I first saw this, I was excited.
I could care less about half the cast, I have some choice words for Brett Ratner and, in all actuality, this movie was destined to be little more than a steaming sack of crap, equivalent to say, the 2011 Conan. That said, the sight of a muscle-clad hero wading through a Hydra-infested swamp, skinning an enormous lion, thwacking a snowbound boar with a massive club, is something the Greco-Roman geek in me has been waiting to see since this May 1997 issue of Boy's Life magazine.
With the slew of bizarre, inexplicable, weird-ass movies "based" on Greek Mythology gracing our screens lately, it's puzzling why these films are so eager to ditch the myth and construct, ostensibly, elaborate fanfics instead. It's not that I expect these films to be anywhere approaching faithful – in point of fact, that's pretty much impossible anyway, considering how all over the place those myths were to begin with – but, nine times out of ten, the actual, original myth is that much cooler and more cinematic than whatever tepid actioner bullshit their bevy of unrelated screenwriters have dredged up.
Thusly, seeing actual depictions of Heracles myths in the Rock trailer, I was actually pretty stoked! Finally, someone took the myth to heart!
Unfortunately, this ain't that movie.
Evidently, it's based on a Steven Moore graphic novel series. Which is all fine and dandy, I suppose. One assumes that the Labors presumably feature into the opening sequence or flashbacks or some shit. (Plus, the absolutely insane decision to cast The Rock as Hercules, Zeus and fucking Achilles, of all people? Flashbacks? To what?)
I was so disappointed to learn this that, in a huff, I outlined, to the very patient missus, how you'd structure a Heracles franchise actually based on the original myth, his best myth – the 12 Labors.
A few stipulations before we begin.
- First and foremost, I'm going to deviate from the myth probably a substantial amount, but only in superficial ways. At the core of the story, this will be Heracles and his 12 Labors. All 12 Labors will be present, all the major players will be there and all I'll be doing is possibly Hollywoodifying a little of the narrative, to help sell the idea.
- Secondly, I'm not making promises for artistic quality. I'm not attempting to craft a masterpiece here. What I'm doing, instead, is attempting to show the feasibility of the actual myth. The 12 Labors pretty much contain (or easily could contain) everything you'd need to make a successful and compelling fantasy franchise. (I have a similar theory about Conan, but that I'll save for an HBO pitch.)
With that, let's crack on.
The first is what I assume will be a franchise of three films, the Heracles Trilogy, is entitled Heracles: 4 Labors.
The film opens with our muscular hero, Heracles, visiting the Oracle of Delphi. Recognizing him as the son of Zeus, the Oracle asks what he's come to see her for. Heracles confesses that he's committed a great evil and that he needs purification. The Oracle tells him to travel to Tiryns (or Thebes, who gives a fuck?) and perform ten great Labors for its people and, specifically, for his cousin, the King. Gratefully, Heracles accepts this judgment and ventures to Tiryns.
As he's departing, we see the Oracle change shape into a beautiful, sinister looking woman – Hera.
Arriving in Tiryns, Heracles finds a city in great distress. Famine, crime and corruption have all struck the city. Rumors of a war with the Amazons of Themiscrya abound in the streets. When he arrives at the King's acropolis, he's greeted by his cousin, King Eurystheus and his wife, Queen Antimache. Eurystheus, a weak and ineffectual King incapable of ruling his people effectively, is instantly jealous of Heracles and his valor. The moment he hears that he's been sent by the Oracle to perform Labors, he's secretly pleased and promises to devise suitable methods Heracles can aid the city.
Before he departs, Heracles shares a moment with Antimache, possibly even just a look of mutual attraction.
That night, Eurystheus is visited by the goddess Hera, who convinces him to send Heracles to defeat horrible monsters, into great dangers that will surely claim his life. Initially reluctant, Hera manages to ensnare the King with her charms and he complies. Heracles' first task is to slay the Nemean Lion, a blight on the hinterlands of his kingdom, near a small town called Cleonae.
