Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 10 Beans
Pre-video-rental, pre-500-channel era, the typical grade-b flicks were cheesy fodder for kiddie matinees and teen drive-ins. Post-video-rental, post-500-channel era, they are generally sleazy cash-ins for late-night rentals and 4 a.m. time-slots.
"Hercules," made in 1983, bridges the gap somewhat. According to Sybil Danning, who plays the evil, spandex-clad femme fatale (Adriana in the credits; Ariana in the movie), the filmmakers originally pitched an R-rated adventure film with heavy violence and gratuitous nudity. With American "star" Lou Ferrigno taking the title role, however, it became an old-style kiddie film.
It's also one of the worst movies ever made.
Let us begin with the acting. Bodybuilder Ferrigno flexed his way to stardom as TV's "The Incredible Hulk." I wondered then why the TV adaptation eliminated the Hulk's voice. I cannot say for certain that Ferrigno's utter inability to act is the reason, but it certainly means his lack of dialogue was a good idea. He had some conviction, painted green and grumbling "urrgh." As Herc, he manages to make Arnold Schwarzeneggar's dubbed debut in "Hercules Goes Bananas" seem outstanding. The rest of the cast, with very few exceptions, didn't raise the bar for their star, either. Filmed in Italy for an International audience, the discomfort some of the performers had speaking English is painfully apparent.
The bad actors have been armed with overwritten, confusing dialogue. Especially worth noting is this charming conversation between Herc and his girlfriend, Cassiopeia:
HERCULES: Wait! Are you really Cassiopeia, or Ariana in a new form, or Circe reborn?
CASSIOPEIA: I'm all of them and none of them. I'm the one you truly love!
Glad she clarified that.
The film also features a narrator, who lumbers clumsily into the movie to deliver commentary which is either (1) painfully unnecessary or (2) utterly confusing.
The plot, between the death which sets Herc on his quest and the stock footage which destroys Atlantis, plods from crisis to crisis in the style of the old serials, but without the sense of fun, the fast pacing, or the requisite suspense. Hercules never really faces an interesting challenge; even a child would have a hard time believing he might be in any danger. The fight scenes are so badly staged they make one long for the thespian adeptness of TV wrestling matches.
The crises match the dialogue for pointlessness. Zeus zaps Hercules and Cassiopeia unconscious, making them easy capture, because, were they conscious, their captors would do worse to them. Assuming we follow that reasoning, why now just zap the captors? In fact, why involve the gods at all in this scene, since they are written out and "powerless" a little later?
Then there's the matter of how Hercules arrives at Thera/Atlantis. He needs, it seems, a flying chariot, which he can obtain from the "King of Africa." The king (who shows up on cue, carried in an elephant's ribcage by his fair-skinned subjects) demands that a channel be open between his land and Europe. With the help of the sorceress Circe, Hercules separates these two land masses. Not only is this irrelevant to anything which happens later, it begs the question: just where was Greece at the start of this movie? Back to the chariot, however: Hercules and Circe receive it, but it no longer has flying steeds to pull it. So, Circe ties a magic robe to a rock, and Herc hurls the rock. They stand in the chariot which is pulled through space.
If Hercules has the power to do that, why do they require a special chariot?
Did I mention they fly through space?
The settings, effects, and mise-en-scene all try to cash in on the success of "Star Wars." Whereas that film uses fantasy elements in a science-fiction setting, "Hercules" throws wildly inappropriate science-fiction bits into classical Greece. Oversized and multiple moons are blue-screened into the sky over the ancient world-- and so badly blue-screened, that they sometimes vibrate. An outer-space background, with blatant studio lights standing in for stars, stands behind the gods (appropriately) and the evil King Minos (inexplicably). Hercules throws both a wooden log and a bear-suited guy into orbit. King Minos has a sword of fire, while the more mundane metal weapons have a flashy-laser effect which tries hard to recall the light sabres. Even the lost city of Atlantis vaguely resembles the knobby surface of Lucas' spaceships.
The monster are, for the most part, mechanical toys sent by Daedalus, who here is an evil woman dedicated to "pure science." These include the three-headed Hydra which guards the gates of Hell and "spits cosmic rays of deadly fire."
By now, those even remotely familiar with classical mythology might be scratching their heads. Yes, movies based on myth seldom follow the sources very closely, and those sources are somewhat muddled and inconsistent in any case. But changes should make some kind of sense. Here they serve no purpose, save to bewilder. Cassiopeia was an African Queen, and one of Hercules' ancestors. Why use the name for his girlfriend? Daedalus was a heroic male inventor. Why make him an evil woman? Her ineffectual machines don't require a human inventor (Hera is after Hercules. She could send them). Daedalus also walks out of the film, never to be heard from again, before the finale. The three-headed dog, Cerberus guarded the underworld in myth. The Hydra was a multi-headed snake. How long would it have taken to get the references straight?
The filmmakers do preserve one of Heracles' tasks from mythology: the cleaning of the Aegean stables. Now, given the range of impressive, film-worthy tasks the mythic hero accomplished, why choose that one, the diverting of a river's course to spread piles of manure?
A metaphor, perhaps, for this movie?
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