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Anchor Bay presents
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys—Season Two (1995-1996)

"Even the great Hercules is not match for the King of Thieves . . ."
- Autolycus (Bruce Campbell)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: January 29, 2004

Stars: Kevin Sorbo, Michael Hurst
Other Stars: Bruce Campbell, Kevin Smith, Robert Trebor, Alexandra Tydings, Teresa Hill, Audie England, Bridget Hoffman, Jeffrey Thomas
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for most television audiences)
Run Time: 18h:00m:00s
Release Date: October 21, 2003
UPC: 013131258998
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+BB+ B+

DVD Review

"This is the story of a time long ago, a time of myth and legend, when the the ancient gods were petty and cruel, and they plagued mankind with suffering. Only one man dared to challenge their power—Hercules. Hercules possessed a strength the world had never seen, surpassed only by the power of his heart. He journeyed the Earth battling the minions of his wicked stepmother Hera, the all-powerful Queen of the Gods. But wherever there was evil, wherever an innocent would suffer, there would be Hercules."

The fantasy genre rarely gets a fair shake on television and is often relegated to nearly unwatchable syndicated fare and bad Sci-Fi channel movies. Writers face the conflict of playing the material too straight (i.e. the terrible Ulysses TV movie) or making it high camp designed totally for silliness' sake (i.e. the old Hercules movies). In crafting the formula for the newer Hercules movies starring Kevin Sorbo, executive producers Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi tried to provide both dramatic action and humor within the same product. The five feature films garnered surprising success and opened the door for a weekly television series. This format allowed the writers to tackle all types of mythology, which offered endless villains for Hercules to face.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys presents the son of Zeus' story from the ancient times but injects a modern sensibility to the series. Kevin Sorbo, Michael Hurst, and the other actors speak in terms familiar to today's audiences and even make culture references to current times. This different tone increases the show's accessibility to viewers of all ages and removes the barriers often presented by mythological features. Plus, the series includes loads of humor that keeps everything from growing too bleak. The fight scenes with both humans and monsters are often ridiculous, but they work because it fits with the usually lighthearted tone of the series. Luckily, a dramatic force also appears that keeps the series from reaching a campy level. Much of this success comes from the starring duo, who aren't doing Shakespeare but do lend believability to the silly material. Hurst actually steals nearly every show from Sorbo with his manic energy and likable demeanor.

The second season represents the first complete year and allows the writers to expand the universe into many inventive directions. New characters appearing include "King of Thieves" Autolycus, Jason (of "The Argonauts" fame), the stunning Aphrodite, Hera's striking hitwoman Nemesis, and Hercules' half-brother Iphicles. They also encounter tons of nasty villians, most notably Echidna—the Mother of All Monsters, the fiery monster Pyro, the Mandrake, the brutal Enforcer, and the huge sea serpent Perfidia. In other news, Hercules helps to start the first Olympics, his mother, Alcmene, marries Jason, and he reunites briefly with his dead wife when visiting Hades. The following sections briefly describe the central characters, their friends, and some of the more notorious enemies:

Hercules (Kevin Sorbo): The son of the supreme god Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene, Hercules possesses unbelievable strength but also faces the limitations of being a real guy. He has faced numerous challenges over the years, and appeared very happy with his wife Dainera and three children. Unfortunately, Zeus' wife Hera exacted her vengeance on Hercules' family and destroyed them all. Following a difficult mourning period, he decides to continue helping people and battle Hera's numerous minions. Hercules utilizes his abundant strength often, but he also tries to resolve tough issues without resorting to violence. His dry wit also keeps him sane while he faces overwhelming enemies.

Iolaus (Michael Hurst): Hercules' best friend and faithful sidekick, Iolaus can definitely hold his own in a nasty battle. He may lack the son of Zeus' abundant strength, but he makes up for it with deft agility and quick thinking. Iolaus has a bit more fun than his stoic companion, and often catches the eye of a pretty dame. Of course, his more fun-loving nature and courage sometimes gets him into dire trouble. Luckily, Hercules is around to save the day more than once.

