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Buy from Amazon.com

Anchor Bay presents
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys—Season Four (1997-1998)

Ares: I can't believe you have these mortals convinced that you're this "Kevin Sorbo" character.
Hercules: Some people just aren't ready for the truth.

- Kevin Smith, Kevin Sorbo

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: July 12, 2004

Stars: Kevin Sorbo, Michael Hurst
Other Stars: Bruce Campbell, Robert Trebor, Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, Hudson Leick, Kevin Smith, Ted Raimi, Alexandra Tydings, Ian Bohen, Scott Michaelson, Meg Foster, Roy Dotrice
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (contains violence, but is suitable for most audiences)
Run Time: 16h:13m:30s
Release Date: July 13, 2004
UPC: 013131276190
Genre: television


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

DVD Review

The third season of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys moved beyond its previous years and brought a welcome depth to the enjoyable series. Several ongoing storylines, most notably our hero's marriage and the subsequent death of his wife, helped the show to draw an audience not just interested in over-the-top fight sequences. The steps forward in that season must have emboldened the writers to take more chances and place Hercules into more outlandish situations. During their original airings, these episodes caused me to lose interest. The creators hadn't completely "jumped the shark" with the 22 new hour-long stories, but they were beginning to waver into overly silly territory. Much of their original success stemmed from this enjoyable, carefree manner, but the human elements also drove the show. Possibly attempting to create a lighter alternative to the darker, more popular Xena: Warrior Princess, they often stumbled during the up-and-down fourth season.

Before this review gets too critical, I must say that Hercules still provides a healthy dose of mindless entertainment. This may not be the series' best season, but it does depict plenty of creativity from the writers. The season premiere Beanstalks and Bad Eggs has Hercules battling a giant and climbing a beanstalk, and the stories pretty much continue down that path. Stranger in a Strange World even creates an alternative dimension where all the characters play a different role. Hercules showcases his fine dancing skills in ...And Fancy Free, appears in the present day in Yes, Virginia, There is a Hercules, and is transformed into a pig in the aptly titled Porcules. These tales offer plenty of fun, which is all one can really ask for from this type of show.

One of the difficulties faced by the writer's was a major illness for Kevin Sorbo, which caused them to find creative ways to keep him off-screen. This explains his lesser presence in many of the episodes during the season's middle portion. The loss of Sorbo lessened the overall impact, but it also gave the supporting characters a chance to play a larger role. Iolaus (Michael Hurst) steps into the forefront wonderfully in several major stories, and other entertaining figures like Autolycus (Bruce Campbell) receive greater screen time. Several episodes also feature the young versions of Hercules, Iolaus, and Jason during flashback moments, which usually don't work nearly as well as the other tales. The series Young Hercules would follow in 1998 and utilize many of these actors (along with familiar supporting characters). The clip shows also provided a break for Sorbo, but like usual these were not overly impressive. The overall effect is a jumbled mix of solid episodes and ambitious failures that are worthwhile but fall short of being overly memorable.

The following descriptions provide an overview of the season's more notable episodes. Each one offers examples of the best and worst moments of Hercules' fourth year.

Stranger in a Strange World
Angered by the fighting between Hercules and Ares, Zeus sends down a lightning bolt that opens a gateway to a parallel dimension. Each character is much different here, as Hercules is a nasty ruler named The Sovereign and Iolaus is a cowardly court jester. Additionally, Ares (Kevin Smith) is the God of Love and Aphrodite (Alexandra Tydings) is the shy and proper queen of the Gods. Iolaus accidentally switches with his silly alternate self and must try to counterract The Sovereign's nefarious plans. This premise offers numerous opportunities for an ingenious story, but instead the writers resort to cheap laughs and groan-inducing comedy. The actors obviously have a lot of fun playing different roles, especially Smith as the opposite of his usually brutish self. Lucy Lawless and Alexandra Tydings even get messy with a wedding cake during a silly battle. This episode is extremely clever, but it often feels tedious and misses chances for greater depth.

If I Had a Hammer
Hercules gets to pose nude (save for a few grapes) for an artist, which should please some female fans. Meanwhile, the muscled blacksmith Atalanta (Cory Everson) has a crush for our hero, and forges an iron version of the son of Zeus. Haphaestus brings this statue to life as Hercules, which appears to be a wonderful gift. Unfortunately, this innocent dude is easily corrupted by Dischord (Meighan Desmond), which brings him into conflict with the original Hercules. This story marks the return of stunning bodybuilder Cory Everson, and the result is an interesting story. The typical split-screen shots are needed to bring two Kevin Sorbo's together, and that effect is a bit old. However, this tale does allow Sorbo to again take on a different persona.

