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MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
Particularly enjoyable Williams-esque orchestral fantasy score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
It's hard, looking back, to understand not just how Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus - of Cannon Films - not only avoided bankruptcy earlier than they did, but avoided being committed to some sort of institution, given the astonishing number of absolutely awful, but expensive films they made, almost all of which seem to have been given critical bashings and made little money. Masters of the Universe was not a total flop, but it was a reasonably expensive film for what it was, for despite the popularity of the cartoon and the action figures. One thing they did manage was to get a few fine film composers on board (even though they usually had to work with synths or lesser foreign orchestras) - and for He-Man's big-screen adventure, Bill Conti was given the opportunity.
Conti has, shall we say, never been afraid of drawing heavy influences from other musical styles, and here it's (understandably) John Williams - the fantastic main theme is obviously modelled on Superman, and the remainder of the opening track seems to draw not just from that score, but Star Wars too - but I have to say, there's a reason that Williams is so popular, and Conti being such an enjoyable composer himself, this is tremendously entertaining music. That main theme is the highlight, but otherwise it's constant action and adventure for the entire 76-minute score, thrillingly-orchestrated (though less thrillingly-performed).
That performance issue is a real shame - with a better orchestra playing this music, it would sound absolutely fantastic, but the German musicians (perhaps not used to the kind of sight-reading techniques the Hollywood and London musicians who usually perform film scores are) don't quite seem up to the job. Sadly the flaw also extends to the recording which, despite being by Mike Ross, is a little on the muddy side and certainly doesn't produce the kind of expansive sound this type of music always demands. Fortunately neither of these flaws is enough to spoil the music, which can still be thoroughly enjoyed on its own terms.
I've always been a little puzzled, given the popularity of Williams's scores from the late 70s and early 80s, that there haven't been more full-bodied orchestral action/adventure scores like this one. While it has been stated so often it has simply become accepted as truth, the notion that Star Wars inspired a whole wave of orchestral film music has never sat entirely true with me - more accurate surely is that it inspired a few knock-off films, which had a similar style of score. Despite the obvious influences, Conti is actually a pretty distinctive composer so you would never think you were listening to a Williams score here, but it's certainly the type of score which will appeal to a very similar set of people (and also fans of the other reasonably similar full-on orchestral adventures of the last couple of decades, things like Krull and Cutthroat Island).
This has always been a popular score (and it's not hard to see why) - there was a very early album from Varese Sarabande at the time of the film, which didn't stay in print for long; five years later Silva Screen and Edel released an extended version, featuring almost the whole score, which has also been out of print for a long time; and now La-La Land has put out 3,000 copies of the entire score. There are only about five minutes of unreleased music here, and the whole thing could have fitted on one disc, but the label has included the original album presentation following the full score (like Intrada did with The Wind and the Lion). I wouldn't necessarily say that it's essential for those who already have the previous album to upgrade, but for those who don't - and who are fans of Conti, or of Williams's larger-than-life scores of that period, then it's a no-brainer.