Will the Real Hercules Please Stand Up? by James Valvis

  1. His real name is Heracles. It used to annoy me that people called him by his Latinized name, as if it were an insult to Greeks, but it doesn’t anymore. Valvis is a Latinized Greek name too.
  1. My first contact with Hercules came not from studying his 12 labors, but from watching an afternoon show called The Mighty Hercules. In this cartoon, Hercules had a magic ring, little centaur buddy, girlfriend Helene, and fought the evil wizard Daedalus. Imagine my surprise when years later I realize that not only did Hercules never have a magic ring, not only was Daedalus a good and brilliant man, and not only was the centaur Hercules teacher and not stuttering sidekick, but Hercules murdered his wife in a fit of madness sent by the real villain of the Hercules story: Hera.
  1. Why did Hera hate Hercules? Because he was Zeus illegitimate son. This is one reason I preferred the name Heracles. His name is part-joke, as if the boy was named after Hera.
  1. Next time I saw Hercules he was running with Jason trying to get the golden fleece in the Ray Harryhausen movie. Here Hercules is a loyal if reckless muscle machine. Except in the late-seventies Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Swartzenegger and all their steroids were redefining what it meant to be muscular and by the time I saw this old Hercules he looked like some scrawny middle-linebacker for small mid-western college.
  1. Schwarzenegger took a turn at Hercules. Lou Ferrigno took a couple of turns also. Schwarzenegger wisely chose to call himself Arnold Strong in that movie’s credits and his movie flopped. Lou Ferrigno used his real name and he won a Golden Raspberry for Worst New Star. Arnold went on to a great career, and Lou hardly ever worked again. The movies failed, but never again could Hercules be a man with a big beard and a bigger laugh. This pretty much ended Hercules as a movie character.
  1. Worldwide in the 1960s there were about 20 movies made about Hercules. Since then? Maybe 10. Maybe we should bring back the beard.
  1. Hercules returned to television in the nineties, staring Kevin Sorbo. No beard, but no giant muscles either. I don’t know if Kevin Sorbo is his real name, but he hasn’t had much of career since the series ended, mainly just a few Christian movies like God Is Not Dead. Maybe God’s not dead, but the demigod Hercules seems to be. For the time being. No, wait. Here comes The Rock as Hercules.
  1. The less said about Disney’s movie the better. Just one point. What Greek has red hair?
  1. Almost certainly before this decade is over Hercules will be reimagined as a drag queen hell bent on promoting peace through unilateral disarmament. It’ll star Angelina Jolie as Hercules and George Clooney has Chiron, his centaur lover and wig maker.
  1. I’ll probably go see it. After all, it’s Hercules. Or Heracles. Or something.
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