Armageddon Now, Parts 1 and 2
This exciting two-part episode brings numerous memorable supporting characters into the mix for a big time-travel story. Callisto (Hudson Leick) has been freed by the evil child Hope (from a recent Xena episode), and they concoct a brilliant plan to end Hercules for good. She uses Ares to trap Hercules in the Netherworld with the Sovereign, which is no fun for either guy. The next step involves a journey back into time to murder Alcmene, Hercules' mother. Can Iolaus find a way to prevent his best friend's destruction? This task will be extremely difficult, as Callisto is now a full-fledged God. This episode nicely combines the dramatic elements with entertaining moments and provides one of the season's best episodes. The Sovereign is used more effectively this time, and other notable actors also make surprise appearances. Also, this tale shows a prime example of how the producers wrote around Kevin Sorbo's illness.

Yes Virginia, There is a Hercules
This modern-day episode depicts the series' main staff (played by familiar actors) scrambling to discover alternate plans when Kevin Sorbo goes missing. They consider numerous ideas of using other pivotal characters as the lead, and often act in a ridiculous fashion. This silly entry includes countless in-jokes about the writers and producers that will probably go over the heads of most viewers (like me). However, it still provides plenty of amusing moments and is especially entertaining. Clips from past stories are used to keep things moving, as nearly the entire episode takes place in one room. This unique story also compensates for Kevin Sorbo's absence by making him a lost figure. Bruce Campbell, Hudson Leick, Ted Raimi, and others all give amusing performances, which makes this an enjoyable entry.

Top God/Reunions
The fourth season's final two episodes tell an intriguing story about Hercules finally becoming a full God and moving to Olympus. First of all, however, our hero must deal with the death of his mother from the preceding episode Twilight. Zeus (Charles Dotrice) arrives and offers Hercules a place at his side since no family is still around. While he considers the choice, we observe a flashback of a younger Hercules becoming a full God and battling the arrogant Apollo (Scott Michaelson). Top God is odd and not a great entry, but it does lead well into the finale. Reunions takes place on Olympus and brings Hercules into direct conflict with Hera, played well by Meg Foster. Her tricks have already reduced Zeus into a mortal, and she could destroy our hero forever. The season ends on a solid note and offers numerous opportunities for future stories. Certain aspects would also play an important role in the season finale two years later.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: This box set follows the pattern of the earlier releases and provides a solid full-frame transfer. The original television source material obviously limits its success, but the picture still appears very clearly. Little grain exists throughout the episodes and the sometimes-crude effects work impressively. The oddball colors are easily distinguishable, and the black levels are decent across the board.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys Season Four utilizes an excellent 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that is much better than many television DVD releases. The audio does remain fairly centralized, but the sound effects still work very well. The dialogue is always clear and understandable, and the energetic music springs well from the front speakers.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 110 cues
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Michael Hurst on Hero's Heart; Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst on ... And Fancy Free; and Michael Hurst and Eric Gruendemann on Yes, Virginia There is Hercules
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
9 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus CD-ROM disc with Hercules Chronicles, Bios, Trivia, and Mythology
  2. Cast and Crew Interviews on Beanstalks and Bad Eggs, Stranger in a Strange World, If I Had a Hammer, Hercules on Trial, Armageddon Now Part 2, Porkules, Twilight, and Reunions
  3. Photo Galleries
  4. Credits
  5. Dailies from Stranger in a Strange World
Extras Review: Much of Hercules: The Legendary Journey's success relates to the undeniable chemistry between stars Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst, and this connection also serves the set's extra features. They appear together during the interview segments and provide plenty of entertaining moments. These cast and crew discussions appear for eight episodes and provide an interesting overview of each entry. They generally run between 10 and 15 minutes and include comments from an array of cast and crew members. These segments contain episode clips and work much better than the feature-length commentaries. Those three tracks basically reveal how little Hurst, Sorbo, and Eric Gruendemann remember of the stories. They spend much of the time laughing and enjoying the episodes, but the amount of intriguing material is limited. The interview clips are edited together to give more information and provide a shorter look at the memorable tale.

The final disc also includes more than 25 minutes of dailies from the Stranger in a Strange World episode. Several scenes are depicted from multiple angles and provide a brief glimpse at creating an individual show. We also view the actors making mistakes with their lines, which is always entertaining. The other featurette, "Bringing Monsters to Life at K.N.B. EFX Group," provides a compelling 17-minute tour of the effects shop and all its aspects. Our guide is entertaining and gives us some interesting material, especially involving the Cerberus. A photo gallery is also provided with this release.

Once again, fans should enjoy the bonus CD-ROM, which may be used in your computer to access a wealth of series information. This disc includes the Hercules Chronicles; actor, director, and writer biographies; series trivia, and production drawings. These items are a bit much for me, but they should be a godsend to viewers who can't enough of the son of Zeus.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

The fourth season of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys may not live up to the promise of the preceding year, but it undoubtedly will please the series' devoted fans. Once again presented in impressive packaging and accompanied by solid extras, this set delivers the goods. I did not view the fifth season during its initial run, but I'm hoping the producers learned from their mistakes and crafted a more consistent season.

 


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