The Three Stooges Meet Hercules(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 6.28.2005)
Although I watched a lot of Three Stooges shorts on TV as a kid, I really became familiar with this trio through their influence on filmmakers like Sam Raimi (the Evil Dead series is over-flowing with Stooge-inspired gags). In fact, the whole time travel conceit in The Three Stooges Meet Hercules was stolen by Raimi in the conclusion of Evil Dead 2, which later grew into Army of Darkness. It's also safe (or at least accurate) to say that this film provided some of the inspiration for Robert Zemeckis' significantly less slapstick-intensive Back to the Future trilogy, particularly part 3, which concludes with a similar high-speed chase.
To make a long story short, the Stooges work in a pharmacy and one of their friends, an inventor, is hard at work on a time machine. Of course, this device turns out to be effective and, before long, it transports Larry, Moe, and Curly back to ancient Greece where they get a chance to hang and/or clash with Ulysses, a Siamese Cyclops, and the master muscleman himself, Hercules. This leads to all kinds of fish-out-of-water, era-contrasting hijinks that are dull one minute and hilarious the next.
For my money, the Three Stooges were always a second-rate imitation of the Marx Brothers but with less wit, intelligence, and satirical sophistication. That's not always a bad thing but their broad, slapstick style only really thrives when there's precision to the choreography. In this case, the laughs (or attempted laughs) are too messy, chaotic, and disorganized to consistently succeed. Still, there are some memorable gags, the film is pleasantly all-over-the-map (geographically speaking), and the roadtrip narrative -- which also brings to mind O Brother Where Art Thou? -- is more engaging than your typical Stooges fare. Plus, some of the special effects are gloriously, hilariously, deliberately inept.
The only feature on this disc is an incredibly depressing, misguided "preview" for Sony's other Stooges releases, finally available in color! In brief interview clips, members of the Sony home video staff proudly celebrate their "groundbreaking project," a "revolutionary breakthrough" in colorization work -- they take particular pride in the fact that many of their color choices are "historically accurate" -- and offer the consolation that these discs also include the films in their original black-and-white. Now, I'm not going to argue that the Stooges made great cinema but there's something irresponsible about a major studio suggesting that black-and-white is somehow a weakness, a defect, a handicap even...and aren't we lucky that "innovative technology" can finally rescue us from the dreaded absence of color?
It's an old debate and we all know where we stand but Sony has brought out fresh ammunition and I'm here to fight back. What's next, colorized Capra, Hawks, and Welles? Hell, this also affects recent films. The only way to see John Boorman's underrated black-and-white gem from 1999, The General, in its correct aspect ratio is to watch the colorized side of Sony's DVD. Fortunately, you can always fix this if your TV has adjustable color levels. But that's beside the point. It's the principal that really matters. They start by colorizing the Stooges because nobody takes them seriously and, before you know it, they're colorizing the classics.
Thankfully, Sony didn't see fit to provide a desecrated version of The Three Stooges Meet Hercules on this disc. I'm sure they wanted to but a text gag in the opening credits presents them with an obstacle: ironic, yet prophetic, onscreen text indicates that this movie was "filmed in glorious black-and-white." The fact that the Stooges were still working in black-and-white in 1962 suggests that this was a conscious and deliberate choice, one that could only be undermined by colorization. Who knew that their trademark lack of color would be under attack over four decades later?
In any case, the anamorphic 1.85:1 black-and-white transfer on this disc is extremely clean and attractive. This is the Three Stooges the way they were meant to be seen. But, in future, please beware of colorization. It is evil. -- Jonathan Doyle