- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

One of the beefiest heroes of Roman and Greek mythology returned to screens this year in the rousing epic Hercules (Paramount Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, $39.99).

Now available in the Blu-ray format with an extended cut (only adding an extra three minutes,), this classic swords-and-sandals adventure directed by Brett Ratner offers a mortal version of our supposed demi-god. Mr. Ratner also directed “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

Before we plunge into the story adapted from the comic-book series, here’s a non-spoiler alert tied to our hero’s multimedia exploits over the years. At no point do the Three Stooges appear, does anyone sing “Go the Distance,” will the Avengers make an appearance to assist him, nor does Xena the Warrior Princess stop by.

This Hercules is a mercenary, ferociously played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, barely dressed to show off his bulging muscles and often wearing the hero’s traditional lion cowl while wielding a spiked club when going into battle.

He rejects his god-like origins and chooses to live as a human with a band of misfit warriors. In a sort of a twist on the “Seven Samurai” (or “The Magnificent Seven”) plot, he and his buddies train a woeful army of commoners to take down a supposed ruthless warlord threatening the kingdom of Thrace.

As the 101-minute story plays out, it will take the unfolding of the treachery of a pair of nobleman and watching the bond Hercules has with his mercenary brethren to appreciate the clever way this adaptation completely demystifies a legend.

Besides, Mr. Johnson’s charming and often heart-warming performance, actor Ian McShane delivers a steady stream of humor as the seer Amphiaraus, using a multifunctional spear to smite enemies and never quite getting right the foretelling of his own death.

Viewers who loved “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Scorpion King” (also played by Mr. Johnson) will appreciate “Hercules,” but it tempted me to go back and appreciate Kevin Sorbo’s televised interpretation from the 1990s.

Read all about it: Purchase the original source material for the movie with Radical Comics’ trade paperback “Hercules: Thracian Wars” ($14.95). It compiles the five-part series from 2008 written by the late Steve Moore.

High-def moments: Near the beginning of the film, viewers learn about Hercules‘ famous trials called the “Twelve Labours.” Snippets of eye-popping action encapsulating his early missions include encounters with the Nemean Lion, Lernaean Hydra and Erymanthian Boar, all bursting from the screen.

Best extras: Joined by producer Beau Flynn, Mr. Ratner offers an information smorgasbord in an optional commentary track tied to the theatrical cut of the film.

We learn about his obsession with using practical effects, fascination with realistic set design (hounding Jean Vincent until he took the job), the priority of making a Hercules more grounded in reality and challenges of working with hundreds of extras to deliver his most ambitious battle scene to date.

Mr. Flynn pats him on the head almost every time for his decisions. Most important revelation: Hercules’s beard was built with testicle hairs from a yak. Fill that in your “too much information” file.

Additionally, we get about 45 minutes of featurettes and some deleted scenes to round out the bonus content. These include a short introduction by Mr. Ratner and Mr. Johnson as well as a deconstruction of an awesome battle featuring over 1,000 crazed tribesmen and the Thrace army.

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