In 10 Words or Less
A toy commercial takes on a life of its own
Loves: '80s nostalgia
Likes: Action Figures
Dislikes: Orko, Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Hates: Having childhood memories ruined
"He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" was created in that special time known as the '80s, when toy companies set the youth cultural agenda, and kids sat in front of televisions every afternoon and Saturday morning, fueled on sugar and hooked on the latest animated sales pitch. Whether it was "G.I. Joe," "Transformers" or "He-Man," as long as there was an action-figure line to push, and a kid with a Wish Book, there would be a cartoon for them.
"He-Man" was one of the more brazen brands in the genre, as the toy company, Mattel, already had their toy line and just needed a direct line to the kids. Thus, classic animation studio Filmation was called in to set-up the pipeline. But instead of letting the toy-based limitations inflicted upon them by Mattel force them to crank out mass-produced crud, they handed the show to a young and imaginative staff of animators and writers, who turned out 130 episodes of classic fantasy fun. They may not hold up well today, as the shows can be a bit preachy (and goofy too) but they are essentially harmless and still pretty fun.
He-Man suffered from the classic Superman conflict, complete with a quick change, as he lived part of his life as Prince Adam, a lazy, spoiled royal, and the other part as He-Man, the mightiest man in the universe. Why exactly he needed to live his dual life is unclear, but he tries to keep up the ruse anyway, even changing his wimpy cat Cringor into Battlecat, a mighty feline steed. He-Man is directly from the Conan school of heroes, with a shoulder-length haircut, broadswoard and furry underpants, and a physique to rival Arnold Schwarzenegger. His pals Teela, a breast-plated beauty, her adopted dad, inventor Man-at-Arms, comic-relief magician Orko and The Sorceress help him in his battles, but most of the time, he could get things done himself.
His main enemy is Skeletor, a rather muscular walking skeleton who comes across more like a sitcom character than a villain. Much like "G.I. Joe"'s Cobra Commander, Skeletor is an ineffective leader, one who does more complaining than leading, and listening to him whine doesn't inspire much fear. He'd be much more impressive as a boss in an office. His stable of henchmen isn't much better, with fantastic skills like seeing (Tri-Klops) and swimming (Mer-man). With the imaginative names they have, it wouldn't be surprising to find out that Skeletor was in charge of that as well. Not that He-Man's gang had much better names. Ram Man?
The 10 episodes included on this DVD are supposed to be the 10 best, as selected from the series' 130 episodes (five from each season). That these represent the best might not say much for the rest of the run, but there's nothing here that screams awful. Among those included are a quartet of Paul Dini ("Batman: The Animated Series") creations, "Teela's Quest," "Prince Adam No More," "Quest for He-man" and "To Save Skeletor," as well as a J. Michael Straczynski ("Babylon 5") classic, "Origin of the Sorceress."
Looking at the episodes, there's quite a bit of repetition in terms of themes, as Teela and Sorceress episodes are heavily represented, along with episodes about Prince Adam renouncing his powers and team-up between He-Man and Skeletor. Considering how these episodes were chosen (by Internet vote), these might be better termed the most popular, instead of the best. Any guess why there's so many Teela/Sorceress episodes included when you think of it that way?
One of the more interesting aspects of the series, and one I had forgotten about, is the moral. Every episode ends with a direct address by one of the characters to the audience, delivering a life lesson based on the plot. Instead of making these "educational" portions their own story, like "G.I. Joe" did, they are done somewhat ham-handedly. Considering that I didn't even remember them, but could recite some of the "Joe" endings like Bible passages, it seems like the "He-Man" technique didn't work as well. It was certainly odd to be preached to about the environment by a secondary character like Zodac.
#1 "Teela's Quest"
#2 "Diamond Ray of Disappearance"
#3 "Prince Adam No More"
#4 "Quest for He-Man"
#1 "Origin of the Sorceress"
#2 "The Problem with Power"
#3 "To Save Skeletor"
#4 "Teela's Triumph"
#5 "Into the Abyss"
The best of "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" was released on two DVDs, one per season, in a four-panel, two-tray digipak with an embossed slipcase. The digipak is nicely designed, with plenty of art from the series, and is split, half good and half evil. Inside a pocket in the digipak are a pair of beautifully-printed 4" x 6" art cards, one by animation legend Bruce Timm ("Batman: The Animated Series") and one by artist Adam Hughes.
