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Hercules (1983)

August 26, 1983

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie experience was playing Hercules in the comedy HERCULES IN THE NEW YORK (1970). Here, thirteen years later, his PUMPING IRON opponent Lou Ferrigno played the character in a serious (but still laughable) Greek-mythology-meets-’80s-sci-fi-fantasy epic – his second movie role. Like Arnold in his debut, Ferrigno’s voice is dubbed (by Marc Smith, who played a mafia boss in CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER and later became a prolific anime dubber). He had turned down other movie offers, but had also been obsessed with Steve Reeves’ Hercules movies growing up, and jumped at the chance to follow in his hero’s footsteps.

It’s definitely a movie made in a post-STAR WARS world, with mythological creatures depicted as robots and a poster painted by Drew Struzan. It’s also clearly inspired by the existence of Arnold’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN, even introducing adult Hercules on the Wheel of Pain, though without dissolving from a younger version. They were able to steal the image, but not what was cool about it.

Most of all it strikes me as a poor man’s CLASH OF THE TITANS, with its gods sitting around on the moon talking about how to control human affairs. But let me tell you, its stop motion sequences do not deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as. Ray Harryhausen’s. Important information I neglected to mention: this is produced by Cannon Films and directed by “Lewis Coates,” a.k.a. Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH, CONTAMINATION).

It’s humorous how long it takes to get to Ferrigno, but I like the ballsy touch of a prologue depicting the creation of the universe as literally involving a giant jar “filled with all the essences of life itself” exploding in space and its shards forming the planets and the solar system. Narrator Anthony La Penna (THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE) explains the whole deal as it’s illustrated through models, light, smoke, and optical effects. It’s six minutes before we see any actors at all, and nine minutes before we get into the actual narrative of the movie, which is about a baby Hercules until the 20 minute mark (though we did already get a shot of Ferrigno flexing in space).

Baby Herc is about to be murdered by the king’s men, but a maid sends him down the river (like Moses, Elora Dannen or Oswald Cobblepot). I got a good chuckle from the random couple finding him on the shore and taking like five seconds to go from “oh shit somebody dumped a baby in a river” to “we’re his parents now.” They were ready for anything I guess.

So is Hercules. He was created to be “stronger and more intelligent than all the other men” by
Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli, SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS), at the suggestion of Athena (Delia Boccardo, TENTACLES). I’m afraid I could not take Zeus seriously because his goofy expression behind a very fake looking beard and wig kept making me think of Steve Carrell in EVAN ALMIGHTY.

Anyway, Hercules struggles like any of us do – he wonders what his purpose is, since he’s so fucking amazing, but he doesn’t know why. And that mean goddess Hera (Rossana Podesta, HELEN OF TROY) keeps scheming to fuck him over, like sending rubber penis monsters to attack him as a baby, or a bear that kills his dad when he’s an adult. Hercules always triumphs, whether it’s by lightly squeezing the penis monsters or throwing the bear into outer space (which involves a really funny miniature shot worth rewinding a few times).

King Minos of Thera (William Berger, IRONMASTER) I guess wants to impress Hera or something so he takes up the cause of getting rid of Hercules. He calls up Daedalus (Eva Robins, TENEBRAE) for help. Since she’s the goddess of knowledge she scolds him for believing in gods, wears kind of a space woman type outfit, and creates the mechanical monsters to fight Hercules. I like her. She has style.

The idea of robotic mythical creatures could maybe be attributed to Bubo from CLASH OF THE TITANS, or to trying to keep up with STAR WARS, but it’s a cool gimmick no matter where it came from. It must be said, though, that they’re first shown as miniatures in the hands of the gods, who call them toys, and then when they’re composited into the shots with Ferrigno they still look tiny. I enjoy the goofiness of it, but it’s funny that we have RETURN OF THE JEDI to document what specifically the state of the art was at the time and get an idea just how calamitously short this movie falls. That it was not considered up to snuff at the time is confirmed in the review by Andrew Adler in The Courier-Journal saying the effects “would have looked silly in a Buck Rogers serial of the 1930s.” It’s an exaggeration, but possibly fair for the scene where Zeus’ wiggly animated foam hand comes out of a waterfall to catch baby Hercules. I can compare this to when I was older and got to see Reptile in MORTAL KOMBAT two years after the dinosaurs of JURASSIC PARK. Not all movies are equal.

