Not to be confused with Renny Harlin's The Legend of Hercules---and don't worry, it probably won't be---Brett Ratner's Hercules (2014) is yet another sword-and-sandal epic featuring brave warriors facing off against nigh-unstoppable evil forces. I've lost count of how many fantasy spectacles we've seen during the last decade or so: Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, 300, Troy, Black Knight, Alexander, and of course, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, to name a few. I'm probably not alone in wishing that this genre would take a breather for several years, but the presence of two films this year based on the divine hero of Greek myth indicates otherwise. Either way, just about any movie with leading man Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is good for at least one spin, so why not give this one a chance?
A word of warning to Heracles purists: this summer blockbuster was based on Radical Comics' The Thracian Wars limited series...and, in probably the film's most interesting twist, translates the myth into more human terms. The mighty Hercules (Johnson) now travels with a band of trusted warriors including loyal Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), archer Atalanta (Ingrid Berdal), beast-like Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), oracle Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), and Hercules' nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), who spreads Hercules' legend to all who will listen. The idea of humanizing mythological figures is hardly a new one, but Hercules' grounded approach seems almost plausible within the boundaries of fantasy films.
Unfortunately, that aspect of Hercules---and the performances of Johnson and a few supporting characters---is about the only element worth getting excited about. Our band of heroes has been asked to help Lord Cotys (John Hurt) and General Sitacles (Peter Mullan) train the men of Thrace in their battle against warlord Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann) and his own army. Hercules and company, serving as mercenaries for hire, take the job for double their weight in gold, and it's not long before they realize that they may be fighting for the wrong side. This twist, like almost every other element in Hercules (music, battle sequences, dialogue, etc.) is fairly predictable from start to finish. You'll see segments of the climax and ending come from miles away, enough so that viewers may think they've become oracles themselves. While there's nothing about Hercules that immediately registers as "awful", there's also precious little here that will blow away seasoned genre fans. On the big screen, this stab at large-scale action and excitement may have temporarily won over cautious audience members, but I doubt that many are itching for more than one or two repeat viewings.
Paramount's Blu-ray includes an Extended Cut, which clocks in at just over 3 1/2 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. There's not much to get worked up about, and those hoping for even more action will be disappointed that there isn't any (nor is there any more violence, but Hercules is already violent enough to land an "R" rating in my book). What's new here is limited to a few minor moments, mostly for certain supporting characters. General Sitacles, for example, is pushed even further over the top in a creepy exchange with Atalanta, and he engages in some verbal sparring with Autolycus after the Bessi battle. Soldier Phineas also shows his true colors, though I won't give any spoilers away. As for Hercules himself, his Braveheart speech is slightly longer, and a short scene also shows his banishment from Athens after his family's mysterious death. That's pretty much it, and while the aftertaste of a few moments is changed through these extensions, Hercules is neither a vastly better or worse experience because of them.
The Blu-ray also includes a near-perfect A/V presentation that will satisfy those who saw and enjoyed Hercules on the big screen (and don't worry, the theatrical cut is also included). Fans are also treated to a decent collection of bonus features including a full-length audio commentary, a handful of shorter featurettes, and more than a dozen deleted scenes, both from the extended cut and even a few more. But if neither edition of Hercules was enough to satisfy your craving for action and adventure, it's doubtful that these supplements will be enough to win you back.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.40 aspect ratio, this 1080p presentation of Hercules looks as good as expected for a high-budget action spectacle compressed on a Paramount-branded disc. Image detail and textures are top-notch, especially during the film's expansive outdoor and battle sequences. Colors are strong and well saturated, though the film's earthy palette doesn't always lend itself to a vivid atmosphere. The film's CG effects---which mostly create mythical beasts and beef up the number of background extras---also blend in well with the live-action footage. Digital imperfections, including excessive noise reduction, edge enhancement, and compression artifacts, also appear to be largely absent from start to finish. Overall, Hercules looks quite strong and fans in it purely for the visuals will be pleased.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.
The default DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track serves up the expected amount of bombast, especially during a handful of battle sequences along the way. Music is well balanced, the dialogue sounds clear, and channel separation is as strong as expected on most occasions. Rear channel and subwoofer activity also get their time to shine, although some of the crowd scenes don't much in the way of bustling activity. Whether by design or simply different expectations, however, I doubt anyone's going to be disappointed with Hercules' audio presentation as a whole. Optional French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included, as well as English, SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles during the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Based around the main feature's "concept art" end credit sequence, the menu interface for Hercules
almost tricks viewers into thinking they're about to see a low-budget CG animated feature. But navigation is smooth and simple, and the lack of pre-menu advertisements and trailers is certainly a nice touch. This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed eco keepcase; also included is a Digital Copy Redemption Code
and a matching embossed slipcover.
There's a solid amount of stuff considering the quick turnaround time, though most of it doesn't dig much below the surface. Aside from the Extended Cut
mentioned earlier, the main draw here is a feature-length Audio Commentary
with director Brett Ratner and producer Beau Flynn, who serve up about 90 minutes' worth of information during the film's theatrical cut. Topics of discussion include the film's inception, their appreciation for the source material, casting and development, production stories and the expected amount of personal recollections and back-patting. It's a decent enough track, but I'd image that most fans will get exactly what they're expecting here and nothing more.
A handful of shorter featurettes is up next...and although a few stories from the commentary are recycled, it's good to hear from more of the key cast and crew members. These brief segments lead off with an Introduction featuring Ratner and Dwayne Johnson (5:32), which includes comments about physical training, muscle gain, and pre-shooting injuries. "Hercules and His Mercenaries" (11:07) takes a look at the supporting characters. "Weapons!" (5:24) offers a glimpse of the equipment crafted for the film, from the soldiers to Hercules and his team. "The Bessi Battle" (11:54) explores the down-and-dirty fight sequence just after the film's halfway mark, from the choreography to the terrific production design. Finally, "The Effects" (12:28) sheds some light on the film's practical and CG elements. Together, they run for just over 45 minutes...and though more detail would've been appreciated, most of the bases are covered nicely.
Finally, we get a collection of Deleted and Extended Scenes (15 clips, 14:38 total), some of which appears in the extended cut. Without giving too much away---and aside from a few very minor character moments----this other new material includes the on-screen death of a supporting character (twice, and reusing questionable CG elements just for good measure!), an alternate ending, a proper send-off for a character who dies during the film, and more. These are presented in 1080p and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and are often bookended for continuity. Overall, it's a decent mix.
Though it occasionally rises a half-step above your average summer action spectacle (and the myth's grounding is appreciated), Hercules probably won't stick in your mind long after the credits roll. I'd imagine that those who went to the theater with lowered or modest expectations may have been pleasantly surprised, but I couldn't muster up much more enthusiasm than simply damning it with faint praise. It's most likely due to the heavy saturation of sword-and-sandal films during the last few years, enough so that the world of Hercules just feels too familiar for its own good. Paramount's Blu-ray package, on the other hand, is as good or better than expected, serving up a pitch-perfect A/V presentation and a surprisingly well-rounded collection of bonus features. Still, a purchase is only recommended for those who flipped over Hercules in theaters; personally, I just don't see a great deal of replay here. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.