The discs feature animated full-frame menus, with the show's title art and the trademark drawbridge of Castle Greyskull, before entering the Sorceress' throne room, which offers choices to play all the episodes, select individual episodes, or view the special features. As a nice touch, the cursor is in the shape of He-Man's sword. Annoyingly though, the drawbridge animation repeats each time it's called. There are no language options, subtitles or closed captioning.
Inside the episode select menus are well-designed options to play an episode, with the synopsis, episode number and creative team listed to the right and an animated preview displayed below in Skeletor's communication device. Chapter selections inside each episode are available, with animated previews, scene titles and a selection of "Orko's Fun Facts" about the episode.
The Filmation intro screen and its well-remembered sound is included with each episode, but the Orko bumpers are not. For nostalgia value, they would be appreciated, but I read something about them not being available to the DVD producers.
Before I get into the quality, I'd like to point out an ongoing controversy regarding the episodes on these DVDs. The transfers presented on these DVDs were created from PAL masters, which run slightly faster than the NTSC version that was seen in America in the '80s. As a result, the voices pitch a bit higher and the music is a bit faster than they were originally for American children. Some fans are taking this as blasphemy, some don't care. Your own opinion will depend on how well you remember the originals. The story behind the transfers can be found all over online, but as far as I'm concerned, its not a big deal, as the change is very slight. Try and find the easter eggs for the chance to make your own easy comparison.
After watching those eggs, it became extremely obvious that the video on these DVDs is incredibly improved. Colors are bright and vivid, images are strong and solid, and the level of detail in this hand-painted animation is very nice. Brushstrokes that make wind lines and backgrounds are beautifully reproduced. As far as negative marks go, there's some dirt and damage scattered throughout the episodes, especially on light backgrounds, and some pixilation is evident in thinner lines and is heavy during Cringor's transformation. Those negatives are hardly distracting though, and one should marvel at how great these episodes look. Though the animation is severely limited, for what it is, it looks great.
The audio is a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation of a mono mix that sounds great, likely better than it sounded back when it originally aired. Though recorded flatly, the sound is pretty full, with strong sound effects and well-recorded dialogue. Listening to the episodes, I actually noticed parts of the "He-Man" theme I never caught before, like the low He-Man stings. The only thing I might change is the volume levels, which are a bit low.
The main extras are the two Top Five featurettes, one for each season. The featurettes are broken down by episode, presenting the top five from fifth to first. Interviews with many of the crew, including Dini and Straczynski, as well as one fan/art collector, make up the bulk of the material, along with some clips to illustrate memories. The interviews will certainly appeal to fans of the series, as behind-the-scenes info is shared, including plenty of bits about Skeletor and how he wasn't loved in France.
The good and the bad of the series' production are covered in these featurettes, but mainly they stick to the episodes being discussed. It felt like these could have been better produced, as some of the interview clips drag a bit, and voiceovers could have been used a bit more to maintain flow. Season One's featurette runs about 30 minutes, while Season Two's clocks in at 35 minutes.
Also of great interest to fans will be a pair of scripts for "Teela's Quest" and "Origin of the Sorceress," available when the DVDs are run in a DVD-ROM drive. There's also a commercial for the season box sets, which runs slightly over a minute, and talks about what will be in those sets. She-Ra fans should be excited about how much the Princess of Power appears in this clip.
On the Hunt
There's at least two easter eggs in this set, one per disc. Check out DVDTalk's Easter Egg section for more info.
The Bottom Line
10 episodes of He-Man might be all any casual fan of the show really needs. While watching these "best-of" collections, I found myself laughing at Skeletor, goofing on He-Man and ogling The Sorceress (something I am not proud of), but I didn't find myself jonesing for more. Perhaps its not the same watching it without being able to run to J.C. Penney's to pick up a Stinkor figure, or not being a wide-eyed kid, but these episodes don't hold the same thrill factor they once did for me. For nostalgia value alone though, they are fantastic, and the extras and great quality are nice touches. I could definitely see myself getting the rest of the series for my kids to watch, but for myself, this set should do the trick.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.