What is war good for? Stupidly entertaining guy flicks about Hercules, that’s what
May Hollywood never cease to find innovative ways to kill things. For Hercules, there are stabbings, scorched soldiers, sliced faces, bone whips, horse slamming, wheeled blades, arrows, and a bevy of intimidating masculinity.
Oh to wish for more films to be as absolutely ridiculous as this. The world may be a better place with this level of absurdest escapism. Men – pure men of fortitude and muscles – chomp on ham hocks to overdose on protein while drinking themselves into a stupor on grog. They woo picturesque women with their tall tales, and spend their days harassing rival armies for the sake of cinematic entertainment at its most inexcusably dopey.
In the same way audiences have appreciated “realistic” super heroes, Hercules gives us a realistic demi-god, who may or may not be a god but he totally punched a hyrda in the face once. Dwayne Johnson swells to super beefcake size for this starring role, a dead serious spin on legend with a wealth of side characters allowed to pierce the veil of sincerity for one-off gags. Hercules is high fantasy without any actual fantasy. Creatures and monsters are explained away because imagination is stupid nowadays.
Instead, Hercules whips through the tropes of swords and sandal flicks without romanticizing religious rebellion or Roman leadership. May the guilty fun commence. With a cheeky smile and outrageously high-end all brass score, Hercules becomes an enormous production against all stable business sense. Armies of extras – mostly live action, not post-production add-ins – swing their swords with barbaric choreography, gleefully killing each other without the restraints of good taste.
In-between those pressure relieving scenes of action idiocy, a script (parsed from Steve Moore’s graphic novel) pins Herc and company as wandering mercenaries, each with grisly pasts. They work together, but rather than bonding around Johnson, it’s Ian McShane’s prophecy viewing Amphiaraus who creates the necessary chemistry. With almost all branded with “us” suffixes and cruelly elongated names, Hercules’ characters spread through sets which may well be leftovers from the recent Conan reboot, albeit with more class, style, and unforgiving delight.
This movie is a giver with hokey CG semi-monsters and a pleasant twist to set up third act brawling which manages to eclipse that which had come before in terms of scale. There is reason to root for this adaptation of Hercules as opposed to the unstoppable god-like beings which were sent to theaters prior. While they have their charms and delectable invincibility, this one salivates over the brutish stereotype of muscle men for the sake of imprudent violence… lots of it. Escapism is rarely so grand. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Captured digitally, Hercules will offer plentiful sights to take in. Massive coliseums and humungous structures scale into location shots with consistent fidelity. High resolution source material loses nothing with distance. Transfer work doesn’t suffer from aliasing or other anomalies, keeping a noise free image free of any flaws. Paramount encoding work is invisible.
In close, the latter critique is the same. Immaculate focus keeps pouring on facial definition. Armor shows wear and age, allowing for the production design to show through. Details of fur on the obviously CG animals is often exquisite even with all of their exaggerated motion.
Hercules is a film of many palettes, although most tend to veer toward being muted. Flame-lit interiors clash with green-soaked exteriors in swamps, then working into teal fogs and blue battle zones. While each seems to pick a dominant hue, variety is still high. Primaries feature enjoyable density as location shots are tweaked to embellish the deep greens of forests or the earth tones of the worn landscapes. Flesh tones escape much of the tinkering too with a warmer look which avoids unnatural intensity.
By unwritten law (or not), $100 million or more in the budget bucket creates a necessity for contrast. Hercules is not the outsider. Black levels produce deepened shadows with limited pinch on detail, and under sunlight (despite a touch of graying for mood), depth is freely established.
Plus, said depth is only assisted by 3D, a post conversion cranked to maximum with considerate cinematography. Swords and spears poke at the camera with the full understanding of being gimmicky. Arrows pan around the lens to add an almost geometric sense of perspective to some action scenes. Blood splatters and ambient visuals – like embers or debris – are rendered cleanly. Some added aliasing is the sole concern.
What Hercules may lose in dialog scenes (and it’s not much), Brett Ratner’s film can make up for in every bold fight sequence. Hercules is a movie begging for 3D in order to feel richer and doubly overdone. It works, almost to a necessity. [xrr rating=5/5 label=2D-Video] [xrr rating=4/5 label=3D-Video]
Using the full width of the 7.1 space, Hercules features exceptionally smooth panning between speakers, especially any front to rear motion. Tracking shots are aided by the motioning audio. Mood setting is here too. Crows squawk over dead bodies in every channel and mild fires can be heard crackling behind dialog.
Action is everything though, often boomy and rich. Hooves slam into the ground with superb LFE thrust, and when the clash begins, swords begin cutting through flesh in all directions. Design work matches the scale of the visual side, projecting outward to sell the idea of thousands all stabbing one another at the same time.
Plus, there is a need of character. Hercules himself swings a club with the assistance of the low-end, colliding with bone harder yet. His punches rock the soundfield and a late show of strength causes a small earthquake. Outstanding work. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
Brett Ratner joins forces with producer Beau Flynn for commentary work, tackling the usual range of topics and technical challenges. Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson: An Introduction begins a series of featurettes, all running between 11 and 15-minutes. This first one is a focus on the character, the role, and this fresh approach. Hercules and His Mercenaries goes through the roster of actors, followed with The Bessi Battle which will deconstruct a key action scene.
The Effects of Hercules peers into the practical work as well as CG, although some of the instances of, “We couldn’t do this physically” are questionable. A small piece on the weapon choices serves as the only bonus less than the above mentioned length, barely cracking five minutes. A series of 15 deleted/extended scenes are final. Note Hercules also includes a (barely) extended cut, but this is not available in 3D or with commentary. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.