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Feature


Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules, the secret son of Zeus (Kellan Lutz), must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom. Through harrowing battles and gladiator-arena death matches, Hercules embarks on a legendary odyssey to overthrow the King and restore peace to the land. (From Summit’s official synopsis)

 Legend of Hercules, The
We will see two separate movies surrounding the myth of Hercules in 2014. Presumably, two dozen live-action movies, a Disney animated feature, and a long-running television series that spawned another long-running television series apparently weren’t enough to fully explore the intricacies of this simple, archetypal character. Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules beat Brett Ratner’s Hercules to theaters by seven months, but, without seeing Ratner’s Dwayne Johnson-starring ‘opus,’ I’m guessing an earlier release date is Harlin’s only advantage. Produced and released through major/minor studios Millennium Films and Summit Entertainment, The Legend of Hercules had a comparatively smaller budget (about $70 million) than Ratner’s Paramount/MGM co-production. The lack of funds leaves Harlin with considerable confines for his action spectacle. Coupled with bad spending choices (like relegating a chunk of the money to 3D effects), a flat central performance, an under-developed screenplay, and unfortunate stylistic choices on the director’s part, The Legend of Hercules ends up being the kind of mess that only accidental laughs can save.

It’s difficult to lobby a critical defense of Renny Harlin. He’s a caricature of the excesses of the Carolco Pictures era, from his Eurotrash appearance to his rapid decent into obscurity at the onset of the new millennium. If personally directing the film that sank Carolco isn’t a good enough reason for a stint in ‘director jail,’ I’m not sure what is. Yet, years of mediocrity and failure can’t mask a solid run of finely crafted, lowbrow entertainment. Harlin’s films were never thought provoking or original, but, from his early horror films ( Prison and Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master) through a series of explosive action films ( Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight), he gave ‘empty spectacle’ a good name. Even the rampant clichés and ugly special effects of Deep Blue Sea and Driven were fun, but, in more recent years, he seems to have lost the ‘spectacle’ part of his formula, leading to an anthology of drab, terminally awkward, and ultimately empty movies.

 Legend of Hercules, The
The Legend of Hercules is a zero-sum game of a movie with no purpose or personality and also a ‘perfect’ sample of Harlin’s post-millennial lack of passion. The director mindlessly recreates the hyper-digital, green screen look of most post- 300 sword & sandal flicks (Zach Snyder, what hast thou wrought?), minus even the minimal visual distinctions of stuff like Tarsem Singh’s Immortals and the Spartacus television series. I’m not sure anyone could’ve made a more generic movie if they tried. The action is plenty coherent, I suppose, and not too burdened by choppy camerawork, but the reliance on speed-ramping and ugly 3D digital augmentations are boring and end up robbing the stunt choreographers efforts of their impact. Harlin obsessively dollys and pans the camera around his actors whenever the action mellows (apparently in an effort to poke the audience in the eyes with 3D effects) and appears to have included temporary effects among completed ones for the sake of time or money. Maybe more disappointing is the film’s adherence to a PG-13 rating, which leaves Harlin pulling his punches during the practically bloodless battle scenes. He emulates so much of the 300 and Gladiator templates, yet skips the gore and nudity that can make even the most obnoxious and cheap period epic tolerable.

But what really makes The Legend of Hercules mostly unwatchable are the horrible, horrible editing choices. I can only assume that Harlin originally delivered a 3-hour cut of the film and was forced to cut it in half without losing a single plot point, because the final product is completely over-cut slop. The screenplay was written by Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee author Daniel Giat, Italian producer/first-time writer Giulio Steve, and mega-hack Sean Hood ( Halloween Resurrection, The Crow: Wicked Prayer, and Conan the Barbarian 2011) with input from the director. It is a mishmash of mythological stepping-stones (minus all but one of the monsters that makes the Hercules story so much fun), stolen plot points (many from the already over-pilfered Spartacus), and a series of heavy-handed expositional speeches that leave no breathing room for pointed character development. Scene after scene just ticks buy without any time to absorb the drama, care what’s happening, or to tell one meathead white boy from another. It’s like being told a long form story by a child that really needs to use the bathroom.

