Fans of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys on television have lots to rave about in a 9-disc DVD Season Four release. Hercules, played with wit and strength by Kevin Sorbo, faces extreme danger and fantastic situations in this pivotal season. Fortunately, all of the episodes are presented uncut here along with enlightening bonus features, making an excellent companion edition to Xena: Warrior Princess – Season Four.
During his fourth season, Hercules, who is part human and part god, continues to favor his human side and to be at odds with the gods. He engages in fierce battles with his brothers Apollo and Ares as well as with Hera (Meg Foster), his relentlessly ambitious stepmother. And he also has a showdown with stand-offish poppa, Zeus (Roy Dotrice). When not dealing with these serious family problems, Hercules keeps busy trying to help mankind. In one light-hearted episode, an amusing homage to “Jack and the Beanstalk,” our hero confronts a giant and some baby harpies (think Gremlins on speed) in order to save a normal woman held captive in the giant’s world.
My favorite season four episodes are “Stranger in a Strange World” and “Men in Pink.” The former takes a fascinating look at a bizarro universe in which all the characters are the opposites of their real-world selves. For example Ares (Kevin Smith), the God of War, changes places with Cupid and becomes the God of Love. Smith looks absolutely fabulous in his new duds -- white satin sprinkled discreetly with sequins -- a nice contrast to his black leather outfit worn in the rest of the series.
“Men in Pink” lacks Sorbo’s dynamic presence, but Bruce Campbell carries the episode with a tour-de-force performance in a parody of the classic gender-bender comedy, Some Like It Hot. As the “King of Thieves” forced to hide in an all-female theater troupe, he’s very funny playing a man pretending to be a woman while attempting to woo a Marilyn Monroe-type showgirl. Kudos also to Michael Hurst (in full-blown disguise) for his exuberant portrayal of the troupe’s theatrical leader.
To me, the most visually exciting episode from Season Four is “Web of Desire,” mostly because of a huge spider with a woman’s torso that terrorizes everyone in her way. Although some of the monsters created for the Hercules series may be “a bit cheesy” (as Howard Berger admits in one of the DVD bonus features), this is not one of them. Instead, it’s an amazing creature to behold (as is the centaur in other episodes).
One of the highlights of the bonus features involves Sorbo explaining how he achieved such emotional depth during a moving death scene in an episode toward the end of the season. “There’s an acting technique called ‘substitution’ and that’s what I used,” he said. “I put my own mother or someone I love who is dying in that situation.” It definitely worked for Sorbo, who made Hercules’ pain and suffering seem genuine in the tight close-ups during that dramatic scene.
Among the other fine bonus features included in this DVD version are: behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and series creators; audio and video commentary from Sorbo, Hurst, and Eric Guendemann; and a featurette entitled “Bringing Monsters to Life at K.N.B. EFX Group.”
With its combination of ancient mythology, heroic action and contemporary humor, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys earned devotion from fans all over the world. After viewing the Season Four DVD, now I know why. (For more information, visit the official site.)
Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment & Davis-Anderson Merchandising Corp. Not rated by MPAA.