Monday, April 13, 2009

HERCULES: HALF MAN. HALF GOD. ALL POWER.

Year: 2005

Run Time: 127 minutes (listed); 129 minutes (actual)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Cast: Paul Telfer, Sean Astin, Leelee Sobieski, Kim Coates, Timothy Dalton, Elizabeth Perkins, Leeanna Walsman, Peter McCauley, Kristian Schmid.

Director: Roger Young

Official Sites: RHI Entertainment (US), Magna Pacific (Aus)

DVD Features

  • Full Screen
  • Scene Selection
  • Trailers
  • Hercules: The Myth Comes Alive (featurette)

PREMISE: A retelling of the Hercules story on par with Nero or Augustus that creates it's own narrative while managing to construct a simple yet moderately entertaining tale that follows the life of a would be hero called Hercules.

THE REALITY: This movie/mini series, while ludicrous at times, walks a fine line between being an tedious bore and mildly amusing. Alas roughly the first hour is spent on the machinations of characters not called Hercules. In fact the titular hero isn't even born yet when the series starts.

THE STORY: The followers of Hera (being women) and Zeus (being men) are in constant conflict with each other. This conflict fuels the palace intrigues and inter cult machinations that shape the cultural mores which form the societal tapestry into which Hercules is born, raised, and has to live his life. For Hercules, being a man, that apparently means his lot in life is to suffer.

ASSESSMENT: In a bold move the scriptwriter for Hercules decided not to start the story with the titular character but to instead waste screen time presenting the ridiculously contrived intrigues of peripheral characters, including a very gender specific religious animosity fueling the hatred between followers of Zues and Hera; storylines that would have been better left on the cutting room floor. The story of Hercules doesn't really get started until nearly a third of the way in. Even then the action is disappointing. But what's really shockingly bad is the CGI. Certain CGI creatures are so poorly rendered they are a distraction. This is not immediately evident in stills but. .

While that doesn't seem that bad; upon closer examination. .

The CGI just sticks out like a sore thumb. And the VFX suffers from the usual problems of budget productions. For instance the following, when viewed during play, looks like Gollum on a horse. .

But when you take a close look at the still you notice something far worse. The CGI graphic appears to be a poor quality 2D paint overlay. There really was no need for such cheap CGI graphics. The production could have done everything live action and it would have looked far better. Witness these characters. .

Otherwise this is not that bad, once it actually gets around to telling the story of Hercules. Alas the story is set against a backdrop of palace intrigues and religious conflict fueled by the hatred of Zeus and Hera cultists; meaning men and women. Herein resides a gender themed morality play framed as a parable about religion. Which begs the question: Is this about the mythological hero, Hercules, or is it about palace intrigues and religious machinations of the followers of Hera and Zeus?

The 'movie' portrays the followers of Zeus as pompous rapist zealots who love nothing more than to get drunk and ram their swords into other men and, believe it or not, the harridan followers of Hera are even worse! The Hera cultists are conniving harlots who hold life, particularly male life, to be meaningless. They've no qualms with committing infanticide nor using male children as proxy instruments of murder. They use potions and poison as a matter of course. Alas there is not really any subtext here beyond a sad commentary that religion is a morally corrupting influence on humanity. A message, if indeed that was the intent, that could have been delivered wasting far less of the audience's time. Then again a major chunk of this feature is missing. .

MISSING SCENES

I vaguely recollect watching the miniseries when it aired yet, watching the DVD, something seemed wrong; like the listed run time of 127 minutes. Similar Hallmark/RHI releases in my video library that were miniseries events have run times of 170± minutes. That is a clue as blatant as the thunder crack of doom from the hairy unkempt gorilla occupying the cubicle next to you that a big stink is about to fill the room.

Why the disparity? Taking a wild guess based on information found online this may have something to do with NBC. According to archived articles found online a truncated 3-hour version of the 4-hour miniseries aired at 8 P.M. on NBC, Monday, May 16, 2005. However I seem to recall seeing this either on the USA network or the Sci-Fi channel. As both are subsidiaries of NBC Universal it's even possible the mini series aired on both networks. In short the R1 DVD contains a truncated/ edited version of the mini series.



