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Hercules The Legendary Journeys - Season 1

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // June 24, 2003
List Price: $89.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted November 16, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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:

Season One:

Movie 1: Hercules and the Amazon Women: (April 30, 1994): A small village requests that Hercules helps them with monsters that are killing off the townsfolk in raids. When Hercules and his sidekick, Iolaus, arrive, they find very suspicious circumstances surrounding the problem. Apparently, the women of the town left the men and started a new way of life. Hercules gets captured, his friend is killed, and he finds out that Hera is behind the problem. Can Hercules convince everyone that they need each other to survive or will Hera win? Lucy Lawless played one of the Amazons here, foreshadowing her rise to fame in the Xena series.
Movie 2: Hercules and the Lost Kingdom: (May 7, 1994): Hercules seeks out the city of Troy, now hidden by Hera, in order to combat a menace that has taken over the town and forced its people to live in the countryside. He comes across a young virgin, Deianeira (played by Xena regular Renee O'Connor-a native Houstonian), who leads him to the famed city where he fights to restore the city to the rightful owners against a vicious religious cult. This was the first appearance of Robert Trebor, another Xena (and Hercules) regular, although in a different role.
Movie 3: Hercules and the Circle of Fire: (November 5, 1994): Hera's latest scheme was to deprive the world of fire. In a takeoff to the legend of Prometheus, Hercules restores the life sustaining fire to the world after a series of battles. This movie introduced the hot Tawny Kitaen as Deianeira, the woman who became Hercules' wife.
Movie 4: Hercules in the Underworld: (November 12, 1994): Hercules must return Cerberus, the guard dog to Hades, or he'll never see his wife again. This was one of the better shows of the series and I don't want to spoil it for you.
Movie 5: Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur: (November 19, 1994): The story centered on the Minotaur, half man, half bull, with great power and strength, who wanted to rule the world. Only Hercules can stop him. This was the weakest of the original movies by far since it relied so heavily on flashbacks (at least half the show seemed to be clips from the previous four movies).

Episode 1: The Wrong Path: (January 16, 1995): When a vengeful Hera slays Hercules' family, he forsakes his kind ways and blindly seeks retribution until he is moved to rescue a helpless village from a demonic snake-woman.
Episode 2: Eye Of The Beholder: (January 23, 1995): The demi-god makes peace between a group of angry villagers and a misunderstood Cyclops (played by Richard Moll of Night Court fame). Personal responsibility, a common theme in the show, was the main point here.
Episode 3: The Road To Calydon: (January 30, 1995): Hercules defends a band of travelers from a monstrous, pterodactyl-like bird as they journey to Calydon to escape a dreadful curse inflicted by Hera, Queen of the Gods. Essentially, a group of people is plagued with problems because one of their members stole a religious chalice of Hera's. Hercules has to fight public opinion when their religious leader confronts the powerful hero over who should be in charge of the group's destiny.
Episode 4: Festival Of Dionysus: (February 6, 1995): Hercules battles the power-hungry Pentheus, who plots to overthrow his own father, noble King Iphicles.
Episode 5: Ares: (February 13, 1995): Hercules, aided by the alluring, powerful, and fleet Atlanta, confronts the God of War. His wicked half-brother Ares schemes to use a band of boy-soldiers to quench his undying thirst for bloodshed. This episode was notable for having Cory Everson, the hot looking female bodybuilder, as a lead character (that should've been used more often). Ares was not the lovable Kevin Smith at this time, but a much darker character.
Episode 6: As Darkness Falls: (January 20, 1995): When Hercules attends the wedding of his friend Penelope, an uninvited guest Nemis the centaur, crashes the party and abducts the bride.
Episode 7: Pride Comes Before A Brawl: (February 27, 1995): Iolaus' hubris brings down a sentence of death from the gods, and he must battle thieves and monsters before he is reprieved through a selfless act of friendship.
Episode 8: March To Freedom: (March 6, 1995): Hercules liberates a spirited young woman from bondage and battles a notorious slave trader to free her fiancé from being sacrificed to the lions.
Episode 9: The Warrior Princess: (March 13, 1995): Iolaus is seduced by a beautiful warrior woman, Xena (Lucy Lawless), but he is actually the key to her plot kill Hercules. This was perhaps the most popular episode of the series, spawning the highly acclaimed Xena: Warrior Princess series.
Episode 10: Gladiator: (March 20, 1995): Hercules and Iolaus deliberately go to prison to free Gladius and slaves, who are forced to battle ferocious animals for the amusement of a cruel ruler, Menas Maxius. This was one of those episodes that was a bit light on the humor aspect of the series. It was still present but not like it was later on.
Episode 11: The Vanishing Dead: (April 24, 1995): Hercules battles his half-brother Ares and his vicious flesh-eating dog for the souls of fallen soldiers.
Episode 12: The Gauntlet: (May 1, 1995): The fierce warrior Xena joins forces with Hercules when her troops turn traitor under the command of the cruel and ruthless Darphus.
Episode 13: The Unchained Heart: (May 8, 1995): Hercules and Xena pursue her former lieutenant Darphus, who has risen from the dead to carry out Ares' evil plan to rule the world. The last two episodes of the season were so popular that Lucy Lawless was given her own series, Xena: Warrior Princess, which had a darker edge to it than the lighter Hercules. In fact, the Xena episodes were previously released on DVD in a separate set for fans (before the two series were released on DVD).

