There are a few things that I’m a sucker for, like Dolly Mix, a Saturday morning lie-in, and cheesy action flicks. But most of all, the two things I struggle to resist more than anything are backing exciting crowdfunding projects and waxing nostalgic about the 1980s. Therefore, when I saw Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe while browsing Kickstarter I had no choice but to back it. The other day, after more than two years in the making, I finally received notice that the film was finished and ready for backers to view. If the ZX Vega+ debacle has taught us anything, it’s that receiving a crowdfunded product is always a double-edged sword. Yes, you finally get your hands on the thing you waited months or even years for, but often it doesn’t turn out to be quite what you expected. So, of course, when my copy turned up the other day I sat down with great anticipation to watch it. So is Power of Grayskull actually any good?
The short answer is “Yes. It’s a fascinating insight into a cultural phenomenon!” However, certain circumstances have made such a declaration much more complicated. To give Definitive Film their due, they were very attentive project creators, providing regular informative updates on production every step of the way – including the devastating news in November 2016 that a fire destroyed large swathes of their studio including equipment, sets, props and hundreds of dollars worth of irreplaceable collectables (a fact that, as a collector of classic Star Wars toys almost made me weep). This set the production back several months and unfortunately led to Power Of Grayskull missing its expected December 2017 release date. To make matters worse the Netflix original factual series The Toys That Made Us featured an episode on – yep, you guessed it – Masters Of The Universe.
Fortunately, Definitive Film and their production team FauxPop Media have something of a reputation for making a pretty good documentary, having previously produced well-received films on Conan The Barbarian (whose story is intertwined with that of He-Man’s), the SEGA Dreamcast game Shenmue, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What’s fascinating to note is that Power of Grayskull quickly skips over many of the well-known stories that The Toys That Made Us covered (MOTU‘s inception as a prototype Conan doll, crazy original character ideas like Bullet Head and Tank Head, Battle Cat starting life as a repainted tiger from the Big Jim toy line) and instead opts to dedicate time to other facets of He-Man’s story over his 36 year history. This includes particularly enjoyable looks at how fantasy art of the 70s and 80s by luminaries such as Boris Vallejo inspired the toy packaging and the rotoscoping techniques Filmation used to build up a library of character animations. There’s also plenty of info on the spin-off She-Ra: Princess Of Power (aimed specifically at girls, although which gathered quite a large male following), the celebrated 2008 Classics line, the much-derided, but beautifully animated 1990 relaunch The New Adventures Of He-Man and the far more successful 2002 reboot of the cartoon.
On top of all that, what makes Power of Grayskull that little bit extra-special is its coverage of the 1987 movie. We’ve all heard the stories of Cannon’s financial problems, leading to last minute changes in the film, sets being dismantled around the actors during filming and how a failed attempt at a sequel led to the Van Damme dystopian adventure Cyborg – and many of these are touched upon briefly – but Power of Grayskull‘s outlook is much more positive and so we also get oodles of production material that I hadn’t ever seen before: Concept artwork for props and costumes, some really spectacular sets designs and matte paintings and footage of the sword fighting choreography amongst much more behind the scenes paraphernalia. And then we get Power of Grayskull‘s crowning glory: interviews with the film’s two leads, Dolph Lundgren (He-Man) and Frank Langella (Skeletor), who talk at length, quite affectionately, about the fun they had making the movie.
In fact, the number of on-screen contributors is staggering. There are former Mattel designers and executives, animators and producers from Filmation, voice actors (it’s a joy seeing Alan Oppenheimer do his Skeletor and Mer-Man voices), comic book artists and even MOTU collectors and historians (now I know what I want to do when I grow up), all who have their own unique stories to tell about the effect being involved in the rich fantasy world of He-Man had on their lives
If, like me, you have a fondness for vintage toys and you’ve got an hour and a half to spare I’d highly recommend it.
Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is available on Netflix from Friday 24th August and the Chasing Grayskull playlist on FauxPop’s YouTube channel contains several hours of special features.