Our reviews of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Three (published July 21st, 2004), Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Five (published April 27th, 2005), and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Four (published October 20th, 2004) are also available.
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.
Facts of the Case
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"
"All That Glitters"
"What's In A Name?"
"The Siege At Naxos"
"Under the Broken Sky"
"Mother of All Monsters"
"The Other Side"
"The Fire Down Below"
"Cast A Giant Shadow"
"Highway to Hades"
"The Sword of Veracity"
"Once A Hero"
"Let the Games Begin"
"King for a Day"
"The Wedding of Alcmene"
"Centaur Mentor Journey"
"Cave of Echoes"
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.
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.
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.
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