After killing an Insecticon, Hercules decides to go to Tyre to enter the king’s games “to find the best warrior for an important mission.” He wins and impresses Princess Cassiopea (Ingrid Anderson, later in Chicago’s “Stay the Night” video) by jumping over a carriage. Jackie Chan shit. The mission is to bring Cassiopea to Athens under attack from creatures sent by King Minos and his wicked daughter Adriana (Sybil Danning, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS). Seems like it would’ve been narratively simpler to have Minos after either Hercules or Cassiopea and not both for separate reasons, but I don’t make the rules here.

I’m sorry to say that for me the novelty of this silly movie wore off maybe half way through, and it became kind of a slog. It’s hard not to be episodic when you’re just stringing together a bunch of famous myths, so it requires the right mood to get into it, I think. But it’s not repetitive, exactly – crazy shit keeps happening. There’s a part where the sorceress Circe (Mirella D’Angelo, CALIGULA) turns him giant and he creates the continents “by separating Europe from Africa.” And they fly through space by throwing a rock tied to a chariot and then getting into the chariot. They look like Barbie dolls in many of the shots. Eventually he draws Zeus’ golden sword to kill Minos and Adriana even though it “unleashes the phoenix” (lava destroys the island) which he spins as a good thing because he freed fire for the world to use. Great job, Hercules.

You know, The Rock’s HERCULES movie was much more entertaining to me, but the hook of it was that he lets people spread these legends about him but there’s not actually all this magic and shit. That was their way of putting a different spin on it and that’s fine, but I respect that this version takes the more absurd route of “fuck it, in this movie the planets were formed from the fragments of an exploding jar, and if you throw a bear into space it turns into a constellation.” Magical realism I guess. Good approach.

A movie where the main character is dubbed was probly a big joke by ’83 (though they did it with the female lead in KRULL). But I want to say that the dubbing isn’t terrible, and I bet it works much better than it would’ve if they’d used Ferrigno’s real voice, though it doesn’t manage to turn him into a compelling character. But it’s hard to deny the casting; the dude’s bulbous muscles look so fucking preposterous they do seem created by a magic king on the moon with a fake beard. Every part of him seems to be inflated more than would be safe if he was a tire. I don’t believe Arnold ever looked this ridiculous in a movie and I don’t think he should’ve, but it was a good choice for this movie. Ferrigno has said it was the best condition of his life, and I believe it.

HERCULES was filmed back to back with Bruno Mattei’s THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS, starring Ferrigno and Danning. Danning says that she and Ferrigno hated each other so he got them to make her part smaller in HERCULES, from the love interest to a sub-villain. Still, both returned for the sequel THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES (a.k.a. HERCULES II: THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES) in 1985.

I haven’t watched the sequel. Apparently some stock footage is utilized. Also he turns into a gorilla to fight Minos turned into a dinosaur. That sounds pretty cool. But so do alot of things.

Though HERCULES was considered a joke by many viewers (and yes it won Razzie awards) it made $11 million at the box office, becoming the 19th most successful Cannon movie.