Venturing to Cleonae, Heracles meets a young child, a boy named Iolaus (mythology nerds, I just BLEW your mind). Iolaus informs Heracles that the lion's been plaguing their village, so much so that, should the town's hunters fail to kill in the lion in three days, the boy himself will be sacrificed to appease it. Climbing into the hills, Heracles tracks the lion and unsuccessfully attempts to kill it with arrows, which break off on the creature's hide. Tracking the beast to its lair, he manages to strangle the creature to death with a large wooden club, which he keeps as a weapon, in addition to the lion's pelt.
When he returns to the village, the townsfolk are overjoyed, calling him a great hero. Iolaus, in particular, idolizes him and even follows the demigod back to Tiryns as his kid sidekick. (You'll fucking see, people!)
Returning to Tiryns, King Eurystheus, furious his plan didn't work, immediately sends Heracles off on another Labor – capture the Erymanthian Boar alive. Heracles commands Iolaus to stay behind, much to the boy's chagrin. (Perhaps leaving him in Antimache's care?)
Arriving at Mount Erymanthos, Heracles meets Chiron, the wise centaur teacher, and rescues him from a band of his drunken centaur relatives, though Chiron is wounded in the battle. Already a paternal bond growing between them, Chiron informs Heracles about the boar's location and gives him sage advise on how best to take the creature down. Chiron's explanation is intercut with Heracles following these instructions and taking the boar down – driving the creature through thick snow – perfectly.
As he does this, however, a distant, ethereal female shape watches from afar. Hera? We'll find out.
Returning to Tiryns with both Chiron and the live boar in tow, King Eurystheus is nearly attacked by the live beast and Heracles saves his life in front of the whole court, earning him more favor and still more affection from his wife, Queen Antimache. Heracles, ever merciful, releases the boar, who tromps back to its Mountain home. Ever more furious, King Eurystheus storms off, heading into his palace to devise new labors.
While Heracles trains with Chiron [WHO IS TOTALLY A CENTAUR AND NOT A GODDAMN SATYR YOU FUCKS], King Eurystheus schemes with Hera about the next Labor. He wishes to send him on some humiliating errand, something that won't bring Heracles renown. Hera dissuades him of this thought, implying she has a plan. She orders him to send Heracles after the Golden Hind, the fastest deer in the world. He resists and Hera uses her womanly charms to convince him. Queen Antimache walks in at an indelicate moment, is scandalized and pushed even closer to Heracles.
Send after the Golden Hind, Heracles, now coached by Chiron, departs. He chases the deer for a year, up and down the world, until it finally tires and he catches the beast. The moment he does, however, he's confronted by the shadowy figure from before, who's revealed to be the goddess Artemis, who watches over all the animals of the world and the Golden Hind is her especially favorite deer. They have a tense conversation, wherein Hercules explains that he's only performing these tasks on behalf of King Eurystheus. Artemis warns him that something else is afoot, that all is not right on Olympus and that he may be being manipulated.
Together, they hatch a plan to free the Golden Hind from King Eurystheus' menagerie, where the animal was doomed to head. Once again, the King is infuriated by this and Hera summons an especial Labor for him this time – the Lernaean Hydra, a monster from the ancient world. Before he departs, Heracles has a scene with Queen Antimache, where he reveals what he's done – in a drunken madness, he slew his wife, Megara and his young son. With blood on his hands, he went to the Oracle of Delphi to seek retribution.
Trekking off into the swamp, he brings a sword and a sickle, thinking to cut off the creature's head and return it to the King. When this proves unsuccessful, he retreats and ponders a new strategy. Iolaus, having followed Heracles, arrives, learning the truth of the Hydra from Chiron – only fire can be used to burn the creature's stumps and prevent the heads from growing back. Working together, they nearly manage to defeat the creature before a giant crab – YUP – summoned by a fuming Hera surfaces and slays the valiant Iolaus. Now guilty of leading two young men to their deaths, Heracles leaps into the fray and slays both hydra and crab with panache.
He probably returns to Tiryns and has a denouement and all that. Maybe he just screams in the swamp while Hera cackles with delight. Kinda dark, I guess.
The point is, all of this information I got from an afternoon on Wikipedia. In total, I made very superficial changes. About four times, I had an idea of how to mold the story in a more acceptable narrative direction, only to find, in some versions of the myth, it was already like that. Trust me – not that hard, Hollywood.
Next Friday: Heracles: 8 Labors!