 Legend of Hercules, The

Video


The Legend of Hercules was shot digital 3D using Red Epic cameras and 3Ality Technica 3D technology. This Blu-ray release features both the 2D and 3D versions of the film, crammed onto a single BD50 disc. This review pertains only to the 2D, 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. As mentioned in the feature part of the review, Harlin and cinematographer Sam McCurdy take their cues from other ‘screensaver’ movies, including graphic and flat backdrops, high contrasts, and homogenized colour schemes. The finer details are at the mercy of the effects work. The soft, almost waxy backdrops are set against sharper, grittier textures, occasionally leading to haloes around the composites. The palette is divided largely between gold, red, and black interiors, practically monochromatic, blue-caked night shots, and a handful of more eclectic and lush daytime location shoots. Now, for the bad news: it seems that putting both versions of the film on the same disc with a lossless DTS-HD soundtrack was a mistake, because there are plenty of obvious compression effects and weird digital errors. The most obvious issues are banding artefacts throughout the smoother gradations. Less obvious are some increases in digital noise. The most curious problem is a vertical strip of discolouration that appears on the right side of the frame. These are possibly some kind of authoring error, though they do not show up in any of the screencaps I took for this page. Other issues, like sudden uptakes in contrast and loss of crispness between angles during action scenes, but I’m about 90% sure that these are just bad special effect compositing.

 Legend of Hercules, The

Audio


The Legend of Hercules comes fitted with a typically aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack that tries very hard to keep every channel fluttering with activity throughout the entire film. There’s basically no down time in terms of immersive sound effects – even dialogue-heavy scenes are teeming with atmospheric buzz and directionally-enhanced bibs and bobs. Not so ironically, the vocals tend to sound a bit artificial when surrounded by a swath of digital ambience, but the words are always clear and consistent in terms of volume. Among the more aurally bombastic and busy scenes are a series of battles – some very large in scope with whizzing arrows and charging hordes, others more intimate with clanging metal and LFE-pumping impacts. Noisy highlights include the supernatural moments, like Zeus’ rumbling ‘voice’ and the sudden burst of strength that helps Hercules escape his chains and clobber the soldiers around him with giant chunks of concrete. Tuomas Kantelinen’s brassy, operatic music is underwhelming and unmemorable, but fits the film’s generic template and, like the effects, rarely lets up.

Extras


The extras begin with a typically talkative and warm-hearted commentary from Harlin, who is joined by lead star Kellan Lutz. Both commentators are excited about the material, perhaps too much so. They end up skipping most of the behind-the-scenes dramas, aside from a brief mention of the film’s accelerated schedule, which was apparently less than a year total. I wish their enthusiasm was contagious, but I’m actually left feeling sorry for them, because the film they apparently put so much love into is genuinely awful. Up next The Making of The Legend of Hercules (14:50, HD), a fun, but fluffy behind-the-scenes EPK that includes raw, on-set footage and cast & crew interview. Things are wrapped up with trailers for other Lionsgate/Summit films.

 Legend of Hercules, The

Overall


I’m still more than ready to debate the merits of Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea, and even Driven, but The Legend of Hercules is practically unwatchable and, in turn, practically indefensible. Of its many crimes, the worst is that it looks like a cheap knock-off and tells its story at a numbingly breakneck pace. This Blu-ray has some issues in terms of image quality as well, likely due to both the 3D and 2D versions being squeezed on to a single disc. The strangest artefact – a discoloured strip along the right side of the frame – was not recreated here on my screencaps, so I’d be interested to know if other viewers had a similar issue or if my particular player/TV set combo was having a problem with the disc.

 Legend of Hercules, The

 Legend of Hercules, The

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray 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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