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Both man and myth, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) leads a band of mercenaries to help end a bloody civil war in the land of Thrace and return the rightful king to his throne. A tormented soul from birth, Hercules has the strength of a God, but feels the suffering of a human. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

 Hercules
For whatever reason, 2014 was the year studio heads decided that two dozen live-action movies, a Disney animated feature, and a long-running television series that spawned another long-running television series weren’t enough to fully explore the intricacies of the simple, archetypal, mythological character of Hercules. Hollywood studios decided that two more Hercules movies were required. Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules was the first of these films out of the gate in early January. It was a horrible, pointless movie with no purpose or personality. It was also a ‘perfect’ sampling of the once titanic Harlin’s post-millennial lack of passion. This set an incredibly low bar for Brett Ratner’s Hercules when it was released in late July. Unfortunately, neither movie was destined for greatness and Ratner’s film was met with plenty of non-Hercules-based competition during the summer season. Hercules outsold The Legend of Hercules without matching its production budget in domestic gross (a $72 million profit on a $100 million price tag) and had better reviews without breaking 60% positive on rottentomatoes.com. Mediocrity had won out over garbage and, when all was said and done, the film-going public decided to talk about Guardians of the Galaxy, instead.

Actually, Guardians of the Galaxy brings me to the most interesting thing about Hercules – it’s technically a comic book adaptation. That’s right, Hollywood executives have become so preoccupied with equating comic books to box office success (even comics that 99% of the population will never read) that they’re willing to adapt a comic based on a Greek myth that predates the concept of legal copyright by a couple of thousand years. Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulosis’ Hercules screenplay is based on Hercules: The Thracian Wars by Steve Moore, whose name was used in some of the advertising. However, because the characters and events in the story relate to either to mythology or history, Paramount decided it was okay to not pay Moore for his considerable narrative input. He eventually demanded that his name be taken off the film, not only because he wasn’t being compensated, but also because Condal and Spiliotopoulosis (the latter of whom is ‘famous’ for penning straight-to-video sequels to hit Disney animated films) had altered his story so much. Paramount did not comply with that request, either (his name is still on the film and is part of every extended ad line I’ve read from the project). Ironically/sadly enough, this injustice might have been swept under the rug, had Moore not died in March of 2014. His passing spurred his friend and disciple Alan Moore (no relation) to mount a campaign against the film, which, based on its many generic qualities, might end up being its only lasting legacy.

 Hercules
Bad production practices aside, Ratner (who is credited as one of the project’s producers) is often unfairly maligned as a bad filmmaker when he should be maligned as a mediocre filmmaker. Given my love of terrible, grade Z horror movies, mediocrity might be the worse crime, but I can’t deny that Ratner knows what he’s doing and makes professional-grade motion pictures. Initially, his real forte is in exacting the styles of other filmmakers. For example, he made sure X-Men 3 fit Bryan Singer’s X-Men template and fully absorbed the visual lessons of Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs while directing his own prequel, Red Dragon. But, following Rush Hour 3, a movie he only made because he was paid a king’s ransom to do it, Ratner finally started experimenting with a more individualized style. His technical work on New York, I Love You (segment five) and Tower Heist wasn’t necessarily an improvement, but he was at least making a stylistic impact. Hercules is his first big-budget action film to not directly mimic some other film’s formula and this, alone, puts it ahead of a number of recent sword-and-sandal epics, most of which have wasted time aping Zach Snyder’s green screen-heavy 300 imagery. I imagine Ratner and company were trying to adapt the more grounded fantasy styles of ‘80s films, like John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian, but the light-hearted, PG-13 tone and use digital critters reminds me more of later ‘90s/early ‘00s adventures, like Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy.

This insistence on sticking to ‘reality’ is disappointing, especially after the trailers promised the mythical twelve labours – the story in which Hercules battles creatures like the hydra and indestructible lion. Ratner and company make an annoying habit of framing anything fantastical as a tall tale meant to bolster Hercules’ reputation, a hallucination/mirage, or a lesser character’s silly superstition. With the mythological elements hampered by boring verisimilitude, the film’s spectacle is instead characterized by the heightened, but relatively ‘believable’ fight sequences and battles. In keeping with Ratner’s more respectable skill sets, these are shot and edited with care to make them appear more coherent than the shaky, over-cut action that plagues a number of similar films in the last decade or so. On the other hand, what these scenes have in clarity, pace, and impact, they usually lack in iconic moments. There are a few memorable sequences crammed between swinging swords and charging armies – most of them belonging to Ian McShane’s character, Amphiaraus, who looses the extended blade attachments on his chariot and stands gloriously, arms spread among a sea of falling arrows – but it’s difficult to differentiate anything specific. Hercules is so unremarkable that recalling what happened ten minutes earlier is a labour all its own.

