Release Date(s)2014 (November 4, 2014)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B+
If you saw the trailer for Hercules this past summer, you probably felt the way I did – this is gonna suck. Based on the trailer alone, it had a lot of stuff going against it. It’s based on a comic book series not many know of, it was directed by someone a lot of people don’t have a lot of faith in anymore (Brett Ratner), and the special effects looked a bit cartoonish. That’s a lot of “nope” for one major summer movie to showcase. It didn’t help that a separate Hercules (Renny Harlin’s The Legend of) came out earlier and failed to impress. Did the world really NEED two Hercules films in one year? No. No, the world certainly did not. But, this Hercules does have that one thing going for it: Dwayne Johnson. Johnson is in no way our greatest actor, but he does have him some charisma and he can hold a film together. So with all the cons and that one pro, I decided to go ahead and watch the film for a Blu-ray review and damnit, I wish Hollywood learned how to make trailers better, because this film really is something of a joy to behold. Every single one of the cons I had, immediately melted away because I understood exactly why this film got made and I was glad it did when all was said and done.
The first thing you need to know is, this is not the film you were expecting. Structurally, especially. The trailer makes you think that this is a Hercules film about the demi-god we all love. But it’s not. It also makes you think the effects are going to suck – and they don’t once you get through it. There is a reason they look the way they do. Let me explain (and I guess it’s a spoiler alert – but it shouldn’t be because knowing this really makes the film work). In this iteration of Hercules, we learn that all of the labors have been blown wildly out of proportion. The myth of Hercules is just that – a myth. The effects that come off so cartoonish are purposefully overstated and outlandish because all of what we know, didn’t quite happen that way. It’s all an epic story being told by Hercules’ cousin Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), whose job it is to blow the story up so everyone is afraid of Herc when he comes around. You see, Hercules is a travelling mercenary with a dark past. He’s assembled a team that works with him in the shadows making him seem even more badass than he is. His childhood friend and master of knives Autolycus (Rufus Sewell) is his right hand man. There’s also the Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Berdal), Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) a beast of a man who Hercules saved as a boy, and the oracle Amphiaraus (an always fantastic Ian McShane) who, as legend has it, knows the day and way of his death; entering every battle knowing he’ll win (until the day he doesn’t). It’s not a new idea to treat a myth as a human story, but the set-up for this one was fun – it opens with the myth – all big and bold with CG monsters and then we see it’s a tale being told by a bound and just about to die Iolaus just as Herc comes in, saves the day and we get a glimpse of the mechanics of how Hercules pulls off the illusion of myth. It’s rather well done and reset my expectations for the film within the first fifteen minutes.
Once we get the set up done, we come to learn, like any good merc – Hercules and his team are working to get out. They just need to pull one more big score and they can all separate and Hercules can afford to buy an island off of Athens and retire. That’s when Lord Cotys (John Hurt) and his pompous General Sitacles (Peter Mullan) come to him with a mission they shouldn’t take but do: train the farmers of Thrace to capably battle against a local warlord named Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann). For this they will get double their weight in gold. This Seven Samurai set-up seems like a gig that is too good to be true – and of course it is. Life crushingly so. Look, Hercules is not a groundbreaking film – but as a summer action yarn and a sword and sandal one at that, it gets the job done and I really enjoyed every second of this film. It’s not a great cinematic piece, but not everything is supposed to be.
(Side note of one of the cons: truth be told: Brett Ratner isn’t a bad director. He’s made some good, solid films. But his personality in this age of excess Internet access, excess fan boy opinion and excess information overall isn’t a good combo for selling him as a name director to his core audience. Say what you will, but Ratner loves movies and moviemaking and this film showcases that. I think every good filmmaker has a “sword and sandal” movie in them – some have gotten to make one, some probably won’t. But in the pantheon of good modern ones: Hercules is on the list.)
Overall, this presentation is about as perfect as you could get. It gets boring to write and read that nowadays, but it’s true. The film is presented at a 2.40 aspect ratio (1080p) with good colors, solid blacks and all that. Sound is DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio doing what it does – sounding all cinematic and big. Dialogue is balanced, channel separation is sold and there is good rattle and boom. For those looking, on board are optional French and Spanish DD 5.1with English, SDH, French, and Spanish subs.
The bonus features are okay. Fluffy and PR driven at best – nothing immersive. First up, there are two cuts of the film – the theatrical and the extended cut. The extended cut drops in about four minutes of character stuff around General Sitacles and some more darkness for Herc. I prefer the extended cut, but if you like your movies as you saw them in theaters, that’s here too. The theatrical cut is where you will find a commentary with Ratner and producer Beau Flynn. It’s a good discussion covering Ratner’s want to do a sword and sandal feature, the comic source, all of the ins and out of development – it’s a good solid standard commentary. Enjoyable but nothing earth-shattering. There are also about fifty or so minutes of featurettes – all, as I said, PR EPK based, but well-produced and informative. There an Introduction with Ratner and Dwayne Johnson talking about this being a passion project for both of them. Hercules and His Mercenaries looks at the cast in their own words. Weapons! showcases some of the rather cool weapon designs in the film. The Bessi Battle is about stunts and choreography looking at the barbarian horde fight marking the turning point of the film. And The Effects is just what you think it is: special and computer generated effects. Closing it all out is a selection of Deleted and Extended Scenes. There are fifteen total, running about fifteen minutes and all of it could very well have made it back into the film – and some should have; including a nice send-off for one of the characters and a happy ending that maybe put too much of a bow on the film – but this type of film deserves that kind of hooray of a wrap up.
I have no idea how they could have made a better trailer, but I know they could have. If they sold this film a little better – maybe kept the big effects out and focused on the mercenary angle – this film wouldn’t have looked like more of the same and bad more of the same at that. As it stands, I’m hoping more people discover how not terrible this film is on Blu-ray. I’m not sure how many times I’ll watch it again, but I will say that it looks to be one of those movies I don’t turn off when I stumble on it as it plays on TNT or FX in a few years. And that my friends, is a high compliment.
- Todd Doogan