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Hercules 2014 Film Review

Okay, I actually caved, got up off my butt and paid $8.00 to see a movie in the theater.  I rarely go to the movies. Too pricey, nothing I really want to see, and I'm at the age where I've turned into Huey Lewis's principal from Back to the Future.  Remember him?  With the immortal movie line: "You kids are just too darn loud?"  Yeah, that's me in a movie theater.  However, I've heard some excellent buzz about Dwayne Johnson's turn at Hercules Herakles, and decided what the Hades.

Having cleared that up, onto the review.

Happiness factor: 10/10
Wearing silly, satiated grin upon leaving theater: 10/10

Yes, I'm a Greek mythology purist.  But yes, I liked loved this movie.  It delivers exactly what it promises.  Lots of action, some laughs, a charismatic hero, and everybody giving it all they've got.  I suspect that has something to do with the fact that it's based on Steve Moore's graphic novel series Hercules: The Thracian Wars, meaning an actual writer wrote the story and not a committee of Hollywood executives for whom the art of storytelling has been reduced to mere demographics.

The film operates on the premise that Hercules's Labors are bullshit, and has a lot of fun questioning the veracity of the legend as expounded upon by Hercules's nephew, slick-tongued storyteller Iolaus (Reese Ritchie).  The opening montage of Labors is complimented by a bookend graphic novel-style montage in the closing credits showing exactly how Hercules performed those feats.  Hint: there was teamwork involved.

I had no quibbles with the casting.  Ian McShane gets some zingers in as seer of Argos Amphiarius.  Rufus Sewell rocks Odysseus's grandfather Autolycus (played in the 1990s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys by Bruce Campbell, for those of you old enough to remember), although for me Sewell will always be bad-ass Agamemnon from 2003's otherwise anemic TV miniseries Helen of Troy.  John Hurt chews up the screen as Cotys.  And Joseph Fiennes completely sells his campy turn as King Eurystheus.

Tydeus, alas, eats no brains in this feature, but does get in a good finger-licking of blood from a rotting head.  Atalanta did not annoy me at all, when I rather expected her as the token female sidekick to get on my nerves.  But that bow of hers must be made of titanium to withstand some of the stunts she executes with it.

Okay, some of the battle maneuvers are anachronistic--the Thracian army manages a Roman-style testudo to repel a hail of flaming arrows--but who cares?  I was stoked at the design of the helmets.  Bronze Age style complete with curving crests! Maybe some Corinthian helmets got into the production, but it bothered me a heck of a lot less than did Achilles' helmet in 2004's Troy.  The chariots were used well.

In short, the film takes every dollar its budget allowed and put it on the screen.  The CGI is bright and seamless.  The cinematography is great.  If that's not actually Thrace/Macedonia, it sure looks like it.

So, Greek mythology geeks, set aside your purism and go see this flick.  Even though its premise involves debunking a classical Greek myth, it's nevertheless the best Greek mythology film Hollywood has made in years.

In Search of the Trojan War

It's come to my attention that some of my readers never learned about the Aegean Bronze Age in school.  Let me remedy that by making a video recommendation.  Now, I own several excellent films and many books on the subject, but this particular documentary series and its companion book rate among the best.

Michael Wood's 1985 series In Search of the Trojan War is well worth six hours of your time.  Although its stated purpose is to investigate the Trojan War, it goes beyond that.  Wood explores not only the history of the excavations at Troy, but also other sites known from Homer, such as Mycenae and Pylos.  He examines the nature of Mycenaean Greek literacy through an analysis of Linear B and its decipherment.  He discusses Mycenaean warfare and weaponry.  He traces forty of the locations named in Homer's Catalogue of Ships, and even goes to Sparta to examine the legend of Helen, and at Pylos he looks into the real-life Bronze Age women who were seized on piratical raids.

Even though the book and documentary came out more than twenty-five years ago, Wood's assertions still stand.  The only thing you may find woefully outdated is the model of Troy.  Remember, it was an age before CGI.

You get to see marvelous locations and some fantastic artifacts, and of course, there are the usual interviews with academics, many of whom are extremely interesting to listen to.

It sounds very dry, but isn't.  All this material is made accessible through Wood's lively style of presentation, some fantastic cinematography, and a great musical score by Terry Oldfield.  Even if your knowledge of the period is limited to vague memories of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, you should have no trouble following along.  If you want a detailed discussion, I highly recommend the companion book that inspired the series.




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