Reviews

Hercules

Cynthia Fuchs

The labors are colorful on paper, somewhat less than thrilling in execution.


Hercules

Airtime: 8-11pm ET, Monday 16 May 2005
Cast: Paul Telfer, Timothy Dalton, Elizabeth Perkins, Leelee Sobieski
Network: NBC
Amazon
I thought it was just about a strong he-man. I didn't realize it was quite a revolutionary story too. The thing about the Jesus legend is it's all about getting into a heaven outside earth. The Hercules legend is about finding, in a sense, heaven on earth by growing to your highest fulfillment.
-- Timothy Dalton, Associated Press

A madness seized him!
-- Linus (Sean Astin), Hercules

"The mark of Zeus is on you, Hera worshipper!" Damn! The hand-to-hand battle that opens Hallmark's three-hour Hercules includes all the usual excitements of the title character's era -- a ship on a rowdy sea, thunder and lightning, men in sandals and skirts. Slicing an opponent, angry Amphitryon (Timothy Dalton) makes the above assertion, and apparently it means something momentous -- for the afflicted is soon washed onto shore where a crew of ladies in masks seems wholly determined to make him their sacrifice to Hera.

The ladies set in on their victim with knives, the man looks horrified, and then everyone stops: the fellow (according to narration by a knife-wielder, as network tv isn't about to show what she's describing). He's male and female, he's both! Hermaphrodite!" That the leader of this crew is the priestess Alcmene (Elizabeth Perkins), wife to Amphitryon, means there's some colluding going on, but at this point, some three minutes into the movie, all you can tell is that Perkins is badly miscast. Damn. Well, she makes the best of it. Amid the thunder and the rising chorus, she looks down into the camera that approximates the victim's point of view, and makes what amounts to an executive decision: you can't let him live because he's seen the Hera crew, and you can't kill him because he's not precisely and wholly a foul man. And so she cuts off whatever genitals were mannish and cuts his eyes, making Zeus mad and producing the blind seer Tiresias (Kim Coates).

The first result is a stormy-nighttime rape by Zeus disguised as Amphitryon. The second is the child, Hercules, who is born with a twin, such that Amphitryon's vow to kill the child at birth is dicey right off -- only one child is Zeus', the other is his own. Determined to find out which is the legit son, Alcmene and her maid trundle the infants off to a spooky forest where a monstrous bird-dragon-human hybrid with a voice approximating Gollum-meets-Minnie-Mouse identifies the god-child as Hercules, then allows that killing him will bring the wrath of Zeus on the doer. Though both Amphitryon and Alcmene want him dead, neither can act: when they find Hercules saving his brother from snakes in their cribs, they both take deep breaths and give up. The kid will grow up.

As teens, Hercules (Jamie Croft, who grows up to be Paul Telfer) and brother Iphicles (André de Vanny, into Luke Ford) argue and spar, until Hercules accidentally bashes music teacher Linus (Sean Astin, still in tights) hard enough to horrify the humans who surround him. Banished to the mountains (with fake-dad's final word to the wise, that he's actually the spawn of Zeus), Hercules hags out with Linus and the lovely nymph Deianeira (Leelee Sobieski), who looks stunning while bathing in a sunlit lake and shooting arrows at boars, and considerably less so when a CGI-ed Hind of Ceryneia happens by so she can clamber aboard and ride off into the woods. This, along with several other digital instances -- the multi-headed hydra-thing, the man-eating mares of Diomedes -- suggests that the film's multi-millions were not spent on effects.

Neither is it likely that much went into the script. Though Hercules spends soft-focus, firelit moments with Deianeira and rousing action scenes being cheered on by Sam, er, I mean Linus. When Deianeira later suggests that her adopted "foundling," like all things in nature, needs the male and the female... the balance," Hercules isn't so swift to notice that she's attempting to seduce him (then again, he might be too dazzled by her literally golden tan, which makes her rather alarmingly shiny). Though Hercules means well, his mother, his brother, and his father, all inspire the wrath and greed of others, who turn on Hercules. Driven temporarily insane by a potion, he murders his children, believing them to be demons (hey, their faces look very distorted in the wife-angle lens).

Though he attempts to kill himself following this awesome crime, he's stopped -- lit up by lightning from dad, actually, then doused by rain -- and then sentenced by cocky King Eurystheus (Kristian Schmid) and his ambitious wife Megara (Leeanna Walsman) to complete 12 seemingly impossible labors in order to win his own freedom. The film follows his struggle to finish these feats for his oppressors, though without -- as he announces in a big fat speech for appreciative onlookers -- "their pettiness, their wantonness, their cruelty, their savagery, their vanity, their injustice." He swears that he will not worship anything but the beauty of the worlds and the sky, "all that is great in the gods." His efforts make him quite the righteous the embodiment of what Greeks called "pathos," that is, suffering virtuously and eventually achieving, in his special half-god way, immortality.

The labors are colorful on paper, somewhat less than thrilling in execution. He slays harpies (the sight of one's bloody head makes that bad ex-wife Megara puke up her apple), brings back the Erymanthian boar alive, cleans King Augeas' stables, captures the Cretan Bull, retrieves the belt of Hippolyte (for which he has to go through the mighty Amazons), and comes up against the giant Antaeus (Tyler Mane) -- all difficult but variously redundant here. Hercules means to do right -- to accomplish his assigned ends, to please his mother, to salvage his son Hyllus' (Trent Sullivan) future, but the problem, according to Hercules, is that puny humans (including, at least for a spell, twin brother Iphicles, who calls him a "muck-brained, bumbling ape," pretty lively language for are this movie) are fixed on his undoing, in order to pretend their own superiority.

Though mom Alcmene points out that this is a war between Hera and Zeus (and she should know), their worshippers tend to treat it like their own war, and so they can't imagine reconciling. While Hercules is rife with disappointments -- including feeble philosophizing and shabby acting -- Linus is easily its highlight. Casting himself as Hercules' bard and companion, the wannabe poet narrates their adventures with the sort of warmth and wit that Astin brought to his role in the Lord of the Rings franchise. While he's technically a little taller here, he's also tagging along. Deeds can inspire, he insists. "An imperfect man can do great deed, and a great man imperfect ones." Alas, doubled imperfect here.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.