“I saw the rough cuts, I listened to Dolph Lundgren’s voice and I just about had a heart attack,” a Mattel executive says in the 2012 documentary ‘Toy Masters.’
When Masters of the Universe came out in 1987, Dolph Lundgren had only two movie credits under his belt, and neither of those characters said much.
The towering, muscle-bound Swedish actor had a bit part in the 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill, but was better known for another role he played that year, that of the imposing Russian boxer Ivan Drago (who had only nine lines) in Rocky IV.
So, when it was time for him to take up the mantle as He-Man, there were concerns, not so much whether he looked the part, but if the audience would even be able to understand him, according to the 2012 documentary Toy Masters. The live-action film was from the now-defunct Cannon Films, based on the popular toy line from Mattel.
As the ’80s cult classic turns 30 on Monday, Heat Vision took a look back via the documentary at some of the struggles the production faced, including a portion of the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor (Frank Langella) being fought on an empty stage, with a single light source because production had been shut down before they could finish.
“I saw the rough cuts, I listened to Dolph Lundgren’s voice and I just about had a heart attack,” Paul Cleveland, Mattel marketing executive says in the documentary. “It’s OK if He-Man has a little bit of an accent, but you have got to be able to understand him.”
The then-30-year-old Lundgren apparently struggled with his lines, and both Cleveland and director Gary Goddard wanted him dubbed, but the actor had it written into his contract that he got three attempts to get it right before he would be looped by someone else, the Mattel executive says in the documentary.
“We actually did bring in a few actors to loop test, to show the studio, and one of them was flawless,” Goddard tells doc makers Corey Landis and Roger Lay Jr. “To this day, I wish we would’ve done it, but [producer] Menahem [Golan] was like, ‘Nope. We’re going to stick with Dolph.'”
Cleveland noted Lundgren “finally got it to where it wasn’t too bad.”
The film was plagued with difficulties from day one, according to Toy Masters, and they mostly revolved around money, or lack thereof.
It got so dire toward the end, production was shut down before the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor could be filmed. “It was literally someone picking up a card and putting it in front of the camera and saying, ‘You’re done,’ while I’m in the middle of a shot,” Goddard says in the 2012 film.
The director had to scrape by as best he could in an effort to complete his movie, which included working in the dark set with the instantly invented narrative that the bad guy and good guy were so powerful, when their swords hit for the first time, it sucked all the power out of the room, he says in the documentary.
“Even though we shut down the set, I got Skeletor and Dolph and the [director of photography] and I got them to let me shoot some footage of them battling … it was a very quick choreographing job,” Goddard says. “We kept the lights out. We back-lit them so we had enough so we could piece together the battle.”
The film went on to flop with a little more than $17 million at the box office.
Watch a portion of Toy Masters, including the casting notes on a then-unknown Courteney Cox, below: