Sunday, 16 October 2016

Hercules (4½ Stars)

"I pray to Zeus and Hera, Apollo and Artemis, Ares and Athena, to Poseidon, Aphrodite, Pluto, Demeter, and all the other Gods and Goddesses. I pray to them one and all and all as one, and to all Gods I make sacrifice; not a sacrifice of blood but of reverence to their nobility, their love, their honour, their courage, their kindness, their justice. But to their pettiness, their wantonness, their cruelty, their savagery, their vanity, their injustice, I make no sacrifice, I pay no reverence. I deny all that is ungodly in them. I will worship the beauty they have bestowed: my fellow beings, the animals, the mountains and seas and green earth, the sky, and the light of the sun and the moon and the stars that keep us from the darkness. I will worship and try to emulate all that is great in the Gods; nothing more. If that is not good enough for them, so be it. When my time comes, they can judge me worthy or not. But if they are truly great and truly just, then they can ask no more of any man than what I offer them".

This speech held by Hercules on the cliff is one of the most powerful speeches ever spoken in cinema. It touches the heart of an agnostic like myself. I don't deny that there is a God or Goddess or even a whole family of Gods. Maybe there's no God at all, but only the most presumptuous of atheists would say with certainty that there's no God when there's no evidence to support his claim. Hercules believed in the Gods, and he praised all that was good in them while condemning all that was petty and cruel. Today it's customary for followers of the world's major religions, Christianity and Islam, to accept everything that their God says as correct, even arbitrary commands, simply because He says so. If you follow one of these religions and you wish to accept God's word unquestioningly, so be it, but please be open-minded enough to accept fellow believers who think about what they're told and challenge it.

This is the 17th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2005. If you've been following the posts in my Leelee Sobieski quasi-marathon you might think think that I've forgotten the 15th film, but that's not the case. I haven't been watching them all in order, so you can click here to find my review of her 15th film, "Max". Don't worry, when I finish I'll add a list of all the reviews of her films in the sidebar.

In this film she shares a few passionate kisses with her co-star, the Scottish actor Paul Telfer. That means that the total of her sexual stuff after 16 films is one film with simulated sex and two films with passionate kisses. That's either 6% or 18% of her films, far from the 90% that she claims. I'll update the total as I continue.

If you want to read a full summary of the film's plot, click here for my original review. I don't like to repeat myself. What impressed me today was the film's plot, as taken from the original tale of Hercules. Did Hercules really live? Probably he did, because Greek historians from the 13th Century B.C. write about him and his military exploits. Was he really the son of Zeus? That's a question for theologians to answer, but he was undoubtedly a very strong man. Did he really do all the things attributed to him in this film? I doubt it. It's such classic drama, a literary masterpiece, that it's too perfect a tale to be true. There are similar legends that are much older, so it's possible that there was a much earlier fictional character called Hercules, as much as 2000 years earlier, and the deeds of the fictional hero were attributed to the real man called Hercules.

This is the most faithful film adaptation I know of the life of Hercules, even though his 12 labours are reduced to six in the film. Even with this simplification of the story the film lasts almost three hours. Family drama is interspersed with the battles against supernatural creatures. Hercules marries a woman who hates him (an arranged marriage), he kills his own sons, and Hercules' mother, a priestess of Hera, is tricked into sacrificing her own son Iphicles, Hercules' twin brother. The family relationships and love affairs are so complex that you would need a flow chart to connect them all.

The premise for the whole story is that there's an ongoing war between Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the Gods. The Greeks may have had one religion, but it was a divided religion. People decided whether they wanted to follow the way of Zeus or Hera. Often there was a division in the family, because husbands preferred Zeus while their wives preferred Hera. Problems like this were solved at the yearly Harvest Festival. Husbands and wives celebrated at night. The men had to stand blindfolded while the women danced. One of the men was selected as the harvest king. Usually the priestess selected a man who was known as a follower of Zeus. The priestess sat astride the man while the other women stabbed him to death as a sacrifice to ensure a good harvest.

In the film Leelee Sobieski plays the part of the wood nymph Deianeira. She's a servant of Hera who watches over the harvest festivals. She witnesses the conception of Hercules when Zeus rapes Alcmene. Despite her allegiance to Hera Deianeira feels drawn to Hercules, and she breaks her vow of celibacy to become his second wife after his first wife Megara leaves him.

There are different versions of this film available with different running times. Originally it was shown as a two-part mini-series on television, and when it was edited into a film cuts were made to reduce it to what was considered a suitable length. I own two versions, the American and the German version, and I find the German version superior. It's 37 minutes longer, but I suspect there are still scenes that have been cut.

The only fault I have about this film is that the low budget limits the special effects. Everything else is perfect: the acting, the story, the cinematography. Just compare this with the awful film that starred Dwayne Johnson in 2014.

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  1. I was surprised the film included the mad slaying of his own family. The Hercules legend has a lot of darkness in it , and I was pleased the film had the guts to address some of it.

    1. I find it less surprising. As someone who read the Greek myths as a teenager I was always aware of Hercules' dark side. It was only the Sam Raimi TV series that cleaned him up and made him a faultless superhero. The mini-series I've reviewed here takes Hercules back to his roots.


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