See It Instead: The Legend of Hercules
“Everything old is new again” is a phrase Hollywood lives by. Looking at the marquee of your local theater, you might suspect it’s the only phrase they know! Here at See It Instead, we celebrate the old that is actually old, sifting through the mountains of celluloid in order to bring you forgotten cinematic gems. If a recent blockbuster has piqued your interest, or you just want to avoid the lines at the snack bar, count on us to bring you movies you should See Instead.
The Legend of Hercules (2014)
Hercules has had a rough go of it in cinematic history, though he has been a god-send to the boys over at Mystery Science Theater. This latest iteration of Hercules fares no better, ignoring most of the mythical aspects of the titular titan in favor of sub-par sword and sandal tomfoolery. One suspects that this movie was actually meant to cash in on the Spartacus buzz, missed that boat, and then pivoted to steal some of the thunder from the upcoming Hercules (2014) starring The Rock. It manages to fail at both attempts rather miserably, and I hope that the studio realizes that if you try to steal from Dwayne Johnson, you’re just asking for a sweaty elbow drop to the kisser.
Hercules seems to be the Hollywood version of a band-aid. If your action movie is going off the rails and turning into a messy porridge of insanity and broken plot lines, simply rename your main character Hercules and it all makes sense. He had some crazy adventures, right? Who can keep track of them all! So we’ll just assume he fought robots, lived on the moon, or argued with cabbies. Here are some of my personal favorites, in no particular order. In an Inception like move, I will also provide you with movies you should see instead…of the movie I say you should see instead. It’s going to get deep…
1. Hercules in New York (1969)
Infamous far and wide, Hercules in New York is so bad, it’s good, and then bad again just for good measure. Got it? A young Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first screen role (credited as Arnold Strong since nobody could pronounce his name…) stars as a brash and clueless demigod who demands that his father, Zeus, allow him to visit the mortal realm after so long an absence. Zeus relents, and Arnie packs his favorite knit cap and toga and heads off to New York for adventures. Why? ‘CAUSE HERCULES! Notable for it’s horrendous dubbing of Arnold’s Austrian accent (alliteration!) and for it’s schmalzy take on New York, it is worth a watch, if only to see something better than The Last Stand.
But Really See Instead: Pumping Iron (1977)
Arnold’s true introduction to the world, Pumping Iron is a documentary that focuses on the world of professional bodybuilding. It begins by showing a nascent gym culture, centered on the famous Gold’s Gym (the original, not the 8 million franchises that have opened since) and the incredible routines of the professional and aspiring bodybuilders. It next takes the viewer around the world to the Mr. Olympia competition, as it watches various individuals vie for the title of Mr. Olympia. Though featuring a wide assortment of athletes, the real star is Arnold, a young and confident bodybuilder who commands a celebrity status, and who ruthlessly dominates his competition with (would you believe it?) mind games. Watching him completely destroy Lou Ferrigno’s confidence the day of the competition is amazing and awful at once. Oh, and the movie also features the future governator talking about weightlifting as sex, and pounding down friend chicken and marijuana like he was in the Red Sox’s bullpen. Though this movie popularized the bodybuilding craze, it also has a bittersweet tone as it explores the losers as well as the winners. Excellent documentary.
2. Hercules (1983)
As a consolation prize for not unseating Schwarzenegger as Mr. Olympia, our buddies Golan and Globus (who brought us such gems as Super Girl, Bloodsport, and Over the Top) gave Lou Ferrigno a chance to make a name by playing Hercules in a pants-crappingly terrific/terrible movie. From their home base on the moon, the Olympians, here represented by a man in a Burger King crown wearing a wig and beard so awful he must have mugged a mall Santa for it, and two rejects from a Blondie music video, discuss the upcoming end of the world. In order to safeguard mankind, they send the spirit of light incarnate, Hercules, to become a human child, and to fight to protect the earth. He does so by bashing the hell out of men in tin breastplates, waving various sized logs at green-screen monsters, and relentlessly adopting bodybuilding poses. It’s amazing. Lou Ferrigno looks utterly baffled by the mechanical monsters he is fighting (mechanical why? ‘CAUSE HERCULES!) and is obviously ill at ease with special effects…or acting for that matter. But when he is told to pose, man, his face lights up like the sun and you can almost believe a god truly walks among us.
But Really See Instead: The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990)
The last of three made-for-television movies, this film featured the end of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno partnership that spanned twenty years of television episodes and films. Bixby as Bruce Banner, and Ferrigno as the Hulk were a terrific duo, taciturn and vulnerable, bestial and innocent. In real life, the two were friends as well, Bixby serving as a mentor figure for Ferrigno. Though the special snatched away the promised happy ending at the last moment, the final sacrifice of the Hulk to save Banner’s loved ones, and the look of serenity on the motionless face of the Hulk as it transitions back to a lifeless Banner made for a fitting end to an iconic character. Though I would have liked to see him sadly hitching a ride to somber credit music one last time…
3. Hercules Unchained (1959)
This Hercules hits all of the sweet spots. The main beef-cake, Steve Reeves, had all of his lines dubbed by a Charlton Heston sound-alike. The action sequences mostly amount to Herc picking up ludicrously large objects and hurling them at people too dense to side step about five feet to safety. The plot mangles to hell about 5 different Greek myths, including an overlong segue about Hercules being seduced by an evil queen and forgetting his identity…so we can see Reeves idle about on various lounge furniture looking oiled up and laconic. And finally, we have the ridiculous battle scene, where two opposing armies wipe each other out (why? ‘CAUSE HERCULES!) while our hero manages to strangle three plush tigers in a row. I can’t tell you why I’ve seen this film, just that I have. So that’s good enough reason to inflict it on you. You’re welcome.
Bur Really See Instead: Hercules the Legendary Journeys (1995-1999)