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. Nearly 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."
The show started off with a series of five made-for-television movies, most likely designed to test the readiness of the market for a series, and it did so well that the series was made as a mid-season replacement. Hercules was shown as a kind, compassionate man who never took advantage of others using his strength. He assisted people in need, usually people that were victims of the gods or other supernatural forces, since he felt a sense of obligation to do so. His father was Zeus, the king of the gods, and his mother a regular human, so he was caught between both worlds. His step mother, Hera (Zeus' wife) was always attempting to kill Hercules using whatever means necessary, and this led to a lot of people getting hurt because they were pawns in the epic struggle between these two powerful forces. In the original movies, Zeus was played (somewhat badly) by actor Anthony Quinn but that character was downplayed when the series itself started.
As one of the most popular shows in syndication history, the show was somewhat preachy in terms of morality, but a fun ride on the camp wagon, if you catch my drift. After season one, a spin off series, Xena: Warrior Princess, found a huge audience and both shows had large followings (Xena was a bit darker most of the time, but that was in line with the character's past), outlasting all the critics predictions about the campy, quirky humor used to draw in audiences all over the world. Episodes for both shows play on the Sci-Fi Channel, and you can find very detailed information about those episodes there or on the official Hercules website as well as the following brief overviews from TV Guide:
The second season was where the show really got its stride. The darkness of Season One was excised and sent over to the new Xena: Warrior Princess show and almost all of the shows displayed a lighter tone. There was still the fighting and conflict, still special effects all the time, and still the silly banter (especially in the episodes with Bruce Campbell and Robert Trebor) you'd expect of the tongue in cheek show but in general it was more fun (the third season had a lot of changes due to illness and a change in production companies) than any of the other seasons.
Episode 1: The King Of Thieves: (September 11, 1995): While Iolaus is about to be beheaded for a robbery he didn't commit, Herc is after the culprit (Bruce Campbell) — and a gigantic serpent is after them both. This was a great episode and the beginning of a valuable relationship between Campbell and the two shows (Hercules and Xena). In every episode he appeared in, Campbell raised the bar for everyone else to the point where I'd have been happy if he had been given a spin off series based on the character (not like the show they gave him based in Colonial times).
Episode 2: All That Glitters: (September 18, 1995): Herc's old friend King Midas has a new gambling palace, which is the root of all the evil in his kingdom.
Episode 3: What's In A Name?: (September 25, 1995): A not-so-heroic Hercules impostor, Herc's half-brother Iphicles (Kevin Smith), is about to wed the stepdaughter of an evil warlord (Kenneth McGregor). Smith was best known in both series as Ares, the God of War, and he was almost cast as Hercules himself (according to the producer's interview).
Episode 4: Siege Of Naxos: (October 2, 1995): Barbarians out to rescue their colleague Goth (Brian Thompson) are at the gate of a fort manned only by Herc and Iolaus.
Episode 5: Outcast: (October 9, 1995): Herc is the intermediary between a vengeful centaur (Peter Muller) and the centaur-hating Cretans who killed his wife (Lucy Lawless). The show had Lawless appear as a character from the first season (not Xena). The episode itself was a thinly disguised social commentary about interracial marriages and succeeded quite well as showing the stupidity of prejudice.
Episode 6: Under A Broken Sky: (October 16, 1995): Herc plays Cupid to a farmer (Bruce Phillips) and his alluring wife (Maria Rangel), who ran away to work in a "sin bin" after the death of their children.
Episode 7: The Mother Of All Monsters: (October 23, 1995): The Mother of all Monsters: Echidna (Bridget Hoffman), the "mother of all monsters," is out to get Herc for killing "all my children." Her unwitting ally: Herc's mother (Liddy Holloway). Since Hercules had been on a great many adventures where various monsters got in his way, their mother had a chance to get her revenge.
Episode 8: The Other Side: (November 6, 1995): The abduction of a goddess's daughter leads Herc to the underworld — and a family reunion. Hercules got to revisit his wife (played by the hotty Tawny Kitaen) and kids who were all waiting for him.
Episode 9: The Fire Down Below: (November 13, 1995): Salmoneus (Robert Trebor) is cashing in on a treasure trove he found. Too bad for him — and for Herc — that it belongs to Hera.
Episode 10: Cast A Giant Shadow: (November 20, 1995): Herc rescues a gentle giant named Typhon from Hera's clutches, then discovers that the big guy is "the father of all monsters." Yes, Typhon is Echidna's husband.
Episode 11: Highway To Hades: (November 27, 1995): Herc has an uphill battle when he goes after Sisyphus (Ray Henwood), who's tricked a young man into taking his place in the underworld.
Episode 12: The Sword Of Veracity: (January 15, 1996): A former warrior (Brad Carpenter) is framed for murder, and Herc must wield a "Sword of Veracity" against the bad guys to save him.
Episode 13: The Enforcer: (January 22, 1996): Hera's old hit woman, Nemesis, is on Herc's side when Hera sends a new hit woman, the Enforcer (Karen Shepard), to do in Our Hero.
