Action Adventure

For the Glory of a Blu-ray Review: Hercules

November 9, 2014Ben Mk


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Between The Rock and a hard place...

Like the character himself, any actor who takes on the role of Hercules ought to be larger than life. Which is why Dwayne Johnson is the perfect man for the job. From his wrestling alter ego, The Rock, to his parts in movies like The Scorpion King and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Johnson has always exuded ample charisma and charm to accompany his physically imposing presence. And his portrayal of Hercules is no different. The film itself, on the other hand, may surprise audiences, for its focus lies more on the man than the myth.

   

The Film Of course, we've all heard of the legend of Hercules and his twelve labors: how he conquered such fearsome beasts as the Lernean Hydra, the Erymanthean Boar and the Nemean Lion; how he cleaned the Augean stables in just one night; and how he defeated the giant Geryon with but a single blow. It's a myth so massive that it's inspired film after film since the 1950s, usually with bodybuilders-turned-actors like Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno in the starring role. But if you think that's what this movie is about, think again.

Instead, this version of Hercules borrows its story from Radical Comics' "Hercules: The Thracian Wars", and it tells not of a demigod who was the product of a union between Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene, but of a musclebound mercenary haunted by his past, who uses the far-flung tales associated with his name to drum up business and strike fear in the hearts of his enemies.

Accompanied by his loyal friends — the Spartan Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), Amazonian queen Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), the famed seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), Tydeus of Thebes (Aksel Hennie) and his own nephew, the storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) — Hercules travels the lands of Greece, taking on jobs that pay in gold, in the hopes of one day amassing enough wealth to retire to the shores of the Black Sea.

But when the group arrives in the city of Thrace — to assist its ruler, Cotys (John Hurt), with defeating a warlord named Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), who has embroiled the region in civil war — they find more than just their average payday. And Hercules himself finds much more than he bargained for. Becoming entangled in the conflict themselves, the only way out is for Hercules to confront the demons of his painful past and prove that he lives up his legendary name.

Directed by Brett Ratner, Hercules is somewhat of a departure from the action-comedies moviegoers may typically associate his name with. But that doesn't mean it isn't a rousing piece of sword-and-sandal filmmaking. On the contrary, Ratner's enthusiasm for the material is quite evident on-screen, as he works with production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos and visual effects supervisor John Bruno to create a cinematic vision of Greece, circa 358 B.C., that's every ounce as convincing as it is epic and action-packed.

And though screenwriters Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos' script doesn't stray too far from the standard heroes-for-hire-find-redemption template, they're able to cleverly retrofit this more realistic approach to the character with elements from the myth. That, combined with an entertaining lead performance from Johnson and scenery-chewing performances from Ian McShane, John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes (as Hercules' former associate, King Eurystheus), makes for an enjoyable film — even if it isn't the one audiences may have been expecting.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Hercules muscles its way onto Blu-ray with not one, but two separate cuts of the film, the 98-minute theatrical cut and a 102-minute extended cut (while those viewers with a 3D-capable home theater setup can opt for the separate 3D release). But no matter which version you choose to watch, be prepared to be floored by the jaw-dropping, reference-quality A/V presentation. Craggy mountain vistas and lush, green landscapes are the norm for this hi-def transfer, which boasts robust colors, top-notch contrast, deep, inky blacks and an image so razor sharp and brimming with fine detail that you'll be able to count every last pore on the actors' faces, each individual strand of hair in Hercules' beard and every single spear tip protruding skyward from a sea of battle-ready Thracian soldiers. Likewise, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack packs a punch worthy of a demigod, perfectly recreating the film's action-packed soundstage (full of snarling warriors and galloping horses), with ample LFE support to bolster its epic battle scenes.

Special Features Paramount's Blu-ray release includes DVD, iTunes and UltraViolet digital copies of the film, a feature-length commentary by director Brett Ratner and producer Beau Flynn on the theatrical cut (in which they discuss such things as the movie's tone, its in-camera visual effects and its cinematography), as well as just over an hour's worth of HD bonus features.

A series of featurettes kicks things off, beginning with Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson: An Introduction, a 6-minute piece in which Ratner and Johnson discuss their commitment and passion for the project. The rest of the featurettes explore the casting, production design and visual effects: Hercules and His Mercenaries is an 11-minute look at Hercules' mercenaries and the actors who portray them; the 5-minute Weapons! features supervising armorer Tim Wildgoose showing off some of the characters' signature weapons, including Hercules' club, Tydeus' axes and Atalanta's bow; in the 12-minute The Bessi Battle, production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos takes viewers on a tour of a village created specifically for one of the film's major action sequences; and in The Effects of Hercules, visual effects supervisor John Bruno spends 12 minutes discussing how CG effects were used to bring the movie's creatures to life and enhance its battle sequences.

Last but not least, the bonus features conclude with 15 minutes of Deleted/Extended Scenes ("Zeus & Alcmene", "Gryza Left Hanging", "Extended Training", "Sitacles and Atalanta", "Words for Arius", "Bessi Aftermath", "Phineas Saved", "Hercules Banished", "Blood Rage", "Phineas Revealed", "Hercules' Longer Speech", "Atalanta Shoots Phineas", "Phineas Runs", "Tydeus' Funeral" and "Alternate Ending").


The Bottom Line With an age-old tale like Hercules, it takes a lot to wow moviegoers, who have seen his adventures told on-screen time and time again. In that sense, audiences may not feel that this iteration of the classic character (which foregoes many of his fantastical aspects in favor of a more grounded interpretation) lives up to expectations. Yet, that's precisely what helps set this film apart from the character's previous big-screen appearances. It's far from laborious to sit through. Even more so if you consider Paramount's Blu-ray release, which features reference-grade audio and video, not to mention a healthy slate of bonus features. All in all, Hercules is a surprisingly epic experience on Blu-ray.  Ben Mk

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








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