Salmoneus (Robert Trebor): This pudgy, silly guy provides a sharp contrast with Hercules and Iolaus' battling methods. Salmoneus is always searching to make a quick dinar, and sometimes needs Hercules to be his conscience. This guy is little match for the evil villains, but he remains a strong friend to our heroes and a generally jovial fellow. Salmoneus also does surprisingly well with the ladies.

Alcmene (Liddy Holloway): Hercules' middle-aged mother manages to get him into some trouble while searching for a new husband. She first takes up with Demetrius, a handsome warrior who unfortunately uses her to trap Hercules. Next comes the famed Jason (of the Argonauts fame) who is a great guy, but the union also leads to danger from a sea serpent. Alcmene engaged in a tryst with Zeus, which lead to Hercules' conception. She also had a second son, Iphicles, with a mortal guy.

Iphicles (Kevin Smith): Although pretty much unmentioned prior to this season, Hercules does have a half-brother who lacks the powers of the gods. Iphicles is a strong guy and possesses Hercules' caring heart, but he struggles with living in his brother's shadow. Depicted well by Kevin Smith, who also plays the sinister Ares, Iphicles is one of the season's more interesting guest characters.

Autolycus (Bruce Campbell):The self-proclaimed "King of Thieves" is always entertaining and would return for numerous entertaining appearances on both Hercules and Xena. This silly character often finds himself in trouble, but he uses some deft agility and quick thinking to stay alive. It also helps to have Hercules on his side too. Evil Dead star and B-movie veteran Bruce Campbell throws himself into this character and can't help but generate some laughs each time.

Echidna (Bridget Hoffman): The "Mother of All Monsters," Echidna has created many of Hercules' evil foes, who he sadly murdered to save humanity. Her intense anger at these losses has caused her to declare war on the son of Zeus. A multi-tentacled enemy, she is able to create beautiful female archers with one strike. (That's not a bad talent to have.) Her husband is the giant Typhon—a friendly guy imprisoned by Hera to draw the monster's anger. Echidna appears in several episodes, with the first being especially good, and she ranks as one the series' most notable creatures.

Demetrius (Martin Kove): This cruel warrior appears in just a single episode, but he makes a considerable impression. Scheming with Echidna, he woos Alcmene successfully and arranges a trap for the unsuspecting Hercules. Karate Kid baddie Martin Kove brings an intriguing menace to this villain, who stands apart from the series' typical one-note enemies.

Pyro: Few monsters generate the response of Pyro, the fiery demon who murdered Hercules' parents. Brought in by Hera during another elaborate trap to kill Hercules, this guy has fun burning people. Unfortunately, he grows a little too overzealous and falls prey to a simple trap from our hero.

Nemesis (Teresa Hill): This gorgeous character is easily my favorite of the many attractive females in the season. Serving as the hitwoman for Hera, she travels with a bow-and-arrow and enacts justice against those who deserve it. Opting to make her own decisions, Nemesis defies Hera and is punished by becoming a mortal. She is also Hercules' first love, and feelings between the two may remain.

Jason (Jeffrey Thomas): The leader of the Argonauts, Jason enters the show in a drunken state babbling about a demon. Luckily, he regains his honor and proves it over many subsequent episodes. Played with a quiet stoicism by Jeffrey Thomas, Jason is one of the show's most effective characters. He also marries Hercules' mother Alcmene, which causes a few problems but eventually leads to happiness.

Classic Episodes
The series is generally consistent, but certain episodes are standouts that deserve mention. They generally combine a dire situation with heightened emotional tension, or might just be a very clever. Some of the show's most notable guest stars play a major role here, especially certain nasty enemies. Listed below this group are several dull episodes that will probable never be viewed again at my residence.

The King of Thieves: While attempting to rescue an unknown victim, Iolaus actually aids the notorious Autolycus, the King of Thieves, and is captured in his stead. Hercules must track the silly outlaw and bring him to justice to save his innocent friend. Bruce Campbell enters the series with wonderful aplomb and crafts an engaging character who will return numerous times. His interplay with Sorbo is excellent, especially during their showdown with an angry beast inside an abandoned castle.

