Ok, so here’s the deal: I decided to watch my Project Terrible-assignments in that order which I thought would bring me decreasing pain with each passing movie. Thus, I started with the movie that I was looking forward to the least, and ended with the movie that I was the most hopeful about. Well, that didn’t exactly work out as planned, since “Rappin'” – which I expected to hate – was actually the movie that I liked best of the bunch, while “Hercules” (which I kept for last), turned out to be far less entertaining than I had expected.
The main reason why I had at least moderate hopes for this one was that I actually kinda like “Masters of the Universe” (don’t judge me, please), and this seemed to be cut from the same cloth. Now, of course, contrary to “Hercules”, I actually grew up with “Masters of the Universe” (which, in a home were “purchase”-VHS-tapes of movies were practically non-existent [we had a VHS recorder, but only blank tapes which we then used to record things off from TV] and the TV stations hardly ever showed “Star Wars”, ended up being my substitute drug), which gives it the nostalgic edge. And I guess, had I grown up with “Hercules”, I might have liked it a little bit more. Then again, it’s definitely not even a “Masters of the Universe” – and that’s saying something. Because whatever you may think of Dolph Lundgren’s turn as He-Man, and I know that there are a lot of people who loathe the movie, but at least they tried. They had a solid budget, a nice cast, decent costumes and effects, and a serviceable story. “Hercules”, unfortunately, has none of that. The only things that it shares with “Masters of the Universe” are the weird mixture of SF- and Fantasy-elements, as well as an overall silliness. However, where I found that quite charming in the latter, here it mostly didn’t work for me. Thus, while “Hercules” seemingly tries to fall somewhere between “Superman” and “Flash Gordon” (with shades of “Conan”), it instead only barely manages to better Cannon Films own “Superman”-sequel, “The Quest for Peace”. And that really isn’t saying much.
Granted, with a sufficiently high trash-tolerance-level, there’s some fun to be had here. Scenes like Hercules’ fight with the bear (which he then throws into space, where he ends up building the star constellation “Greater Bear”), the way he cleans the stables within a couple of minutes (by redirecting a river that then runs through it; and after all that water, the staples even sparkle like in those cheap detergent-commercials!), the ridiculously big moon in the background, the rainbow that leads to the gates of hell, the chariot-ride into space, the bad dubbing of Lou Ferrigno, the constant over-acting of William Berger as King Minos (“Science! For the sake of science!”), as well as a couple of terrible lines (“Your groom is eager to inflame your passions.” – right before he lowers her into the volcano) make this occasionally (and, I assume, unintentionally) funny, and thus at least bearable. Also, the score is alright, and scenes with the Atlantis-model (even though it was clearly recognizable as such) actually didn’t look all that bad. Nevertheless, the bad far outweighs the good, I’m afraid. It already started off rather unpromising, with the extremely weird prologue where the narrator tells us that the universe was created with the four main elements “Night, Day, Matter and Air” (What?!). Apart from Atlantis, the effects were laughable, and were extremely outdated even back then. The flaming sword looked especially bad (which was especially damning since that was the showdown of the movie, after all!), and the metallic monsters (where they seemingly tried to copy Harryhausen, but without a fraction of his aptitude and craftmanship), while bringing a certain a steampunk-element to it, had absolutely no charm at all.
It also didn’t help that a couple of scenes – like the one where the blades of the chariots simply break when they get into contact with Hercules, leaving not even a scratch – made him look invincible, which not only completely took out any tension that the movie otherwise might have had, but also made Circe’s sacrifice (one of the funniest death scenes that I’ve seen in a long time) seem totally unnecessary (she throws herself into the blast of the metallic monster, and a couple of seconds later, Hercules himself is hit, but remains unhurt). Also, the movie misses a sense of adventure and fun. It also takes far too long for Hercules to finally reach Atlantis. The narrator was completely unnecessary. And the damsel in distress, Cassiopeia, definitely could have put up a little bit more of a fight. In the end, they bring her into the sacrificial chamber, and she doesn’t even struggle or anything. I guess she didn’t have anything better to do anyway. And also, the bad guy didn’t make any sense. On the one hand, he praises science, and on the other hand, he plans to throw the virgin into the volcano in order to prevent its eruption – which doesn’t seem very scientific to me. Ultimately, though, it all boils down to this: They simply didn’t have the necessary budget to successfully accomplish what they tried to do here. While you don’t need that much money for all those cheap B-action-movies that Cannon Films threw out back then, a fantasy-movie has far higher demands, budget-wise. “Hercules” is 80% ambition, and only 20% achievement; and even from those, 10% stem from the unintentional hilarity of it all. Sadly, I actually prefer the lousy Ratner/The Rock “Hercules” to this – and that really is a shame.