Anchor Bay // 1995 // 1080 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // December 15th, 2003
Just how many multi-headed dogs, vengeful serpent ladies, and evil-minded miscreants can one demigod handle?
After a mostly serious but highly successful first season, the show takes a more lighthearted approach to the material in Season Two.
After a successful Season One package, Anchor Bay gives us an even more loaded Season Two set.
Hercules (Kevin Sorbo), son of god Zeus and human Alcmene, devotes his life to helping those who desperately need it. With his best friend Iolaus (Michael Hurst); acquaintances Salmoneus (Robert Trebor), Deric (Peter Muller), and Jason (Jeffrey Thomas); and his brother Iphecles (Kevin Smith), Hercules manages to fulfill his promise.
Lurking in the background is Hera, queen of the gods and wife of Zeus. She despises our hero and would like nothing more than to see him dead.
Will our hero manage to outwit his evil stepmother? Will he live to see another day and help another troubled soul?
You'll just have to watch.
I have a confession to make. I never followed Hercules: The Legendary Journeys during its initial run in syndication. I was usually glued to PBS stations, immersing myself in classic movies and obscure British sitcoms. I do not regret my decision, but after watching this set, I could have made a greater effort to check out the reruns.
The show isn't a faithful rendering of the legendary story. What creator Christian Williams and producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert have done is recast of the original material. They have turned what used to be a serious epic into a sly comedy with muscles. Those expecting the classic interpretation should turn away now. As for those of you still left, if you can suspend your disbelief and if you know how to appreciate something different, you will have a good time watching Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. I did, but I will admit that it took a few episodes to get used to it.
Kevin Sorbo follows a long line of actors who have portrayed Hercules. Steve Reeves is the most famous, having starred in the first two films in the late 1950s. Lou Ferrigno had a good run with the role in two films made by Cannon films in the early '80s. Even the Gropinator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, played Herc, albeit in a really horrible movie called Hercules Goes to New York. But none of them approach Sorbo's witty, earthy portrayal of our half god, half mortal hero. Sorbo delivers many one-liners throughout the show and his straight-faced delivery makes them all the more effective. But he also avoids the temptation to overact, extremely important in a satirical series such as this. He has good comic chemistry with co-star Michael Hurst, which is important if we are to believe that Hercules would befriend a mortal. The wrong casting could lead to disaster. Luckily, this show was well cast down the line.
Twenty-two episodes of the second season of the series are spread out over six discs. On a scale of zero to five swords:
"The King of Thieves"
The title character (Bruce Campbell) has stolen the King's rare ruby and has allowed Iolaus to take the blame. Hercules must capture the King of Thieves in order to save his friend. Unfortunately for Herc, he didn't count on his adversary being very slippery.
"All That Glitters"
Good king Midas has become mixed up with two dangerous grifters. Can Hercules restore the kingdom to normal?
"What's In A Name?"
Hercules' half-brother Ipecles has been using his brother's name to get closer to the woman he loves.
"The Siege At Naxos"
Hercules and Iolaus capture Goth, a barbarian, and decide to take him to Athens to stand trial. The barbarians aren't going down without a fight and soon the trio are holding fort at a nearby castle.
Townspeople object to a romance between a centaur and a human woman. It's up to Hercules to set things right before it gets ugly.
"Under the Broken Sky"
Atticus turns to Hercules for help in finding his lost wife Lucina, who happens to be working at the nightclub owned by Salmonius' brother-in-law.
"Mother of All Monsters"
Echidna wants revenge against Hercules and decides to hit him where it will hurt the most: by kidnapping and killing his mother, Alcmene.
"The Other Side"
Hercules must travel to the other side to rescue Persephone after she is kidnapped by Hades. [Editor's Note: Sorry fanboys, Persephone is not portrayed by Monica Bellucci.]
"The Fire Down Below"
Salmoneus is becoming rich by selling valuable treasures. However, the way these treasures are being acquired is raising suspicion among some and it's up to Herc to find out what's going on.
"Cast A Giant Shadow"
Hercules frees a bumbling giant (Glenn Shadix, Beetlejuice) and discovers that he is the husband of his enemy, Echidna.
"Highway to Hades"
Hades asks Hercules for help after Sisyphus forces his loyal guard Timiron to take his place on the other side.
"The Sword of Veracity"
Hercules and Iolaus must help a man who is falsely accused by Hera's guards of stealing a valuable item.
Hera creates a water-based female enforcer to kill Hercules after her old enforcer becomes mortal after sparing Herc's life.
