on 16 January 2007
'Hercules: The Legendary Journeys' is a TV-series that is nowadays often frowned upon or criticised for its clunky SFX, cheesy dialogue and general camp. But I can't help but love it, and I think I'm one of the few fans who prefers this series over its massively more popular spin-off, 'Xena: Warrior Princess', any day. So as soon as I got my hands on a DVD-player that could play Region 1, I also got my hands on this box set, which is vastly superior to its Region 2 counterparts in many ways.
The 5 TV-movies mark the beginning of our hero's journey and also introduce us to the main characters, including Hercules' best friend and partner, Iolaus, his mother, Alcmene, his (future) wife Deianeira and, of course, his almighty father Zeus.
I especially like the very first movie, "Hercules and the Amazon Women", in which we get our first glimpse of the wonderful lifelong friendship between Hercules and Iolaus, which for me has always been the heart of the series more than anything else.
Although the movies can get away with more in terms of blood, gore and swearwords, the 45-minute episodes feel generally darker, which has a lot to do with the fact that the season opens with the fiery death of Hercules' young family by the hands of his evil stepmother Hera, and his subsequent rage at the gods who let this happen to him.
It continues on a slightly lighter note, and these episodes are more family-friendly, tackling issues such as racism, bullying, gangs and arrogance. Towards the end of the season, with darker episodes such as 'Gladiator' and 'The Gauntlet', you might want to send the younger children to bed, though.
Some great episodes in this season: 'Pride Comes Before A Brawl', which Kevin Sorbo jokingly refers to as "Iolaus' PMS episode", in which Nemesis, the hitwoman of the Gods and childhood sweetheart of Hercules, is sent to kill Iolaus for the sin of pride, "The Warrior Princess", which introduced the world to Xena, who seduces Iolaus and turns him against his best friend, and the season finale, 'Unchained Heart' which sets up some great personal dynamics between Hercules, a reformed Xena, a vengeful Iolaus and a cowardly Salmoneus, as they join forces to defeat Xena's bloodthirsty general and his devine ally, wargod Ares.
Kevin Sorbo, though perhaps his acting might not be to everybody's taste, is in my opinion a perfect choice for Hercules. His magnetic and impressive physical presence and his deadpan delivery of humorous oneliners endeared him to me instantly. Michael Hurst as best friend Iolaus stole my heart straight away, and he remained my favourite all through the series. These two actors have a great dynamic between them that works perfectly for the relationship they are supposed to portray.
Anthony Quinn sadly only appears as Zeus in the TV-movies, to be replaced later in the series by different actors, but his performance is better than all the others put together, and I was sad not to see him return.
Fandom favourites such as Lucy Lawless (as Amazon general Lysia in 'Amazon Women', plotting centaur lover Lyla in 'As Darkness Falls', and later, of course, her most famous character, Xena), Renee O'Connor (who would later play Xena's sidekick Gabrielle, now portraying Deianeira, princess of Troy in 'The Lost City'), Robert Trebor (as Herc-worshipping slave Waylan in 'The Lost City' and later as series regular Salmoneus) make their debut in this season, and there are some appearances by actors who have since risen to stardom, such as Roma Downey (star of 'Touched by an Angel', who plays Amazon Queen Hippolyta and Hera in 'Amazon Women') and a young Lucy Liu (star of Hollywood films such as 'Charlie's Angels', here portraying enslaved Eastern princess Oi-Lan in 'The March to Freedom').
Some great extras on this DVD set include audio and video commentaries by its two lead actors, Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst. Mr. Hurst especially is very amusing and full of interesting stories. I personally found the video commentaries a bit redundant, as you simply see the actors sitting in front of a TV-screen, watching the episode, and you get to hear more on the audio commentary anyway. I'd rather have had audio commentaries on more episodes.
Overall, if you are or ever have been a fan, this box set is a buy you will not regret, and the start to a great collection!