Opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author, David C. Matthews (unless otherwise indicated). Images used are copyrighted by their respective owners, and appear under the "fair use" provisions of the copyright laws.

Monday, June 20, 2011

DVD Review: "The Herculoids: The Complete Original Series"

UPDATED: See note at end of post

  • Series premiere: Sept. 9, 1967 on CBS

  • DVD release: June 14, 2011
  • Created by: Alex Toth

  • Stories by: Ken Spears, Joe Ruby, David Scott

  • Voices: Mike Road (Zandor, Zok, Igoo, Tundro); Virginia Gregg (Tara); Ted Eccles (Dorno); Don Messick (Gloop, Gleep)

Let me say up front: I have been waiting for this release ever since the DVD format became public. I was a huge fan of The Herculoids when I was a child, watching these strange but lovable creatures and their battles with the nefarious forces - some from off-planet, some native to the planet - who sought to destroy, enslave, or exploit the planet Amzot and its inhabitants.

And as I saw Warner Home Video release series after series of Hanna-Barbera cartoons like The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Wacky Races, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, Josie and the Pussycats, Birdman and the Galaxy Trio and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (as well as the other two series that, together with The Herculoids makes up my own "holy trinity" of H-B action cartoons, Jonny Quest and Space Ghost and Dino Boy), my heart held hope that some day Zok, Tara, Tundro, Gloop and their friends would join their brethren on my DVD shelf. That day has come at last with the release of The Herculoids: The Complete Original Animated Series on the Warner Archive label.

Okay, let me get this out of the way: I'm disappointed that WB Home Video (WBHV) didn't see fit to give The Herculoids the same "deluxe" treatment that Jonny Quest and Space Ghost got, nicely remastered with a good (if not extensive) selection of bonus materials. (Even the one bonus feature The Herculoids gets is recycled from an earlier WBHV release; more about that later.) I'd have liked to see galleries of concept art, storyboards, model sheets, etc.; I even fantasized about a bonus CD of soundtrack music.

But given the economic realities of the times, and the declining sales of DVDs lately, I can't fault WBHV for not going all-out for this set. The Herculoids debuted in 1967: 44 years ago! Most of its original fans are *ahem* as old as me, and the series is not well-known even by knowledgeable fans of Hanna-Barbera. So WBHV (probably correctly) saw at best a niche market for a release of the original series; were it not for manufacture-on-demand (MOD) technology, we probably wouldn't be able to enjoy even this release. So, while I'm disappointed that the kind of "deluxe" release I'd hoped for will more than likely never see the light of day, I am grateful that at least we have the original cartoons in a collectible form.

As stated on the product page at the Warner Archives site, these episodes have not been "remastered or restored specifically" for DVD, so there's a little dust and other flaws in the transfer. But honestly, there are so many instances of dirt on the production cels themselves that it's hard to tell which is which; in any event, what there may be is not so noticeable as to be distracting unless you're a demanding videophile, so I'll rate picture quality as "good, not quite great", although this is the best these cartoons have looked in years! (These cartoons will actually look better on smaller screens.)

The sound is the original mono from the original broadcasts; back in the day stereo soundtracks weren't produced even for prime time shows. These episodes sound as good as they can be expected to sound given the age of the materials involved, so once again, I'm rating "good, not great".

As for the content: as I mentioned before, I was a huge Herculoids fan when I was a child, and even today I carry a great fondness for the concept and the characters. Looking at these cartoons as an adult (moreover, as an adult who was inspired by shows like this, Space Ghost, et al to become an illustrator/cartoonist who dabbles in action/adventure comics), I see an imaginative and spectacular concept that didn't reach its full potential due to tight production schedules, minuscule budgets, and the decision that each half-hour program would consist of two 10-to-11 minute episodes instead of one full-length episode. The short running times reduce many of the stories to "shorthand" versions of plots that become somewhat repetitive and formulaic, because almost no time could be devoted to character interactions or explorations of the potentially fascinating creatures and cultures featured in some episodes (such as "The Raider Apes", the Parrot Men from "The Beaked People", or the Reptons from "Ruler of the Reptons").

But having said that, there's still a lot of fun to be had from watching the Herculoids in action; whether it's Tundro shooting energy rocks from his forehead horn, Zok firing "laser" beams from his eyes, or Gloop and/or Gleep assuming their many and varied forms!

I have a couple of quibbles with the presentation, however: I'd have liked to see the shows presented in their original broadcast order [SEE UPDATE BELOW], and some reassurance that the episodes are complete and unedited, especially as regards the prologues to the second cartoon in the half-hour program. (In their original broadcasts, the first cartoon would start after the first commercial break following the opening credits. At the conclusion of the first cartoon, a brief prologue teased the next adventure. These prologues were often edited out of the episodes during their rebroadcasts on the Cartoon Network and Boomerang cable channels.) "Time Creatures" on Disc 1, in particular, seems to start very abruptly as Dorno confronts invaders from Amzot's future, and I wonder if this episode is missing a prologue. It's hard to tell without knowing whether it's the first or the second episode in the show. (Although according to both the Wikipedia article and the Big Cartoon Database entry, "Time Creatures" is the first episode of the show, so maybe the abrupt start is a bit of experimentation on the part of the writers and animators.)

