The Summer Of So Bad It’s Good: ‘The Legend Of Hercules’ And ‘Winter’s Tale’ Are Stunning Failures
Lovers of crap movies rejoice! Two instant camp classics have just hit the cinema, and they're delightfully craptastic.
In the span of two weeks, Australian cinemagoers have had the chance to watch two potential camp classics unspooling into theatres in real-time. While it’s statistically proven that most films released in the early months of the year are duds and disasters, it’s genuinely a surprise to be treated to two stunning epic fails in quick succession.
Akiva Goldsman’s Winter’s Tale and Renny Harlin’s The Legend Of Hercules certainly make for more entertaining cinema-going excursions than limp prestige fare like Saving Mr Banks or the dull as dishwater I, Frankenstein (out in March). My friends and I even smuggled in some much-needed flasks of liquor and a bottle of red wine into our Valentine’s Night outing to watch Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe wage war on accents, romance, and logic. The lady sitting next to us thanked us for making her evening so entertaining — I suspect her date was as much of a dud as Colin Farrell’s ridiculous hair.
Neither directors are new to the sort of destructive, apocalyptic reviews that have greeted their new films. Akiva Goldsman wrote famed disasters like Lost In Space (1998) and Batman & Robin (1997), a film that’s been labelled as having “perhaps the worst screenplay — or at least the worst dialogue — ever written.” With his directorial debut, adapted from Mark Helprin’s acclaimed 1983 novel of the same name, Winter’s Tale approaches new levels of terrible with its time-travelling, horse-flying, demon-sparring, age-defying lunacy. I’m not kidding when I say we will be mocking this movie for years to come. It could grow to become the Showgirls of magical realist fairytales (more like ‘winter’s fail’, am I right?).
The film is so insane that it has inspired equally entertaining writing. The Huffington Post ran a deliriously silly interview with the “magical flying space horse”, Film School Rejects hailed it “a must-see midnight movie” and compared it to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003), and Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph rather deliciously called it “beyond a shadow of a doubt, the worst film Russell Crowe has appeared in. It may even be the worst film Colin Farrell has appeared in, which is saying something really.”
Renny Harlin, of course, is the man responsible for such cinematic sinkholes as Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990), Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), and Cutthroat Island (1995), a film once feted by The Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest box office flop of all time. The Legend Of Hercules won’t go down as quite that big of a financial disaster, but amidst its blatant BDSM homoeroticism, beard fetishism, roid rage, and infuriatingly murky 3D sword-and-sandal schlock is a movie that I found myself in fits of giggles over. This film is almost as gay as that most famous of subtextually homoerotic fables, Ben-Hur. Almost.
How does a film like The Legend Of Hercules get released? Considering that the film’s local distributor is burying it with one screening a day at 11am at only suburban cinemas following its lackluster returns at the American box office, they’d probably prefer they didn’t have to release it at all. We already have another Hercules project coming out in July anyway (that one stars Dwayne Johnson, who has more personality in his pinky toe than Kellan Lutz), as well as a new sequel to 2006’s 300, so Harlin’s journey to the land of Greek gods is doubly unnecessary.
In fact, its sole reason for existence appears to be to get Lutz’s kit off in progressively ludicrous ways. How about that cage fighting scene? Or the battle scenes that get progressively less and less clothed? And then there’s a passage of the film where Lutz’s Herc’ shows off for his beautiful blonde babe girlfriend by jumping off a waterfall. Because, of course.
Throughout The Legend Of Hercules, the former Twilight star contorts his face into all sorts of weird expressions. His horse-riding face in particular is a mixture of constipation and squirrel. He is, as the hilarious Price Peterson of The Wire calls him, a “flesh golem”. Elsewhere on his objectified body, the throbbing veins that take up most of his upper torso, as well as his inability to exude charisma, sexual or otherwise, make him one dreary Son of Zeus. He’s no Kevin Sorbo. Nor is he cutie-pie Ryan Gosling as Young Hercules with a wedgie, that’s for sure!
Between The Legend Of Hercules’ never-ending onslaught of ridiculous gay imagery and Winter’s Tale’s insistence on casting 89-year-old Eva Marie Saint as a plucky 110-year-old newspaper Editor-in-Chief (I can’t even), that’s a double dose of laughable mythical journeys in cinemas at the moment. Next month brings us Pompeii from Paul W.S. Anderson, which is already looking like another guilty pleasure with bountiful man-flesh and drippy ancient-time romance.
But is there even such a thing as a ‘guilty pleasure’ anymore? Despite being absolutely terrible efforts of filmmaking, I’m glad Hercules and Winter’s Tale exist if for no other reason than to offer a good ol’ laugh at a time when Hollywood’s idea of comedy leaves much to be desired (Anchorman 2? No thanks). Hidden amongst all the wayward accents, nipple close-ups, and illogical plot turns are films that are trying so hard to please, and if nothing else, they succeed in that.
The Legend Of Hercules and Winter’s Tale are both out in cinemas now.
Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.