Adventure Animation

A Strongman's Blu-ray Review: Hercules

August 17, 2014Ben MK

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Greek mythbusters...

The name Hercules might conjure up images of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's or Kevin Sorbo's rippling pectorals, but it's far too easy to overlook Disney's take on the legendary character. Released in 1997, Disney's thirty-fifth animated feature film — and the latest in the animation resurgence than began eight years prior with The Little Mermaid — was something of a departure from its usual assortment of stories culled from the pages of classic literature and children's fairy tales. Despite that, its story of how a zero becomes a hero is classic Disney through and through.


The Film Unlike some of the other renditions of the legend, Disney's Hercules (Tate Donovan) isn't a mortal who becomes a god, but rather a god who becomes mortal and who must then earn back his immortality by performing a truly heroic deed. Born to Hera (Samantha Eggar) and Zeus (Rip Torn) on Mount Olympus, Hercules is a mere baby when he makes his first enemy: Hades (James Woods), the sarcastic, power-hungry ruler of the Underworld.

After learning that Hercules may be the only thing standing between him and the success of his diabolical plan to overthrow Zeus, Hades dispatches his two shapeshifting minions, Pain and Panic (Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer), to take baby Hercules out of the picture by kidnapping him, transforming him into a mortal and then killing him. But being the bungling pair that they are, they botch their mission, not only leaving him alive, but leaving the now-human Hercules with his superior strength intact.

Robbed of his immortality and, hence, forbidden from returning to Mount Olympus, he's found by a mortal couple named Amphitryon and Alcmene (Hal Holbrook and Barbara Barrie), who then take him in and raise him as they would their own son, while Zeus and Hera watch on from afar. It's not until years later that Hercules — a young man who's had a hard time fitting in with the other kids, on account of how his super strength makes him a super klutz — discovers his true heritage, spurring him to seek out answers from Zeus himself, who tells him he must seek the help of Philoctetes (Danny DeVito), a legendary trainer of Greek heroes, if he's to have any hope of regaining his immortality.

And so Hercules embarks on his hero's journey. Accompanied by his faithful, flying steed, Pegasus, he seeks out Philoctetes and, under his tutelage, transforms himself from a scrawny nobody to a perfect physical specimen, before heading to the disaster-plagued city of Thebes, where he intends to prove his worth. Along the way, he encounters a damsel in distress named Megara (Susan Egan) and fights fantastical monsters; but Hercules' ultimate trial of body and spirit comes when he faces Hades in a final showdown and goes up against the wrath of his Titans.

Directed by Ron Clement and John Musker — who previously helmed Aladdin and The Little Mermaid — and written by them and a team of writers who've collectively penned such Disney classics as those two films, along with The Lion King and A Bug's Life, there's no denying the pedigree of talent behind Hercules. But viewers expecting something on the same level as those films may be in for a surprise. That's not to say that Hercules isn't an enjoyable romp, but its story feels slightly one-dimensional and lacking in emotional heft when compared to a film like The Lion King.

Still, its blend of lighthearted comedy, mythic action and energetic music is sure to please those in the mood for a fun-filled and briskly-paced Disney adventure. And with visually iconic character designs like Hades — who almost resembles a distant relative of The Little Mermaid's Ursula — and Hercules — decked out like a gladiator in his bronze armor — as well as a slew of side characters thrown in for comic relief, it's guaranteed to leave an impression on those who only associate the legendary Greek hero with more mature cinematic fare.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Hercules labors its way onto Blu-ray with a strong, yet slightly flawed, A/V presentation. Richly saturated colors abound in the hi-def image, from the neon oranges, purples and blues of the gods on Mount Olympus to the glowing, green whirlpool of tortured souls in the Underworld. And strong contrast and clarity ensure that the animators' line art is always razor sharp, allowing for even the tiniest figure in the frame — such as in a long shot of Hades crossing the River Styx or in scenes overlooking the throngs of Theban citizens from high above — to be easily discernible. But the Achilles' heel of the transfer is the minor macro blocking and banding that — like a pesky Gorgon — rears its ugly head from time to time (pardon the pun). Fortunately, these issues are so unobtrusive that they're likely to sneak by without ever being noticed, and rarely do they detract from the fact that this is undoubtedly the best the film has ever looked on home video.

There are no qualms whatsoever with the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack though: From the roars of the multi-headed Gorgon as it does battle with Hercules to the Titans' thunderous bellowing as they stomp their way to Mount Olympus, it delivers on all the epic action one might expect from a story based on Greek myth and legend. Dialog is also highly intelligible throughout and, of course, there are the songs by composer Alan Menken — like the Hercules-sung 'Go the Distance', Philoctetes' 'One Last Hope' and the Muses' lively 'Zero to Hero' — which sound as fantastic as ever.

Special Features Disney's Blu-ray release includes DVD and iTunes digital copies of the film, as well as a smattering of special features. First up is The Making of Hercules, a 9-minute promotional piece dating back to the film's theatrical release, which takes a look at the voices behind the characters, as well as the music and the animation (both traditional and CG). This is followed by a couple of music videos: the 5-minute "No Importa La Distancia" Con Ricky Martin ("Go the Distance" Music Video with Ricky Martin) and the 3-minute "Zero to Hero" Sing-Along. All three of these special features are presented in standard definition, with the first two being carryovers from the film's previous DVD releases.

The Bottom Line Although it may not qualify as one of the most memorable films in Disney animated canon, Hercules still goes the distance when it comes to being a fun — and funny — epic adventure for the whole family. Ditto for Disney's Blu-ray release as well, which proves its mettle with a muscular A/V presentation that capably overpowers the disc's puny array of bonus features, making Hercules on Blu-ray more of a hero than a zero. And that's the gospel truth.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

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