Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Yes, Hercules Lied to You - And That's a GOOD Thing. by Mike Fatum

(Quick warning: This article, by its very nature, spoils the entirety of Hercules. If you still wanted to see this movie, I'd avoid reading this until after.)

Let's begin with what I'm not saying here: The Rock's newest starring action vehicle, Hercules, is not a great movie. It's not even on the level of the Fast and Furious movies that have helped his career so much. I did enjoy myself watching it, but I enjoy most movies on some level unless they insult my moral sensibilities, so take that how you will.

However - in the wake of Hercules' launch, I saw several articles popping up around the internet decrying Hercules for "lying" to the audience. For those of you not in the know, here's the skinny - the trailers portrayed Hercules' twelve labors heavily, promising a take on the classical Hercules myth, with him battling monsters and eventually taking revenge on the God, his mother Hera, who murdered his family.

That's...not how the movie goes at all. Those twelve labors are shown in the first ten seconds, and quickly revealed to be a myth told by Hercules' nephew. The tales of Hercules are a tactic used to frighten his enemies, while his own personal warband of Amazonian warriors and Spartans helps him with the dirty work. The tales all have true explanations behind them, but the Hydra was an army in snake helmets, not a twelve-headed beast. This is the central conceit of the film - Hercules is a liar and a mercenary, who has to search for redemption for the murder of his family, a murder he himself may have committed.

People were understanably angry about this twist. They had expected gods and monsters, and instead they got army battles and realistic explanations. If I hadn't had the twist spoiled for me early on, I might've been pissed, too. But - and bear with me here - Hercules also made me really happy, because it was the first genuine surprise I've experienced in movies in some time.

Think about it: In the world of marketing we have today, with ten thousand trailers and TV spots, all edited to show you the best parts of the flick, you know everything about a movie before you even head into it. Guardians of the Galaxy has been pushed so hard, that if I wanted to, I could know the entire plot already just from the trailers and reviews. (And that has been a fight to not get that spoiled for me, believe me.) I often find myself slightly detached from a film when watching it, wondering when that bit of a trailer or this line I remember from a TV spot is coming.

So the fact that Hercules hid the warband, and most of the plot of the film, from me through clever editing is really quite a revelation. I can't remember the last time I sat down and said "Oh. I have no idea what's going to happen in this movie." Now, Hercules is a predictable film, so it wasn't that much of a revelation, but imagine if that had been the case for, say, seeing Star Wars for the first time. We all complain about knowing too much about a film before we head into the theater from the constant marketing - and yet the one time a film deliberately tricks us, refusing to give away its major conceit unless you see the film, we decry it?

Go back sometime and take another look at Terminator 2. The entire first act of that film is constructed as a trick. It's designed for you to believe the T-1000 is the good guy and Arnold is once again the villain. It's only at the exact moment when the two meet that the film gives the new situation away. And at the time, the marketing blew it. Instead of letting the audience experience the twist for themselves, they let everyone walk into the theater knowing all about it. If I were James Cameron, I'd have been furious.

There's a delicate balance between getting audiences into theaters and ruining the work you're promoting. Today, we believe the opening weekend is the most important weekend of a film's run, and because of that marketers give everything away to get people into seats when the film opens. But if we cared more about lifetime run, if we let word of mouth do its work instead of spoiling the whole damn thing, maybe we'd have a lot better time at the movies.

Or, alternatively, I'll just let Glove and Boots explain it:

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