What's in a Name?: Hercules is shocked to learn that an impostor has been deceiving people using his name and has even joined forces with an evil tyrant. Events take a more personal turn when the guy is revealed as Hercules' half-brother Iphicles (Kevin Smith). He is an honorable man, but is afraid his lovely fiancée will leave him when she learns to truth. This episode really scores with its action sequences, including Hercules' battles through a complex and deadly maze and a fight with the nasty Mandrake. Michael Hurst also gets surprising mileage out of spending the episode being very hungry.

The Mother of All Monsters: In one of the season's most clever shows, the evil warrior Demetrius (Martin Kove) enacts a scheme with Echidna, the Mother of All Monsters (Bridget Hoffman), to kill both Hercules and his mother. Taking on the guise of a charming ex-warrior, Demetrius seduces Alcmene and lures her son into a trap. If that wasn't enough, we also have a group of stunning female archers whose arrows mean death for any who get in their way. Does Hercules have any chance?

The Other Side: Traveling to Hades to rescue Persephone from the god's clutches, Hercules gets the chance to reunite with his dead wife Deianeira (Tawny Kitaen) and his three children. Unfortunately, they have no memory of the experience, which makes the trip much more difficult. This intriguing story lacks the big fight scenes of many episodes, but it compensates with a worthwhile emotional tale. Sorbo makes Hercules' emotional dilemma extremely believable, and while Kitaen will never be confused with a good actress, she never ventures into campy territory.

The Fire Down Below: Pyro! Few villains have as much fun as this fiery demon as he chases Hercules around a smoky basement. Salmoneus' greed gets the best of him as he unwittingly robs some of Hera's prized treasure. Her gorgeous assassin Nemesis arrives to take care of the guy, but she decides to make her own decisions, which will undoubtedly anger Hera. The whole robbery is yet another ploy to lure Hercules into a deadly battle, this time with the fiery menace who killed his family.

Once a Hero: Cleverly following the story of Jason and the Argonauts, this tale introduces us to the famous hero and his mighty band, which once included Hercules and Iolaus. Sadly, Jason (Jeffrey Thomas) has become a shell of his former self and is tormented by a "demon." When the Golden Fleece is stolen, the gang must once again join together to save the day. This tale's conclusion also features an homage to the work of special effects master Ray Harryhausen in the form of skeletal enemies. One of the season's best.


Less Notable Episodes
It seems likely that certain devout fans will have serious issues with my choice of the least interesting episodes in Season Two. Even these tales have their good points, but they lack the ingenuity present in the best entries.

All That Glitters: This episode continues the King Midas story in okay fashion, but it includes possibly the worst two villains in series history. The female gambling leader is a major caricature and lacks any interesting qualities. This episode also includes a sloppy scene involving two kids in danger, and provides a very obvious plot.

The Siege at Naxos: What could be more exciting than a nasty siege and some brutal barbarians? Well, in the case of this episode, pretty much anything. The series' limited budget is very evident here, and it hampers a generally uninvolving plot. Even a female character's background with the barbarian is not handled very well.

Heedless Hearts: First of all, let me state that Audie England is one of the most attractive female characters present during the entire series. Unfortunately, she's trapped in this dull love story involving Hercules, her apparently dead husband, and a rebellion against a boring king. It's great to see England (Free Enterprise) kicking butt, but this episode still represents a missed opportunity.