The show's strong point was that it never took itself too seriously, even when preaching the virtues of friendship, loyalty, tolerance, and justice. The ladies would appreciate seeing Kevin Sorbo prancing around in tight leather pants with loose or non-existent shirts, getting all hot and sweaty while there was also plenty of eye candy for the guys (Cory Everson's cleavage and ass come to mind that there was a whole lot more as well). The special effects were cheesy, as was much of the writing but it was all good fun without too much thinking needed to appreciate the situational aspects of the show. Season One established the basic characters and situations they'd get in and later seasons would get lighter in terms of what happened more often than not. The movies themselves were slightly different than the weekly episodes in how Hercules wasn't quite as refined in them.

If you're looking for some silly humor and are willing to dispense with historical accuracy, this version of the mythological character of Hercules is pretty easy to take. You can watch it with just about anyone who isn't a bible thumper and have a good time. It's hard to believe that the show is nearly ten years old at this writing since it seems like only yesterday that I watched it on television. Unlike Xena: Warrior Princess, it looks pretty good by any reasonable standard in terms of picture, with the sound well done too. If you enjoy escapist fantasy shows, this will be at least worth a rating of Highly Recommended with true fans probably rating it higher.

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 cable. The worst problems took place during scenes at night, particularly the Ares and Vanishing Dead episodes although others were not perfect either. In all though, it was worlds better than the Xena boxed sets have been so far.

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 Michael Hurst (Iolaus) on some of the episodes. I would've preferred they both talk about the show's themselves more, and maybe some background trivia about what went on behind the scenes. As it was, since so much time had passed since making the shows, neither of them appeared to remember all that much about what took place (forgetting names, specific information, and the like). Still, there were worth listening too (and watching in the case of the video commentaries they were derived from). 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. There was also a collector coin and a contest entry form (ends May 31, 2004) for a trip to Greece with Kevin Sorbo. 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 this time but not so easily that I worried about them coming loose on their own.

Final Thoughts: I was a fan of the show when it first came out and my first instinct was to write a book on each episode as though it were an individual movie. I was cautioned against that since fans will undoubtedly know what happened when and newbies will not want to read spoilers. Suffice it to say, the whole show was a lot of fun to watch and as long as you're not a Greek historian, it should appeal to the lowest common denominator in all of us. Yes, it had its share of violence and innuendo (perhaps more than its share) but it was well made and the boxed set will serve fans well. Season Two improved on the basic formula and had a host of great characters, like Bruce Campbell's king of thieves, Autolycus (a recurring character in both Hercules and Xena thankfully), and the good natured poking fun at itself made even the most preachy moments bearable. In short, lots of yuck for the buck!

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