Episode 14: Once A Hero: (January 29, 1996): Herc and Iolaus are in Corinth for an Argonaut reunion when a "masked demon" steals the Golden Fleece from Jason (Jeffrey Thomas). This was the directorial debut of executive producer
Episode 15: Heedless Hearts: (February 5, 1996): Herc is in for both love and war when he falls for the leader (Audie England) of a rebel band that's fighting a tyrant (Michael Keir-Morrisey).
Episode 16: Let The Games Begin: (February 19, 1996): Fed up with constant warfare, Herc devises a competition that is not lethal: the Olympic Games. Cory Everson is back as the hotty Atalanta, looking as buff as ever.
Episode 17: The Apple: (February 26, 1996): Aphrodite (Alexandra Tydings) acts more like the goddess of war than of love when she casts a spell that makes Iolaus the apple of a princess's eye. Three goddesses, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Athena approach Iolaus, with them asking him to choose which is the most beautiful. As any guy knows, this is a sucker's question since the two you don't pick will enact their vengeance on you.
Episode 18: Promises: (March 4, 1996): A king's fiancée is abducted by a warrior who lost Iolaus's friendship when he deserted him in battle.
Episode 19: King For A Day: (March 18, 1996): Iolaus plays king for a day (and saves the kingdom from an evil general) when his look-alike cousin, a crown prince, is drugged before his coronation. This was a take off on the "Prince and the Pauper" story with Iolaus playing both roles.
Episode 20: Protean Challenge: (April 4, 1996): A sculptor (Paul Gittins) who's unjustly accused of robbery has a major problem: an entire village — Iolaus included — saw him do it. Or did they?
Episode 21: The Wedding Of Alcmene: (April 29, 1996): King Jason plans to wed Alcmene (Liddy Holloway), but a law barring the king from marrying a commoner is just one of the hitches they face before they can be hitched.
Episode 22: The Power: (May 6, 1996): A farmer (David Drew Gallagher) discovers that he has the power to make people obey him — a power that his uncle (Grant Bridger) wants to subvert for his own evil ends.
Episode 23: Centaur Mentor Journey: (May 13, 1996): Herc's old mentor, the centaur Ceridian, is concerned about another of his charges, a centaur (Julian Arahanga) with a chip on his shoulder regarding humans. This was known as the "hundred centaur march" show about civil rights.
Episode 24: Cave Of Echoes: (June 7, 1996): Herc and Iolaus venture into a cave to rescue a woman from a monster, accompanied by a writer (Owen Black), who pumps the dynamic duo for details of past exploits (seen in flashbacks).
I was a fan of the show and while there was a sameness to the episodes, particularly in later seasons, it was all good, cheesy humor and enough moral message to make it okay for the kids to watch along with you. With all the silly sound effects as the old Batman television show (but slightly less campy most of the time), the show was great on DVD and easily worth a rating of Highly Recommended to fans of the genre. Don't expect the mythology to be accurate or the performances to be worthy of Academy Awards but if you want to smile, this is a good boxed set to enjoy.
Picture: The picture was presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. It looked surprisingly good for its age and while there were moments with a soft focus, some grain, and minor mosquito noise, most of the time it looked like it just aired on television. The picture looked better in most cases than the first season and most of that was due to the conscious effort to use lighter settings (in my opinion).
Sound: The sound was remixed into a 5.1 Dolby Digital English soundtrack and
it sounded much richer than the original presentation. That said, the bass was sometimes a bit distorted on my home theatre setup and some of the time the vocals were hollow. The music has never sounded better and the vast majority of the episodes were very clear.
Extras: The best extra was the various audio commentaries by Kevin Sorbo and one of the Assistant Directors, Wayne Rose on some of the episodes. I was concerned that the commentaries would be like they were in the first season boxed set but having Mr. Rose present really helped out this time. While I missed hearing Michael Hurst, the addition of one of the creative staff made a big difference in terms of helpful material for fans. The boxed set had 8 discs altogether, 7 DVD's and 1 CD-Rom. The CD ROM had Director and cast biographies, a trivia game, a database of trivia called The Hercules Chronicles, direct access screens, and a Hercules screen saver. The DVD extra disc had a 69.5 minute long interview with Rob Tapert (the executive producer/sometimes director of the show), Kevin Sorbo's interview from the Kathy & Regis show, a costume gallery, special effects featurette, and 26 minutes of bloopers from several of the seasons. There was also a certificate for a second collector coin and $5 off at the official website. The DVD case was a fold out style with all eight discs included (when fully opened, it was over four feet long). The discs came out easily but not so easily that I worried about them coming loose on their own. The separate DVD disc for the Rob Tapert interview and bloopers came in a loose sleeve (a pet peeve of mine) rather than as another fold out and that stunk.
Final Thoughts: If you liked Season One, Xena: Warrior Princess Season 1 and Xena: Warrior Princess Season 2, this will be a must have set for you to buy. The extras and full set of episodes were all good enough to combine with the solid entertainment value to give this one a lot of bang for the buck. The fans will be happy to note that all discs played with no problems, there were no major problems with technical matters, and the extras improved over the last set.