Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thousands of Hercules

There have been thousands of television shows and movies devoted to Hercules. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but if it is, it's not much of one. A simple IMDB or Wikipedia search shows that Hercules has been the subject of the visual media since the early days of film, if not the protagonist at least an active character.

The other night I had the chance to watch two versions I hadn't seen since the 1980s. Lou Ferrigno starred as the demigod in these cheesy Italian-backed classics, Hercules (1983) and The Adventures of Hercules II (1985). All things considered, the special effects weren't too terribly bad considering the low budget and the tools were available at the time. If you get the chance, look those up and have a little fun. (Note: The next weekend, the same channel showed Hercules versus the Mongols (1964), which pitted Hercules versus Attila the Hun.)

Of course, as my highly educated Cheesy Readers know, the Ferrigno movies weren't the Italians' first foray in the annuls of Herculian lore. They pumped out a lot of myth-based films in the 1950s and 60s when they weren't busy filming Westerns, and many of these films are available super cheap in DVD box sets.

Pop quiz time: What was Arnold Schwarzenegger's first American film? Obviously, it was Hercules in New York (1969).

And who can forget the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys starring the skinniest of all Hercules Kevin Sorbo in the 1990s. It had such a large following that there was even two spin-offs, Xena: Warrior Princess, that ratings-wise did just as well as the Sorbo series, and Young Hercules.

Disney got in on the craze with their own movie and animated series, and in the most recent American version of the legend, Dwayne Johnson took a crack at the title role. Our half-man half-god is scheduled into the plotline of the ABC series Once Upon a Time, and has made multiple appearances in hundreds of cartoon, including Sailor Moon. He's been in outer space, in particular the planets Venus and Mars, and even spent time hanging with Superman. But of course, the most memorable of all Hercules appearances was when he starred with the three greatest comedians of all time in The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.

So why so many films involving Hercules? It's quite simple. Hercules is a half-god, half-man with the strength of a god, but mankind's foibles. Other than his twelve labors and a few mentions in a handful of other stories, 80% of his life has plenty of elbow room to elaborate on and give writers plenty of wiggle room to weave their own stories. What tale-teller can resist using this made-to-order and easy to recognize character for their own purposes? Quite simply, the character of Hercules has become the Go-To Guy for hero stories throughout the ages. But not only that, an action star with great muscularity but questionable acting abilities can star in a high-action film in which he can show off his muscles, wield a sword in cool on screen fights, and have a nearly naked damsel cling to him for protection. Only Conan can offer the same kind of on screen flexibility.

Until Next Time...
Herculianly Yours,

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