Movie: Shows based on ancient mythology have been common over the years, both in the written form and other media. The myths were a way for people to deal with the uncertainties of their lives, much like religions help people today. Ten years ago a television show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, became the latest in this long line of tributes to age-old stories, albeit with a certain modern flair. The show didn't stick very close to the original material and updated the language, mannerisms, and sensibilities in order to make the legendary strongman more palatable to modern audiences. After all, there wouldn't be a big market for a show centered on a demi-god that rapes women, enslaves them, killed his family, and solved problems with brute strength alone (at least I hope not). No, this was a kinder, gentler guy who was as politically correct as anyone coming out of a Southern California ACLU meeting. The series itself started off with this little monologue: "This is the story of a time long ago. A time of myth and legend, when the ancient gods were petty and cruel, and they plagued mankind with suffering. Only one man dared to challenge their power, Hercules. Hercules possessed a strength the world had never seen, a strength surpassed only by the power of his heart. He journeyed the Earth, battling the minions of his wicked stepmother, Hera, the all-powerful Queen of the gods. But wherever there was evil, wherever an innocent would suffer, there would be Hercules."
Okay, this last review of the series deals with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season 6, the swan song of the show on television. It only had 8 episodes and served to finish the long run with some decent shows mixed in with the usual filler material you'd expect to see. Following this season, the producers came up with a couple of replacement shows, one being the Bruce Campbell led Jack of All Trades, a silly revolutionary war comedy with him as a spy; and the more adventurous Cleopatra 2525, a high camp action show about a dystopian future where mankind is all but eliminated by a series of powerful robots. Like Season 4 (I never saw the fifth DVD set), the episodes were not the best of the series yet there was some cute bits to be had with the infamous kiddy porn star Traci Lords joining Bruce Campbell and the cast for a comedic Hercules, Tramps & Thieves leading the pack for best comedy episode, the dark mimic of television's Charmed in the form of A Wicked Good Time, and the anti-climactic finale, Full Circle, where Zeus, Hera, and the dynamic duo of Hercules and Iolaus all fight the return of the Titans while trying to mend fences (and to think that fans of Xena: Warrior Princess Season Six felt cheated!). In short, there was no guiding theme and all of the action looked like the cast were going through the motions, leading me to wonder if the show wouldn't have been better if it ended about two seasons prior.
So, with a few highlights in the 8 episode set and lots of rehashed material, it should come as no wonder that I rated it as a Rent It, and even then only for fans of the show. The spark that drove the show was gone, the silly parodies barely made me crack a smile (though Lords was looking pretty hot for an old dame), and even Bruce Campbell, a personal favorite of mine, seemed ill at ease with the material. When shows like this run out of steam, in essence running out of creative ideas years prior, is it any wonder that fans left in droves? Otherwise, if you like Kevin Sorbo, like the skimpy outfits some of the gals wore, and needed a couple more episodes of the show to round out your collection, this set would be it for you. Perhaps if they ended on a upbeat note or have something exciting take place to end the run I'd have been more positive but even most fans recognized that the show was a pale shadow of what it had been a few years prior to these episodes so take my words with a grain of salt and decide if you were really that much of a fan to get the lamest season of the bunch.
Episode 1: Be Deviled: (September 27, 1999):
Episode 2: Love, Amazon Style: (October 4, 1999):
Episode 3: Rebel With A Cause: (October 16, 1999):
Episode 4: Darkness Visible: (October 18, 1999):
Episode 5: Hercules, Tramps & Thieves: (November 1, 1999):
Episode 6: City of the Dead: (November 8, 1999):
Episode 7: A Wicked Good Time: (November 15, 1999):
Episode 8: Full Circle: (November 20, 1999):
Picture: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Six was presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as originally released in syndication television. I found some of the episodes to look pretty solid (not great but holding up very well compared to contemporarily released shows) but a few of them looked really weak, especially City of the Dead. The worse ones had a lot of grain, video noise, and compression artifacts, at times looking like they were VCD's with the amount of pixelation they displayed. Why they varied as much as they did is a mystery, be it due to the source material, faulty mastering of the DVDs, or whatever else was the cause, but fans likely won't care as the current versions in syndication don't look all that great either.
Sound: The sound was remixed into a 5.1 Dolby Digital English soundtrack with most of the audio coming from the center channel. It wasn't a terrible mix, with the vocals almost as clear as I've ever heard on the show, and the music reasonably well handled, but something was lacking this time. The distortion of the earliest season releases was gone and some effort was noticed in the improvement made over them but it didn't sound as solid as the last couple of volumes in the series either. There were closed captions for the heard of hearing but no other subtitles or languages.
Extras: Unlike earlier seasons that had a whole lot of extras and episodes, Season 6 was almost an afterthought in that it had eight episodes and a correspondingly lower amount of extras (it still managed to provide some good ones though). There were audio commentaries for Be Deviled and Full Circle, interviews with cast and crew for Love, Amazon Style, Hercules, Tramps & Thieves, and A Wicked Good Time, and a host of separate extras as follows: photogalleries, a lengthy feature called "It's A Wrap" (the series had a well participated party to celebrate the lengthy run of the series with Michael Hurst starting off at the helm but others joining in too), the third installment of the Bringing The Monsters To Life at K.N.B. EFX Group show where the various creatures used for the show were made, a Behind the Scenes look at Full Circle, some alternate versions of the main theme with never used titles, and yet another CD ROM with the director and cast biographies, a database of trivia called The Hercules Chronicles, and some of the mythology of the series. In all, there were five discs here rather than the usual 8 or 9, due mainly to the limited run of the final series but the price was a lot lower too so it evens out (and the folding DVD case was still pretty cool with the usual cardboard cover). Fans of the free coin offer will be pleased to note there was another of them in order to round out your collection but I'd rather they simply included it in the set.
Final Thoughts: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Six was not the worst television show I've ever seen but it was certainly a letdown for myself and many long time fans that were promised "one final season of excitement". With weak writing, a "been there, done that" feel, and even mixed production values, the final season of this politically correct version of the mythological strongman fell flat more often than not. For the ladies that will counter and say they only watched the show for the sweaty exploits of Kevin Sorbo in his leather pants, I'd suggest that he left his prime years prior and only the most desperate of you would be chasing him by the time this was made. The extras were decent overall but light compared to previous season sets and only fans need apply for this one.
Other seasons and shows taking place in this continuum:
Hercules: Season One
Hercules: Season Two
Hercules: Season Three
Hercules: Season Four
Xena: Warrior Princess Season One
Xena: Warrior Princess Season Two
Xena: Warrior Princess Season Three
Xena: Warrior Princess Season Four
Xena: Warrior Princess Season Six