Monday, August 22, 2011
DVD Review: The Herculoids: The Complete Series (1967)
The Herculoids: The Complete Series (1967)
(Released: June, 2011 by The Warner Archive Collection)
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
Summary: The Herculoids are… are… Well, even after all these years, I’m not entirely sure WHAT The Herculoids are! But I DO know that they (and the Hanna-Barbera studio that produced them) were responsible for the coolest animated action of the 1967-1968 Sat AM television season.
And, if not exactly WHAT they are, I can tell you WHO they are:
Zandor: The human or humanoid leader of The Herculoids.
Tara: Zandor’s wife
Dorno: Zandor and Tara’s son (about 12).
All sport primitive, caveman-like dress and pack weapons such as sling-shots.
Zok: A flying dragon, who shoots laser beams from both his eyes and tail.
Igoo: A huge gorilla-like creature made of solid stone.
Tundro: A ten-legged triceratops, who shoots explosive projectiles from his horn.
Gloop and Gleep: Father and son (?) formless ectoplasmic beings, who can squash, stretch, multiply and reintegrate, and generally bounce around and do anything the writers can come up with. Oh, and they speak gibberish with a wonderful throat-bobbing sound supplied by Don Messick. You might have heard him do something similar for a ghost on SCOOBY-DOO, or aliens guesting on YOGI BEAR.
Set on a prehistoric-looking planet, the humans live in a tree – not a “tree-house”, but a TREE – while the other creatures bed-down nearby.
We never learn who these beings are, how they came together, or how they can even communicate (the creatures growl, roar, screech, grunt, and do that throat-bobbing thing), but what we DO know is that invaders, would-be conquerors, and plain old dangerous natural phenomena find their way to The Herculoids’ planet with alarming frequency (TWO per show, in fact!), and must be turned-away, destroyed, or otherwise neutralized.
And it is THAT (…and perhaps ONLY that) at which they excel!
In the first cartoon (of two), a threat shows up and Zandor leads the Herculoids into battle against it. Then, in the second cartoon, the same thing occurs – but the invading entity shows up in a TEASER before the cartoon’s title card. This only happens in the second cartoon, and not the first, leading me to believe that there was probably a COMMERCIAL inserted between the second cartoon’s teaser and “main body”. Sorry, but I can’t recall that for certain… seems very likely, though.
The show is light on (or completely devoid of) everything but action. But, DAMN… that action was both clever and well-executed within the constraints of 1967 SatAM television. The character designs, by the great Alex Toth, certainly account for some of that! Lots of stock music, left over from JONNY QUEST, also helped!
The trio of credited writers, Ken Spears and Joe Ruby (later of SCOOBY-DOO WHERE ARE YOU, as well as their own animation studio) and David Scott find endless variations on how Zandor, his family, and the creatures under his command bring their uniquely individual talents to bear.
Each individual episode is great fun to watch, but you quickly realize there was a REASON why THE HERCULOIDS aired only once a week. If you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all. But, with only 18 shows all told (with two cartoons in each – for a total of 36 adventures), judicious spacing of the shows among the rest of your entertainment viewing can – and will – result in maximum enjoyment.
Credited voices are:
• Mike Road (Race Bannon on JONNY QUEST) as Zandor.
• Virginia Gregg as Tara.
• Teddy Eccles as Dorno.
• Don Messick as Gloop and Gleep.
It is presumed Messick and other actors doubled as the various sounds of the creatures – perhaps even including very early performances by Frank Welker.
Uncredited (but certainly noted), usually as invaders: Paul Frees, Henry Corden, John Stephenson, Hal Smith, and doubtless others.
“Somewhere out in space, live The Herculoids! Zok the laser-ray dragon! Igoo the giant rock ape! Tundro the tremendous! Gloop and Gleep, the formless fearless wonders! With Zandor their leader, and his wife Tara and son Dorno, they team up to protect their planet from sinister invaders! All-strong! All-brave! All-heroes! They are The Herculoids!"
…There! Don’t we feel a lot more knowledgeable now?
Of late, “The Warner Archive Collection” has been pretty diligent at releasing Hanna- Barbera material, and I hope to see that trend continue.
As it is a relatively new enterprise, “The Warner Archive Collection” might require as much initial explanation as do The Herculoids, themselves. And, thanks to me, you’ll learn more about TWAC than all 18 episodes will tell you about The Herculoids. (…How DID they get that NAME, anyway?)
I don’t consider DVD-R to be the most desirable medium. Though the end product is certainly superior to “bootleg” material, it is sometimes a step or two below the mass-marketed product we know and love.
At least in this regard, Warner plays fair with us by issuing the following disclaimer:
“This disc is expected to play back in DVD video ‘play only’ devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices including recorders and PC drives”.
True enough. Warner Archive discs are not recognized by my computer, though they play just fine on my Blu-ray player.
“The Warner Archive Collection” product takes a no-frills approach. Extra Features, if they exist at all, are kept to a bare minimum. Movies are not segmented by “Chapters”, but the Skip Forward and Skip Backward keys of your DVD remote allow you to navigate at ten-minute intervals – regardless of where that ten minute jump will land you logically within the story.
But, at least for animated series like THE HERCULOIDS which are ALREADY segmented into different cartoons, the Chapter Skip functions adhere to the boundaries of those segments. No subtitles are included and source material is generally fine and sharp, though not always as pristine as a standard release.
Retail prices are often higher than they might otherwise be, but that comes with the nature of “Manufacture on Demand”. Sales and other promotions are offered regularly, once you’ve made the initial foray into TWAC, mitigating the impact of pricing somewhat.
On the plus side, “The Warner Archive Collection” is able to offer many movies, TV shows, and animated series that would not likely find support in the present-day mass market. “The Warner Archive Collection” has provided such wonders as Hanna-Barbera’s ‘60s series FRANKENSTEIN JR. AND THE IMPOSSIBLES and Irwin Allen’s early ‘70s aborted TV pilot CITY BENEATH THE SEA... just to name two.
As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.
It’s Warner Archives: That means virtually nothing in the way of Extra Features, subtitles, etc. No commentaries. And, there is a needlessly limited choice of devices on which to play it, vs. standard DVD. But, hey… We knew that going in!
Not Much Depth: But, in the days before Mr. Sulu and Lt. Uhura even had first names, did we even need it? Let The Herculoids remain a mystery. That’s part of the fun!
Chapter Skips: Imagine listing this as a “PRO” but, unlike many Warner Archive products, this one actually skips forward and backward to LOGICAL points in the show: First Cartoon, Mid-Break of First Cartoon, Teaser of Second Cartoon, Mid-Break of Second Cartoon… but not directly to the End Credits (but they’re the same for every show, anyway).
Action: And, of the non-stop variety, to boot! Villains were killed nearly as often as they were driven off! Gotta love that in a cartoon! ANY cartoon! And, to the do-gooders who objected to the content, THE HERCULOIDS emphasized the value of TEAMWORK! No one Herculoid could destroy a foe… it took ‘em ALL! Nyaaah!
1967-1968, for H-B, was completely given over to the action and adventure type of show (of which THE HERCULOIDS – along with SPACE GHOST – were the best), until an uprising of do-gooders began pounding Saturday Morning programming into the type of tepid pulp it pretty much remains to this day (The ‘90s series from WB excepted!)
So, one might choose to indulge in THE HERCULOIDS as a game-changing, historic series. Enjoy it for that, or a flat-out action series. Just enjoy it.