role model for children in these confusing and changing times."
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