Thanks to Dwayne Johnson’s bold, charming personality and his generous social media sharing, Hercules (based on the graphic novel “Hercules: The Thracian Wars”) is absolutely on our radar. However, that’s not the only “Hercules” film scheduled to hit theaters in 2014. We’ve also got Renny Harlin’s Hercules: The Legend Begins and in an effort to raise some awareness prior to the film’s first quarter release, Harlin, co-producer Jonathan Yunger, and stars Kellan Lutz (Hercules), Gaia Weiss (Hebe), Liam McIntyre (Sotiris), and Scott Adkins (King Amphitryon) hit the main stage at New York Comic Con.
Whereas Johnson’s Brett Ratner-directed film features a Hercules with his legendary reputation already in place, “The Legend Begins” is an origin story. Harlin explained, “We wanted to really go to the origins of this character and really start with a young man who doesn’t even know that he is Hercules.” Harlin’s Hercules faces rather familiar challenges. He’s got a “dysfunctional family,” has troubles with his friends, and struggles with a difficult love life.
But then of course, Hercules runs into a far less likely issue; he learns that he’s the son of Zeus. Harlin continued, “One day he starts realizing and he’s basically told, you’re a demigod, you’re a son of Zeus, and your mission in life is not just have fun, have some sword fights, and make love to a beautiful girl; your mission is much grander than that and you have a destiny that you have to fulfill in your life.”
McIntyre went as far to say, “The legend of Hercules is timeless. He’s the absolute first superhero… Superman, Batman, they’re all based off the myth of Hercules in some way.” It’s a bold statement, but the guy does need superhero-like abilities if he’s going to power through the sequence of events Harlin described; “He is sent away to war and he has to go on this incredible, long journey through different countries and different cultures until he’s able to find his way back home to his love and settle the scores.”
This is the story of Hercules, so settling the score is going to require brute force. When you’ve got to convince a crowd that you possess superhuman strength, you’d think the bigger the better, but Harlin insisted that his Hercules had a leaner look. “My one advice to Kellan was, because he already looked so awesome, I said, ‘Let’s not create a stereotype of Hercules who is just a guy with giant muscles and carries big rocks. Let’s create a real character.’ And I said, ‘Get cut. Look great, but I don’t want you to be giant.’”
Clearly that’s a direct contrast to what we’ve seen from Johnson, so Lutz pointed out, “There’s another Hercules and already, that guy has a lot of muscles. I thought I’d make my guy a little more real and, you know, a little more slimmer.”
Regardless of whether or not Lutz went with a trimmer or beefier look, for Harlin, the film’s romantic core is the defining component. “We didn’t want to make a movie that is just this brooding guy who’s just going from fight to fight, and just being violent and brutish.” He continued, “For us, the love story was very much the heart and key to his character and his story.”
By proceeding with that mentality, Harlin really had to track down the ideal Hebe and it wasn’t easy. Harlin recalled, “We had auditioned hundreds of young actresses from all around the world, in America, Australia, all through Europe, everywhere, and we were desperate.”
Meanwhile, Weiss was busy recording an audition tape for the film – but not her own. “I was helping a friend taping for Hercules… it was for one of the male parts and I was running the lines and he was like, ‘Well, actually, you could audition for the princess.’ I was like, ‘Well, I don’t have an agent in London. It’s impossible for me to even be considered for this part.’” Weiss continued, “A few days later, my French agent goes, ‘I have an English casting for you. Would you like to do it?’ And she goes, ‘It’s Hercules.’”
After assuming she didn’t even have a shot at getting an audition for the role, Weiss found herself at the colossal Nu Boyana Film Studios in Bulgaria. Harlin explained, “The Boyana Studios are the biggest studios in Europe and they have the largest green screen stages in the world. Right before us, a movie that shot there was the sequel to ’300.’” Harlin also admitted, “To be completely honest, one reason why it’s possible to make a movie of this scale is to go to a country like that where wages are lower and expenses are lower because if we made this movie in Hollywood, it would cost $350 million to make.”
The scale of Hercules: The Legend Begins is further amplified by Harlin’s choice to make this a 3D experience by filming it in 3D, not shooting in 2D and putting the piece through a post-conversion process. Harlin lamented, “I feel that 3D, you know, it started, it was very exciting and then every other movie came out in 3D and most of them were converted from 2D.” He continued, “At some time the greedy studio looked at the movie and said, ‘Sh*t, we can sell much more expensive tickets if this was in 3D. Let’s convert it!’ I, personally, was disappointed with some of these movies because they just didn’t look that good.”
Harlin’s policy is to embrace the extra dimension from day one and ensure that every element of the production is structured for it. “To me, 3D starts with the whole visual design of the movie. You have to think 3D when you’re making and prepping the movie – how you’re gonna shoot it, how you’re gonna light it, how every prop and set is built, how everything is played – because it’s a completely different visual language.” Harlin also assured the audience, “It’s not about poking arrows into your eye and swords coming out of the screen and into your eye, and stuff like that. That’s not what 3D’s about. That’s just gimmicks. 3D is about creating a world where you feel like you’re inside it and it’s your world where you’re experiencing it with the characters.”
Another visual technique Harlin uses to ensure you feel as though you’re in the middle of the action, right alongside Hercules, is this slow-motion effect that comes from using a high-speed camera. He explained, “I used this Phantom super slow-motion camera which where normal film speed is 24 frames per second, this one is 1,800 frames per second, so it almost stops action completely.” Again, Harlin insisted that this stylized technique is never used as a gimmick, but rather is deeply connected to the character. “It really has to do with the language of who Hercules is and when he goes into Hercules warp speed, everything slows down.”
In addition to fielding a variety of questions and giving away an assortment of props from the film signed by the cast, Harlin and co. also premiered a brand new trailer, which you can now watch below. Even though they didn’t screen it in 3D, the piece still offered an immense amount of insight into what we can expect in terms of the action, romance, and the aforementioned “Hercules warp speed.”
It opens with a series of images that scream 300. Almost every single piece of this portion of the trailer is an epic wide shot, often showing the expanse of an army or an extensive battle.
It’s all booms and sword clangs until the dialogue finally kicks in, revealing some of the narrative. It’s announced that when Iphicles makes Hebe his wife, two houses will be united, however, it’s clear that Hebe and Hercules have something going on. In an effort to stop Hercules from ruining the marriage, he’s shipped off to Egypt with this threat, “If you return here, I will kill you.”
After sailing off as a prisoner, Hercules is sold and his new owner warns, “I paid good money for you. I expect a return.” Hercules then steps out into an arena in full fighting form and demolishes a series of enemies, stabbing one, lifting him up, and them slamming him right back down into the ground.
Hercules announces, “I will not stop until I have returned the princess and avenge my royal friends.” Someone then tells him, “Hercules, you are the son of Zeus. Embrace your father and you will discover powers that you never imagined.” At some point, Hercules presumably amasses a following because he launches into a morale boosting, pre-battle speech, “Tonight we fight for our lives!”
From there we roll into a string of quickly cut visuals and bits of dialogue, culminating in a moment during which Hercules harnesses the power of a lightning bolt. The piece concludes with a shot of our hero chained up, but then tearing down those shackles and charging towards the camera with a sword in hand.
It isn’t a poor promo per se, but it is just what you’d expect. This is only the film’s first trailer, so it can get away with just scratching the surface of the full feature’s narrative without establishing much of a connection to the characters, but the visual choices are a little concerning. Some shots are picturesque, but others feel too deliberate and a bit cartoonish, and that slow-motion action effect is used to excess. Hopefully Harlin takes his time building this stylized world in the full feature so that when we see these images in context, they feel more natural.