I will end by sharing some screen grabs to give you an idea of what this is like in the fun parts.

p.s. I have a couple different friends who have visited the bookstore Profondo Rosso in Rome. It’s co-owned by Dario Argento and has a museum of props from his films in the basement. It’s co-owned and managed by Cozzi and I’ve heard that he actually works there and talks to people about his movies if they ask.

p.p.s. Cannon’s YOUNG WARRIORS, a.k.a. THE GRADUATES OF MALIBU HIGH, was also released on August 26th.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 28th, 2023 at 7:20 am and is filed under Reviews, Fantasy/Swords, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Hercules (1983)”

  1. I only saw the sequel on TV once, not knowing that it was the sequel until the veeeeery long opening credits (something like 7 or 8 minutes) were basically a highlight reel of part 1. Also its finale is…creative. And it might have been homage’d in an episode of LEGION, so there is this.

  2. I was so sure I had seen that one but didn’t recognize anything from the review or screen captures… It turns out I was confusing it with SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS, also starring Lou Ferrigno, also directed by Luigi Cozzi in the 80s, also with fun moments and creatures, also not really good.

  3. We can always say “back in the day things were better,” but today’s kids have such a wealth of interesting stuff geared for them…when back then you got this sludge. Just cheap boring garbage that I can’t see any kid being interested in…man those days were so parched for good shit.

    And yeah Cozzi works at that store, at least a few years ago…met him and bought some stuff from there.

  4. Don’t worry, Toxic, I keep mixing up Ferrigno’s Sinbad and Hercules movies myself quite often.

  5. I remember trying to watch this on TV as a kid and bailing early because it was too cheesy. Funny how age *increases* our toleration of shlock (or increases our appreciation of camp, depending on how you frame it), because I’m now ready to give this one another chance. Those screengrabs look AMAZING.

  6. It’s safe to say that Hercules has had quite a cinematic journey since he was played by a very British sounding Nigel Green in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. A tradition they stuck to all the way up to the remake and sequel to CLASH OF THE TITANS. Greek gods and half gods have British accents. So I guess Dan Vadis, Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott, Arnold, Lou, Dwayne, Brian Thompson and Kevin Sorbo should count themselves lucky to be able to pass for Greeks. Even in dubbed versions.

  7. Eh, I don’t know what you people are saying. As a kid I loved the special effects in this movie. I haven’t seen this since then, certainly, but having seen the Harryhausen epics repeatedly with my kid the past few years, I am very intrigued. Has there been any recent release of this?

  8. grimgrinningchris

    August 29th, 2023 at 4:29 am

    I remember when this was featured on Leonard Nikon’s BTS show, Lights, Camera, Action on Nickelodeon way back then.

    Even as an 8 year old, the behind the scenes stuff screamed “You do not need to see this movie!” at me pretty loudly. So I never did. But now I kinda wanna.

    I used to love that show though! I wonder if it’s on streaming or YouTube.

  9. grimgrinningchris

    August 29th, 2023 at 4:30 am

    *Leonard NIMOY’S


  10. Speaking of looking like Barbies– Is Herc wearing flesh-colored short shorts in that one screengrab, or is he smooth down there like a Ken doll?

  11. Johann I was a huge fan of Harryhausen at the time…and this is no Harryhausen. There’s like maybe a few minutes of creatures and nothing is staged, one usually comes out and he kills it, mostly shot in a wide side shot. Of course the stop motion scenes were still the highlight.

  12. grimgrinningchris

    August 30th, 2023 at 5:05 pm

    I tried to watch this last night. It’s free on Tubi now if you must…

    I made it about 20 minutes and had to turn it off.

    Not because it was cheesy, not because it was cheap, not be causing the dubbing was distracting. But because it was just boring.

    I don’t care how bad every element in your movie is… if you fight a bear and then throw him into space… and I’m still bored, there’s no reason to try to make it any further.

  13. Other famous dubbings include Andie MacDowell in Greystoke a year later.

  14. By Glen Close, no less. Having grown up on kung fu movies, spaghetti westerns and Italian action/comedy/horror/war/sci fi films I don’t mind dubbing at all. But I don’t mind reading subtitles either, for that matter. That said, most countries dub childrens TV and movies quite well, but I do think they should stick to the original sound when it comes to stuff for grownups. That’s as much sense I can muster this early.