Cave of Echoes: Clips episodes usually rank very low with me, but this one is especially irritating because it's the season finale. Couldn't the writers find some type of cliffhanger or major enemy for Hercules to fight before the summer break? Instead, they relate their stories to a young writer (Owen Black) and inspire him with their heroism. Definitely not my idea of a rousing finale.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Hercules utilizes an enhanced version of the original full-frame transfer and generally presents the stories in effective fashion. The striking New Zealand landscapes and computer-generated monsters feature bright, sharp colors. However, the picture includes some surprisingly grainy images that are well below the usual quality level. These defects only provide a minor distraction, however, and the transfer basically offers a solid presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Similar to many television releases, this set includes a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer with impressive sound quality. The battle scenes and energetic music spring powerfully from the speakers and provide an enjoyable ride. The dialogue also works effectively and always resounds clearly. There are some limitations to this track, however, as it doesn't offer the complexity of the better film transfers. Thankfully, it does mark a significant improvement over the television airings and deserves a recommendation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 120 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Kevin Sorbo and Assistant Director Wayne Rose
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
8 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Blooper Reel
  2. Series Trivia
  3. Special Effects Reel
  4. Still Gallery
  5. Screensaver
Extras Review: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys—Season Two includes six discs of episodes and two additional bonus ones. The central discs provide photo galleries and several commentaries with star Kevin Sorbo. Most of the features appear on the CD-ROM and Bonus DVD, which nicely complement the stories depicted. The sections below describe the more prominent supplements offered within this eight-disc set:

Kevin Sorbo Audio/Video Commentaries
Many television stars who have moved on to another series probably wouldn't take the time to sit down and record a commentary, but Kevin Sorbo discusses the show with considerable enthusiasm during four episodes. He provides audio tracks for The Other Side, Cast a Giant Shadow, Let the Games Begin, and The Apple (his directorial debut), with help from assistant director Wayne Rose. An option also exists to view the comments in a shortened video form with Sorbo observing the scenes directly. They are simply condensed versions of the audio, but they do provide a more intimate perspective. Throughout the four commentaries, the star speaks about his personal experiences and pride in the work. These tracks flow nicely and present a humble star willing to laugh at himself and the overall series.

CD-ROM Bonus Disc
Casual fans will probably not find too much to interest them within this CD-ROM, but it should be intriguing for devoted viewers. The "Hercules Chronicles" includes an episode guide and descriptions of the characters, gods, creatures, and treasures (with video clips). A "Guide to the Gods" provides the actual mythology behind many of the series' notable figures. There's also a relatively easy trivia quiz, a downloadable screensaver, and actor/director filmographies. This disc is only playable on your computer, and it moves a bit slowly, but loads of material exists here.


"What You Didn't Know About Hercules" Bonus Disc

Sixty-minute Interview with Executive Producer Rob Tapert
This conversation provides a rare gem—a lengthy, in-depth interview with one of the series' creators. Executive Producer Rob Tapert candidly discusses the show's progression and presents both the season's highs and lows. He seems to choose his words very carefully, but the comments make sense and support many of my own thoughts. The series became more light-hearted during its second season and created some huge tensions between the American writers and New Zealand crew. It's fascinating to hear Tapert discuss so many specific episodes and showcase his passion for the material. We also learn some great background material, including some trouble from an angry guest star who wanted the part of Hercules. Tapert also discusses the series' origins and rules for the show, which of course were mostly broken. The interview moves along very quickly, and should be a treat to knowledgeable fans. Tapert grows pretty emotional near the end thinking about the show and his relationship with Sorbo, which is both touching and difficult to witness. Thrown oddly into the middle is an eight-minute clip of Kevin Sorbo with Regis and Kathy Lee, which is silly and cheesy in typical fashion.

Blooper Reel
Twenty-five minutes of bloopers is a bit much for even the ardent fan, but plenty of silly moments exist within this feature. Some of the best moments involve prop troubles and actors interacting with nonexistent digital effects. We also view the usual flubbed lines and practical jokes, which generally provide a good time. One of my favorites involves the crew storming the Naxos castle in shorts and t-shirts, which is enough to frighten even the most courageous hero.

Special Effects Reel and Costume Designs

This bonus disc also includes a few brief montages that reveal behind-the-scenes details about the production. The special effects piece presents the skeleton fight in Once a Hero with just the actors and then again with stand-ins for the enemies. A third version depicts the completed scene used in the episode. The costume-design montage showcases about three minutes of color drawings of the initial clothing ideas.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys features predictable stories, antiquated visual effects, and often-childish humor that could easily drive viewers to change the channel. However, it succeeds despite these shortcomings due to its engaging lead actors and energetic atmosphere. It's obvious that the cast and crew had a great time filming the episodes, and that enjoyment leads to a entertaining collection.

 


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