When Hercules was released theatrically during the summer months of 2014, it ultimately got lost in the shuffle of mega-blockbusters that were trying desperately to succeed at the box-office during a weak season. The project went through a long haul of development in trying to bring the character back to life for a new generation of audiences after a Disney animated incarnation, a Kevin Sorbo 1990’s television show, two outdated Lou Ferringo live-action films in 1980’s and a Renny Harlin-directed stinker; The Legend Of Hercules earlier in 2014. Spearheaded by star Dwayne Johnson (The Scorpion King) and frequent tabloid-target Director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), this new version of Hercules is based off of a graphic novel entitled ‘Hercules: The Thracian Wars’, a story that stripped down the character’s fantasy-based mythology and made his world of heroism more realistic.
The movie takes the very same approach which might surprise viewers expecting something along the lines of Clash Of The Titans; which did not shy away from the mythological elements of Zeus-spawned demi-gods and fantastical creatures. Now you might be asking yourself, how can that be? Everything in the film’s marketing showed scenes featuring big bores, lions and a seven-headed hydra snake! Very true and these scenes are still within the film, but they are told as embellishments of Hercules’ twelve labours by his nephew in order to sway popular opinion. Here, an outcast Hercules (blamed for the death of his wife and children) leads a team of mercenaries and is recruited by the King Of Thrace (Alien’s John Hurt) to train his army for an impending battle against an incoming enemy. Before long, Hercules questions his life as muscle-for-hire, plus his destiny as the hero everyone believes he is when the King manipulates his services.
The sword-and-sandal genre has been a tough sell for more than a decade ever since Gladiator graced the big screen. Hercules doesn’t come nearly as close on the awesome meter as that film, but it is a decently enjoyable movie that plays out like afternoon-matinee escapism. It’s far from perfect and suffers from some familiar weaknesses that’s handicapped past historic adventure films, but the end result is respectable. The cast is very unique, the action is lively enough to keep your attention and the tone, while mostly serious is still playful at times, forcing the film to be fun with a touch of edge as well.
Hercules arrives on home video in a 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray/DVD combo from Paramount Pictures on November 4, 2014. It contains an extended cut of the movie (roughly 3 minutes of extra footage during the action sequences) that can only be found on the 2D Blu-ray disc and not the 3D presentation. The 3D version utilizes only the theatrical cut, with a conversion that is good enough to watch but not particularly mesmerizing as a 3D movie. Granted, it’s a cut above some past titles that received really weak conversions from their respective studios (Man Of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness), but the image does not carry a strong field-of-depth to notice much of a difference between the two HD discs.
But the 1080p picture quality on the 3D disc and 2D disc is very impressive. Hercules is a very bright, clear and finely detailed visual experience, showcasing a strong technical presentation. It’s backed up by an immensely strong 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that gets the job done nicely around a speaker system. The third disc in the set is a standard 480p softer image DVD edition with an effective, but less specific sound mode of English 5.1 Dolby Digital.
The 2D Blu-ray disc houses the special features offered in the package on top of the extended cut of the film. First there is a commentary track with Ratner and Producer Beau Flynn. It’s a neat option that covers the ambition of the project to make the story accessible for a new generation, but having its lead star Dwayne Johnson chiming in might have made it a home run to listen to. The actor does provide an amusing intro option with Ratner for the movie that highlights the major injury Johnson sustained during a wrestling match before shooting that almost killed the production altogether, and how the star worked through the pain to get the film made.
Also on hand is a look at the main hero characters/mercenaries and the actors who play them in ‘Hercules & His Mercenaries’. It’s a good feature that gives more focus to supporting on-screen players that other editions tend not to. Ratner’s favourite action sequence ‘The Bessi Battle’ is explored in its own feature, while there are others that focus on ‘Weapons’ and ‘The Effects Of Hercules‘ (aka CGI and practical special effects). Rounding out the bonus material are 15 Deleted/Extended Scenes. The edition provides a good number of extras but there could have been more, including a more focused look on the character’s past cinematic and literary history, plus the graphic novel the film is based on.
Hercules is a noble attempt at certainly an iconic character and Dwayne Johnson (who cites the film as his passion project) handles the role very well by not overcooking the hero tropes. Ratner’s direction is ultimately adequate for the task, but like most of his other films it lacks the style to truly make the story something unique. It’s no wonder the movie fell under the boots of others in theatres during the summer, but it may find its audience on home video thanks to a respectful package put together by Paramount. The biggest compliment one can give the film is that it has all the makings of being an outlandish fantasy epic and instead strips those aspects down for more realism, which works in its favour. In the shadows of The Lord Of The Rings, that route would have made it tough to take under serious consideration.