  15. Here in Germany everything is dubbed. And from a technical POV, it’s dubbed really damn well. You have to really focus on the actors’ mouths to notice that their words don’t fit. Sure, there are enough pros and cons about dubbing, for example how it denies you an actor’s full performance,how certain lines of dialogue have to be twisted or abbreviated to fit the mouth movements, etc. Generally I don’t mind. But since I understand English pretty well, I most of the time watch the original versions, if available.

  16. grimgrinningchris

    August 31st, 2023 at 2:25 am

    I can deal with dubbing if the voice performances are decent and if the voices at least sort of match the physical actors on screen. OR if they’re laughably bad.

    It’s most distracting to me in low budget international copros where the syncing always seems like a millisecond off.

    I think the dubbing in Greystoke is actually pretty good and Sam Jones’ dubbing in Flash Gordon is solid too.

  17. In Italy they used to dub everything in both Italian and English, and with some of the international stars, such as Bud Spencer, Terence Hill and Franco Nero, you can see that they’re miming the English words even if it’s not their voice we’re hearing. Well, Hill and Nero spoke English and dubbed themselves. But Spencer had a thick Napolitan accent, and was dubbed by someone else even in Italian. And some of the voices stand out and are really pleasent to listen to. Which makes it a bit strange when some guy in a b western comes in and suddenly speaks with Nero or Spencers “voice”.

    CJ, they only dub foreing films and TV shows in Germany, right?

  18. Yeah, German productions are only dubbed in case of sound problems and such, or if some actors spoke different languages. In the 60s we had quite the international co-productions, like the Karl May movies, that starred Germans, Italians and Americans like Lex Barker or Stewart Granger, who all spoke their own language during the shoot. Even the 80s gave us some interesting casting decisions, like when Michael Winslow co-starred at the height of his POLICE ACADEMY fame in the two ZÄRTLICHE CHAOTEN movies, alongside popular character actor Helmut Fischer and showmaster Thomas Gottschalk. His dialogue scenes were dubbed. His sound effects were not.

  19. I remember watching this as a kid, thought it was pretty meh.
    I LOVED the scene Vern mentions where he throws the stone to launch the chariot… but then got outraged when he later maneuvers the chariot, pulling turns and everything. Kid logic is weird.

    They dub, or used to dub, everything that’s on TV in Argentina as well, but we got dubbers that are from Central America trying to do a ‘neutral’ accent that sounded horrendous to our ears. Everyone made fun of them, and they only had a few voice actors across all TV series and movies, so it was very common to hear McGiver pop up on something else to do a voice, or SledgeHammer or whoever.
    I’m kind of amazed now I’m older at the amount of work those poor people got done. Probably not under great conditions, too.

    Could be worse, though, at least when we went to the cinema we got subtitles; In Spain they dub everything, even new releases.

  20. dread, I think voice actors popping up everywhere is a pretty common thing for countries who dub their movies and shows. Some people are more distracted by that than others. (“LOL, Steve Buscemi has the voice of Spongebob!”) But I do have to praise our German ones for actually sounding different depending on their role. They rarely change their whole voice (Although recently I learned that the guy who voices Leonardo DiCaprio is also the voice of Charlie Day and I only found out by reading his name in the credits.), but their intonation. For example until his recent retirement, Thomas Danneberg was the regular German voice of John Travolta, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Dan Aykroyd, Nick Nolte, Dennis Quaid, Randy Quaid, John Cleese, Terence Hill and others and you didn’t even have to look at the screen to hear which one he was playing, because he gave each of them their unique sound.

    BTW, the regular dubbing voice of Jackie Chan does a neat thing that I only recently noticed. In his Chinese movies, he speaks him fluently. Like a regular acting gig. But in his American movies he makes him sound a bit stiff. He doesn’t give him an accent or something, but he does sound like someone who speaks the language, but still has to think a split second what the next word is.

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