Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, the Next Screen Hercules, Joins Semi-Storied Tradition

So Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, not Steve Carell or Jake Gyllenhaal, has been cast as Hercules in the action-hero epic to be directed by Brett Ratner for MGM. Filming will start in New Zealand in October.

The screenplay has been adapted by Ryan Condol from British comic writer Steve Moore’s 2008 “Hercules: The Thracian War.” The 144-page graphic novel depicts how Hercules, the anguished son of Zeus, and his six fellow mixed-sex Greek mercenaries are commissioned by King Cotys of the Odrysae to fuse the warring tribes of Thrace (comprised of parts of modern Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey) into the ancient world’s most ruthless and bloodthirsty army. Cotys, though, is treacherous and has his eyes set on conquering Greece and Olympus itself…

There’s no word yet on whether Hercules will muck out the Augean Stables or complete his other 11 labors in this adaptation. Since Moore followed the novel with another, “Hercules: The Knives of Kush,” an Egyptian tale of pirates, robbers, and royal intrigue at the court of the pharaoh, the stage is set for Ratner and Johnson to make a sequel, should the first movie be successful.

Hercules reached his zenith as a movie hero in the years following bodybuilder Steve Reeves’s success in “Hercules” (1958), directed by Pietro Francisci in Italy. A box-office phenomenon that earned $5 million in the US alone, the movie made Reeves Europe’s highest-paid actor and started the sword-and-sandal (or “peplum&rdquoWinking craze.

Reeves subsequently starred in 1959’s “Hercules Unchained” and then moved on to characters like Glaucus, Goliath, Romulus, and Aeneas. Ten other actors played Hercules in the 17 Hercules movies that followed, the last appearing in 1965. Among them was former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, who starred with his wife, Jayne Mansfield, in 1960’s “Hercules vs. the Hydra,” a kitsch classic par excellence. (Better that, though, than Disney’s 1997 animated version.) Another Hercules, one interestingly fond of romping with the handsome Hylas (John Cairney), was portrayed by the South African actor Nigel Green in the 1963 Ray Harryhausen classic "Jason and the Argonauts."

There’s a case to be made that the cinema’s first Hercules was Eugene Sandow (1867 – 1925). The famous Austrian strong man was “kinetographed” showing off his physique against a black background by cinematographers W.K. L. Dickson and William Heise in Thomas Edison’s tar-papered “Black Maria” studio in East Orange, New Jersey, on March 6, 1894 – 118 years ago today. The copyright title of the film, usually known as “Sandow, No. 1,” is “Sandow, the Modern Hercules”

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