Hollywood sets up Herculean box office clash

By Romain Raynaldy, AFP

LOS ANGELES–Hollywood is powering up for a clash of the titans this year, with two films about legendary demigod Hercules — one starring teen heartthrob Kellan Lutz, and a more mature version later in the year. The superhero standoff — Tinseltown seems prone to doing movies in pairs, after two adaptations of the Snow White tale last year — comes 16 years after the last Hercules movie, by Disney in 1997. The first new one to do battle opens Friday in North America, with Lutz in his first major lead role after becoming the object of teenage girls’ adoration for his role as vampire Emmett Cullen in the “Twilight” saga. Directed by action film veteran Renny Harlin (“Die Hard 2,” “Cliffhanger” and “Exorcist: The Beginning”), “The Legend of Hercules” retraces the demigod’s youth when he was still unaware of his divine ascendancy, sold as a slave and fighting to reconquer his kingdom. “The story of Hercules we tell in the movie is one of the tales. There are a plethora of tales you could give and bring to life about Hercules,” Lutz told a small group of reporters in Beverly Hills. The 28-year-old actor, who calls himself a big fan of mythology, insisted he was “very well prepared for that role because my education and my knowledge of Greek mythology was already there.

“I had already studied a lot of it because I enjoyed it. I read ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ before they were mandatory in school to read,” he added. Along with Tarzan and He-Man, Hercules was among the heroes Lutz admired most as a child. He was hugely happy to breathe fresh life into the demigod. “With that role, I fulfilled a dream,” he said. “As a little kid I had middle-child syndrome, I grew up on a lot of land with a lot of farm animals, and I had a lot of alone time. And I was able to use my imagination to create the world of Tarzan, Mowgli, He-Man, Hercules, Ninja Turtles. “I created my own fantasy world in my head and Hercules was always the original hero for me,” he added.

Lutz, who had wanted to join the prestigious Navy SEALs but had to give up on his plans at his mother’s insistence, is now getting rewarded with muscle-man roles featuring lots of accidents and scars. “I have no tattoos. I really view my scars as my memories. My body tells my story,” he said. For “The Legend of Hercules,” he did almost all of the action sequences himself. “I had a stuntman who was with me all the time and had the most boring time on the movie because I did everything. I did 99 percent of the stunts,” he said, adding that he saw it as play, not work. “In ‘Hercules,’ I am in every single shot. Big difference with ‘Twilight’ days where I wanted more, but scriptwise, this was all I could do,” he told reporters. Distributed by the studio Summit and with an estimated US$70 million budget, “The Legend of Hercules” is the first to step into the arena. Then this summer Paramount will present its version — “Hercules,” with Brett Ratner behind the camera and surefire box office draw Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson playing the title role. The 41-year-old actor will play a more mature version of the demi-god, after he has achieved his famous 12 labors. The studios behind both movies will be keen to cash in on any box office success with possible sequels, at a time when superheroes are the toast of Hollywood with mega-hit franchises featuring the Avengers, Spider-Man or Batman. But industry watchers agree only one will likely be a real success — and maybe neither of them.