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ALTERNATE VERSIONS: It appears there are numerous releases of Hercules with virtually all save the Thai and R1 release in wide screen. The Thai release is likely a direct port of the R1 release. However the listed run time of the Japanese DVD release is 178 minutes, the Netherlands release lists a run time of 161 minutes, the New Zealand DVD clocks in at 170 minutes, as does the Australian DVD release. Considering some of those releases appear to be in wide screen that's ample proof that R1 consumers got shafted. But why release such a severely cut version only to R1 DVD? Sadly I don't have an answer. It is curious that NBC aired a edited version and a similarly truncated version was released only to R1 DVD. So what's missing?

THE MINI-SERIES: The mini series runs 177 minutes, sans commercials, and contains many minor, yet significant, differences. The most noticeable found in the opening scene. To those who have only seen the faux "theatrical edit" on the R1 DVD the forest ritual from the opening scene is presented with an entirely different context.

In the DVD this ritual elapses over the course of barely 2-3 minutes as the narration plays and the scene cuts back and forth from the forest to a ship battered by turbulent seas. Here the ritual's tone, despite being led by priestesses of Hera, has an oddly Celtic feel. Too the invocations are brief, baffling, and do not reflect the Hera of actual Greek mythology. It's all rather confused for in this truncated version we are witness to what is, essentially, a ritual sacrifice more befitting a chthonic or underworld deity, which Hera most certainly is not.

Viewing this same scene in the mini series is a revelation for it is expanded over several minutes. It's form and function therein provides more depth and, though seeming to be a paraphrased amalgam of neo-pagan harvest ritual and Invocation of the Goddess possibly mixing in confused mis-remembrances of Pliny's account of the Druid's ritual of oak and mistletoe, at least presents the Hera worshippers as being more than some blood crazed murder cult meeting in the dark wood. .

There's more dialogue, character interaction, reveling, and other situations not seen in the R1 DVD version. This changes the entire subtext of the scene from morbid ritual one might expect to find evil Druids officiating at on some dark Samhain eve in a horror feature to a elaborate, if curious, harvest/fertility ritual complete with sacrificial harvest king. There is much dancing, merry making, and musical accompaniment and the scene goes on for 5-6 minutes! The DVD version is edited so that Leelee Sobieski's Dryad character (the series simply refers to her as a Nymph). .

Seems to be officiating over the sacrifice. In the mini series the Dryad is an non-participant observer watching the ceremony from her perch in a nearby tree. There is a brief exchange between two women making fun of the fact the Nymph has "chosen the path of the virgin goddess" and does not want to participate in the ceremony by pairing up with one of the blindfolded men to engage in ritual sex. The entire tone of the scene, not to mention the audience's perception of Leelee Sobieski's character, is thus altered!

VERDICT: This is supposed to be about Hercules, the mythical hero whose deeds became legend, not some frenzied fictionalized pseudo feminist (or whatever) screed disguised as an exploration of neo-pagan Hellenic cults. Taking into account the disparity between versions viewed it's clear American audiences were cheated by the Lions Gate DVD. A lame attempt to rescue this nonsense with voice over narration proclaiming it pure fantasy (even that was bungled) begins with the opening narration: "Come back in time, not to a century or millennia, but to an age outside history. A time of myth and fantasy."

Myth IS history as represented in legend, folklore, and tradition. It is NOT synonymous with fantasy, which intimates made up nonsense or make believe. This narration smacks of being an weak eleventh hour attempt to pull the wool over the audiences eyes with a bait and switch. It is a epic fail and unnecessary. However sticklers for film adaptations sticking close to the source material may want to avoid this. This version of the Hercules legend presents a faux neo-pagan fantasy using creatures and character names lifted primarily from the Greco-Roman myth cycle set in lands of a generic and ill defined distant antiquity. It is thus no worse than the typical dumbed down Disney cartoon version of mythology. This Hercules is thus not proper Greek mythology, but that will only matter to the handful of people who've actually studied mythology and know that a Dryad is but one type of Nymph. What matters is cohesiveness of story and presentation. In this regard the mini series is the superior edit while the R1 DVD is a overtly long bad movie that's an interesting, if flawed, production worth seeing at least once.

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Copyright © Demetrius Morgan

8 comments:

Tars Tarkas said...

Who would win if Robocop fought Hercules?

Kester Pelagius said...

The Hercules of this movie would probably lose against Robosmurf, so I'm going to say ROBOCOP with the KO after 9 seconds. ;)

Gene Phillips said...

Thanks for the info. I never woulda thought the DVD version would be the one that got its mistletoe balls cut off, as it were.

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Marcus said...

do you have the Sci-Fi version the one that aired on there.