 Hercules
Ratner as a director and an overtold mythological story aren’t really strong selling points for mainstream audiences, so Hercules’ box office value is found in its status as an action vehicle for the rising star of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson above everything else. It is nice to see him in a lead protagonist role and the filmmakers put respectable effort into giving as much time to the characters as the battles. Johnson is also propped up with a dependable cadre of actors, including the aforementioned Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, and John Hurt. But none of it really matters, because, aside from Ratner’s overriding visual blandness and the plot’s lack of imagination, the script fails to define any of the supporting characters beyond Hercules’ single sentence introductions. None of the overused tropes and clichés are twisted and every development is depressingly predictable.

Video


Hercules was shot on Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and post-converted into 3D for theatrical exhibitions. This 2D Blu-ray is presented in 2.40:1, 1080p HD video and meets the expectations of a brand new, well-funded action movie. Ratner and cinematographer Dante Spinotti blend dynamic, filmic imagery with computer-influenced colour palettes, creating a look that would likely be swimming in blocking effects on a standard definition release. The focus levels are set similarly throughout the film (wide angles in wide shots and shallow focus in close-up), but the bright palette and tonal qualities are split between a number of different location types. Nighttime sequences and darker interiors are super high contrast and mostly lit by blazing orange torches and candles. These scenes are sharp and clean, but aren’t the most impressive in terms of fine detail, since the black levels are so rich and crushed. Some of the pulsier fire effects do create unavoidable and minor noise issues. The heavy orange influences daylight images as well, especially the otherwise warm ones, but do not overwhelm the pink skin tones or yellow/gold costumes. These brighter shots can be incredibly rich with deep-set detail, when not blown-out by the white of backdrops. The most brilliant shots are the rare ones that feature cooler colours mixed with the oranges, specifically any thing green, blue, or purple. Basically, the more eclectic the shot’s composition, the more impressive the 1080p image.

 Hercules

Audio


Hercules’ major soundtrack is a Dolby TrueHD compatible Dolby Atmos 7.1 soundtrack. Between a handful of fantasy-heavy scenes (mostly tall tales of Hercules’ conquests) and the big, burly battle scenes, the track certainly has a lot to do during at least a handful of scenes. When action is concerned, the soundtrack is brimming with directional elements, like clanging weapons, shouting warriors, and flying arrows. The sheer quantity of soldiers, many of which ride horses, makes for a heavy LFE rumble as well. Unfortunately, many of the dialogue and exposition-heavy sequences are aurally diluted, depending entirely on centered dialogue and uneven musical cues. Surprisingly few environmental effects find their way into the stereo or surround channels. Composer Fernando Velázquez’ score is an almost interesting mix of traditional symphonic music and rock drums that falls into too many familiar grooves. Like the rest of the movie, it is entirely unremarkable.

 Hercules

Extras


  • Commentary with director Brett Ratner and producer Beau Flynn – This low-key, low energy track (available only for the slightly shorter theatrical cut only) does an effective job running down the making of the film, from pre-production through completion, but isn’t particularly entertaining. Funny enough, Ratner resorts to clichés even while delivering a commentary track. When he and Flynn aren’t describing the on-screen action, they’re patting themselves on the back (sentences like ‘what I love about ___ is ____’ repeat ad nauseum), delving into the boring minutia of the production design, and awkwardly referring to every actor as ‘spectacular.’ I suppose I can’t complain that there are too many long pauses, though.
  • Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson: An Introduction (5:30, HD) – A weirdly named EPK featurette.
  • Hercules and his Mercenaries (11:10, HD) — An introduction to the supporting cast of warriors that assist Hercules during the events of the movie.
  • Weapons! (5:20, HD) — A look at the design and fabrication the weapons that are assigned to each member of Hercules’ motley crew.
  • The Bessi Battle (11:50, HD) — A breakdown of the film’s biggest action set-piece, including set/costume/production design, make-up, stunt coordination, and Brett Ratner’s on-set direction.
  • The Effects of Hercules (12:30, HD — A rather self-explanatory look at the film’s digital effects.
  • 15 deleted/extended scenes (14:40, HD)


 Hercules

Overall


The best thing one can say about a movie like Hercules is that it’s not memorable enough to be bad. I’m seriously struggling to recall a single plot point or image only 12 hours after watching it. Brett Ratner is typically adept at capturing coherent imagery and the cast is consistently charming, but there’s no meat beneath the skin or reason to care about anything that happens throughout its thankfully brisk 98-minute runtime (101 minutes if you’re watching the Blu-ray’s exclusive extended edition). It’s also an obnoxiously cynical movie that goes out of its way to debunk almost everything fantastical about the Hercules myth. Paramount’s 2D Blu-ray does look very nice, but features a surprisingly underwhelming Dolby Atmos soundtrack and pretty rout special features.

 Hercules
Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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