Solomon Abstract Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

Jon Solomon

The Convergence of Family Values, Computer-Generated Monsters, and Cleavage in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

Following the dearth of 1970s and 1980s films set in antiquity, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (hereafter HTLJ) emerged as one of the most successful television productions of the mid-1990s. Originally part of MCA’s Universal Action Pack, HTLJ was packaged as only one component of an American (New Zealand) production splurge to fill newly-available syndicated and cable timeslots. The marketing emphasized the protagonist’s strength ‘surpassed by only the the power of his heart’. In an early interview the actor cast as Hercules, Kevin Sorbo, clarified that he only used his strength to defend ‘threatened villages’ and the like, and that ‘I never throw the first punch’. Co-producer Robert Tapert added that ‘a certain amount of campiness [is] inbred in the material’.

As the show garnered an unprecedentedly large international audience, however, its success was attributed to a variety of different factors, including the first intense use of computer-generated animations on television — popularized first in such films as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993) — as well as a suggestive sexuality visible in skimpy costumes for men and women, including Sorbo dressed as ‘a hunk’. Thematically the kind heart implied in Hercules’s character — given lines like ‘You’re lucky to have her in your life’ — struck a chord with an American (and Americanized) viewership that had embraced contemporary commercialized ‘family values’ in films like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and Home Alone (1990), rendering the sex and violence that characterized contemporary American cinema more palatable for early evening viewing at home.

Provisional content for The Modern Hercules (Volume 2)