"Once A Hero"
The Golden Fleece is stolen. Hercules and Iolaus team with Jason and the Argonauts to reclaim it.
Iolaus gains a psychic gift after being struck by lightning. Meanwhile, Hercules must save a village from turmoil.
"Let the Games Begin"
Hercules creates the Olympic Games to save two fighting armies from future bloodshed.
Kevin Sorbo made his directorial debut with this wacky comedy. Iolaus receives a golden apple from the goddess Aphrodite. The apple, when pressed against a woman, will make her fall instantly in love. Unfortunately, Iolaus decides to test it on the wrong woman.
Both King Boraeus and Tarlus love Ramina. Hercules must find a workable solution before blood is shed.
"King for a Day"
A local king is murdered and Iolaus happens to be a dead ringer for the fallen monarch.
Proteus is causing trouble for an entire town by committing a crime and allowing another man to take the blame.
"The Wedding of Alcmene"
Alcmene and Jason decide to get married but are unaware of a plot by Jason's adviser to take control of the kingdom.
Hercules' nephew Deon has psychic powers -- and the boy's pirate uncle wants to use him for evil.
"Centaur Mentor Journey"
Ceridian, Hercules' mentor, is dying. His last wish: to see his other protégé, Cassius, before he dies. Only problem is that the Centaurs and humans hate each other.
"Cave of Echoes"
Clip show time! Hercules and Iolaus reflect upon two seasons' worth of mayhem to Parentheses, a young reporter.
Anchor Bay's full frame video transfer is uneven. While the colors look beautiful and vivid and day scenes look terrific, all scenes involving night or darkness look pretty bad. Thick grain and scratches and lines often plague these scenes. "Heedless Hearts" looks particularly awful, with a strange snowiness throughout the episode and some ghosting here and there. It's depressing to see a relatively recent program have such middling quality, even a low budget one like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
I'm not sure if Dolby Digital 5.1 surround stereo was the right choice of sound mixes for this set. In general, it sounds good. But there are times when the sound effects and score overpower some dialogue and that becomes annoying after a few hours. And there are some imperfections that sneak in every now and then.
Extras are the best feature of this box set. After reviewing several titles in which the extra features were either skimpy or nonexistent, Anchor Bay has provided some worthwhile ones. First, they managed to get Kevin Sorbo to sit down to record four commentary tracks, both audio and video. Assistant director Wayne Rose chimes in from time to time as well. Sorbo comes across as enthusiastic and likable in his commentaries and he always provides good information. The most refreshing aspect is his honesty; some actors tend to treat a commentary track as one big ego trip (Chevy Chase, I'm talking to you!), but Sorbo is even keeled and good natured and even winces at a few bad moments. Most recommended.
Disc Seven is in CD-ROM form and has quite a few special features:
* Hercules Chronicles: Your Guide to the Gods. An extremely insightful guide
into all the gods featured in the series.
* Actor/Director Bios. Your standard biographies, no better or worse than before.
* Trivia Game. This should only be attempted after you watch all 22 episodes.
* Screensaver. Worth trying out at least once.
* Photo Gallery. The usual type of gallery; again, no better or worse than before.
The real prizes are featured in an eighth bonus disc:
* Interview with Robert Tapert: an hour-long, in depth discussion with
Tapert about the series' second season. He is brutally honest (he even
acknowledges that some of the episodes are less than stellar!) and a very
animated speaker. Included in this interview is Kevin Sorbo's appearance on
Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. If you can only view one of these
features, choose this one.
* Blooper Reel. Again, what is funny on the set is less than on the TV screen.
* Special Effects Reel. An interesting view into the show's visual effects. Worth a look at least once.
* Costumes Gallery. A insider's view into the costumes of Hercules. If you're into this sort of thing, definitely check it out.
Fans of the series during its heyday will no doubt plunk down the $89.99 retail for this set. Casual viewers will be better served by either renting this set or catching the reruns on television. Either way, it's a show worth checking out, despite some shortcomings.
Anchor Bay is urged to make a greater effort with their video transfers.
As for the rest of you, you have ten seconds to leave the courtroom before I unleash the mighty goddess Hera on you all. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6...
Works every time.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1080 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary on Four Episodes by Kevin Sorbo
* Video Commentary on Four Episodes by Kevin Sorbo
* Interview with Producer Robert Tapert
* Blooper Reel
* Special Effects Reel
* Costumes Gallery
* Photo Gallery
* Actor/Director Bios
* Hercules Chronicles CD-ROM Feature
* Trivia Game