There's no mention of it on the case, but there is one bonus feature, recycled from an earlier WBHV release, "Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 1": a short (4 1/2 minute) mini-doc entitled "The Herculoids" First family of Quasar". It's mostly talking heads, animation historians like Jerry Beck and animation professionals like Paul Dini and Mark Evanier talking about the appeal of the Herculoids to young (mostly male) viewers (one interviewee refers to the concept as "dinosaurs in space" which really isn't far off the mark), the contributions of designer Alex Toth on Saturday morning animation, and the influences on and of The Herculoids. The highlights of the feature are the (all-too-brief) glimpses we get of concept art, model sheets, and storyboards. (My own wishlist for bonus features would have been to have a gallery of this production art on the DVD.)

(Odd that the feature is entitled "First Family of Quasar", though, since the name "Quasar" wasn't used for the Herculoids' home planet until the 1980s "Space Stars" revival of the characters; the few times their planet wasn't referred to as "Zandor's planet" or other such nickname, it was known as "Amzot", which I think is a much cooler name anyway.)

Bottom line: this is a "must-have" for fans of the show; it might be an acquired taste for those unfamiliar with the show from its original run or its Cartoon Network/Boomerang repeats. And I salute Warner Archive for finally making The Herculoids available on DVD!

UPDATE, June 30 2011: According to a tweet I received from @WarnerArchive, the episodes are presented in original production order, e.g. the order in which they were made.


  1. I can answer your questions regarding the prologues of the herculoids episodes, David. Maybe this'll tie some loose ends... or make them more complicated. Ah well, here goes nothing:

    I remember clearly that "The time creatures" indeed has a prologue. In fact, I remember exactly how it went. It showed Otton, in a futuristic Amzot, telling his creatures what they were going to do. "In order to preserve our future, we must go to the past... and destroy all those who came before us!" Then they entered the time transfering machine and travelled to the time of the herculoids. They saw Dorno approaching, prepared to attack... and then the title card showed up. I didn't see the show in it's original run but I spent my childhood, teenage years and most of my adult life watching the reruns on Cartoon Network & Boomerang. Yes, the episodes were edited, but sometimes Boomerang showed them in their entirety.

    In fact, I remember a lot of rarely-seen prologues that are imposible to find now. I don't know if Warner included all the prologues on the DVD's, I live in Latin America and you can only purchase them if you live in the U.S., which is totally unfair, I was hoping for a propper physical, worldwide release, not a manufactured-on-demand-only-available-through-internet DVD... and I'm almost sure that WB will never give it a propper release. It's sad, considering that we can't watch these classic cartoons on TV anymore (Boomerang is a completely different channel on Latin America) and that there are so many Hanna-Barbera fans and lovers who remember the herculoids and Space Ghost and would buy the DVD's in a heart beat. And people are not going to buy them through the web either: firstly, because the shipping costs would quadruplicate the price, and secondly, because maybe WB forgot to include the spanish dubbing in the language menu (is there a language menu at all? or they just included subtitles.)

    Besides, I don't trust internet sources, and I don't want to download the episodes. WB must know that the herculoids (and the rest of H-B shows that are only available through their site in the US) have an extensive fanbase in Latin America and other countries, that would gladly buy these cartoons if they'd give them a worldwide release.

    Well, sorry for getting completely off-topic there. My point is, I remember allmost all the episodes that had rarely-seen prologues, but sometimes Boomerang Latin America would show on rare ocasions (they stopped showing Hanna-Barbera cartoons in 2007): the pod creatures, the android people, temple of trax, swamp monster, Laser lancers, Tiny world of Terror, time creatures, gladiators of Kyanite, Mission of the amatons, Queen Skorra, Attack of the faceless people, god I even think the Zorbots and Ruler of the reptons had prologues! (I'm not sure of these two though, My memory is straining to remember how they went.) Also, Revenge of the pirates has a prologue, Malak and the metal apes, and the crystalites. Again, I'm refering to rarely-seen prologues, prologues that sometimes Boomerang would showed and sometimes not, but that means they existed and were produced. I don't think the prologues determine the order in which the episodes aired or should be paired off, but then again, I wasn't there during the original series run. Maybe you were and saw them... or maybe Cbs never showed them? I don't know

    If you'd like, I could give you detailed descriptions of all the other rarely-seen prologues (well, as detailed as my memory recalls them anyway). For any information, my twitter: @georgellt

    You can thank me posting more episode reviews (come on David, I'm a Herculoids fanatic, this is the website I've been waiting for all my life!) and posting more frequently. Thanks for this site David, from an H-B and Herculoids fan.

    P.S. More Tara pics, please. God, this woman was (still is) incredibly gorgeous. Unbelievably breath-taking, and she only gets more beautiful with time. :)

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