He’s a hunk. He’s a hero. He’s …
To say he has staying power is an understatement. The well-muscled hero has been around for, oh, some 3,000 years. He even has his own adjective (Herculean, in case you forgot). And he’s about to set out on his latest quest - conquering the summer movie sweepstakes.
Starting Friday, he’ll be flexing his box-office muscles for that titan of American culture, Disney.
The animated film already is generating lots of hype and hoopla for ol’ Herc.
The more scholarly reader might remember Hercules from classical literature, or Greek mythology, to be precise. But the majority of us contemporary types likely know him from the media that have most influenced our time: movies and television.
At least 40 big- and little-screen flicks have featured Hercules. And the muscle-bound Greek, as played by Kevin Sorbo, now stars in the popular syndicated series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.”
Other incredible hulks come and go, but Hercules, the world’s first action hero, hangs in there.
What’s his secret?
Well, he’s just the kind of big guy that little folks, ancient and modern, can love: an individual who triumphs over adversity.
“Gosh, Hercules is embodied in all of our culture, from sports heroes to anybody who has achieved greatness over overwhelming odds,” says Edward Krupp, director of the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles and author of “Beyond The Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets.”
“It’s not in the cards that Hercules is going to make it,” Krupp points out. “He’s got some tough rows to hoe. Fighting the Hydra and cleaning out those stables is no picnic.”
Krupp is referring to two of the 12 labors that Eurystheus, the king of Mycenae, commanded Hercules to perform under his service.
The Hydra was a serpent with many heads that grew back as soon as they were cut off. The stables housed thousands of cattle belonging to King Augeas and had not been cleaned out for years. Hercules had one day to do the job, so he diverted two rivers to flush the place.
How Disney translated the 12 labors remains to be seen, although we do know - from the accompanying storybook - that he slices away at the Hydra during a critical juncture in the film when, in the words of gospel-singing Muses, he goes from “a nothing, a no one, a zero, to a champion, a star, a celebrity hero!”
Disney critic Henry Giroux, a Penn State education professor, hasn’t seen the film, but his expectations aren’t high.
“Disney will do anything to denude anything of its integrity in order to make it palatable,” says Giroux, who spends a whole chapter in his book “Fugitive Cultures” taking the company to task. “In light of how Disney historically treats complex, sensitive and especially progressive themes, I mean, don’t hold your breath.”
Giroux doesn’t think much of the campy television series that runs on the Warner Bros. network, either, although critics and the show’s fans love its mix of action and satire. “Terrible,” Giroux calls it.
But Krupp, for one, is not fretting over whatever transformations the Hercules legend undergoes or the merchandising of his image.
Hercules will endure, as he has throughout the ages, because his story is so adaptable.
Says Krupp: “No question, when the Disney movie is released, you’re going to see it re-adapted for our own times. Disney’s films, like every other aspect of popular culture, reflect and then help transform the culture. There’s not a good or bad to it. That’s who we are.”