"A TRUE hero isn't measured by the size of his strength, but by the size of his heart." -- Zeus, from Disney's "Hercules"

I HAVE A LOT of friends who are scandalized that I wrote here about how much I loved the new IMAX film "Hercules." Well, I decided to go see it last weekend over "Lucy," even though Scarlett Johansson's turn beat the son of Zeus all to pieces. I figure "Lucy" with its whopping $44 million take at opening will be around for some time. She (Scarlett/Lucy) has more than exhibited her drawing power as a star.

But "Hercules," a seemingly muscle-bound hulk who has his heart in the right place, "only" took in roughly $29 million and it cost Paramount/MGM $100 million to make. Action films, of which "Hercules" is a big deal, have been known to disappear suddenly. (But "Hercules" won't; it will make a fortune overseas and it deserves to.)

I sat through the previews thinking that no matter how much "Hercules" departed from the Greek and Roman legends, at least the experience wasn't going to be about vampires, zombies and werewolves wanting to kiss and drink your blood. Almost every upcoming movie is about that or the otherworld's domination of Earth and the destruction of major cities. These are all dark as pitch and discouraging about the future of the human race.

But "Hercules" at least has a real story to tell -- a story that has endured for centuries. Is he the half-god, half-man of Greco-Roman mythology and do his contemporaries believe it, or are they merely "buying" the idea of his super human strength to bolster their own fates? Do you believe in gods and goddesses as some in the film do, or have his magical muscles and reputation simply preceded him and they buy the whole package? Hercules himself is modest and doesn't claim any superpowers, other than his built-up physique and obvious disciplined training.

Actor Dwayne Johnson ("The Rock" of wrestling) comes off as a heartbroken superman who has lost his entire family through his own drunken stupidity (and the revenge of the goddess Hera.) But he still has a coterie of friends and he wants to do things for the "good guys." This film, of course, departs from many details of the literary myths, but this "Hercules" is totally appealing and his boosters include a lot of fascinating women friends of fiery nature. They are all self-respecting survivors. One of them is a dangerous Amazon, "Atalanta." No one can outrun her. She fires arrows as if she were handling a machine gun.

The movie is predictably full of action with exotic details and imaginative weapons. There is already military precision and hints of the Greco-Roman grandeur and architecture to come in future centuries.

The massive overhead shots of battles and marching men, the centaurs that turn into horses and humans in glorious array, are great. And the ferocious mythical animals are quite frightening and right out of literature.

In the end, you fall in love with our he-man hero and he is surrounded by excellent actors, including the British great John Hurt, in a surprising role. There is plenty of noise and clashing and bashing and a few "magical" impossible scenes of childish glee.

I liked it better than machines killing one another and magic cartoon men climbing and leaping from skyscrapers and folks rising from the dead and one more space adventure. Go see it!

I love opinions from our readers. So here's something from Linda Whitney of Harlequin Productions congratulating Cameron Diaz, age 41, for stating that she chooses not to reproduce, and also congratulating this column for giving the actress a shout-out on those remarks.

Linda says: "I have always found it funny when people refer to the childless-by-choice as 'selfish.' What is more selfish than insisting that your genetic material be perpetuated?"

Linda notes that there are countless ways to improve the quality of the lives around you "without adding to the headcount."

Having kids is great, I say, but there are thousands of children in the world who you can help if you want to. They languish in orphanages and other awful places just praying every day you'll give them a home.

IAN ZIERING is clearly a nice guy! He appeared Wednesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program to promote the second of his outrageously not-to-be-taken seriously "Sharknado" TV movies.

Unfortunately, "MJ" co-host, Mika Brzezinski, the arbiter of all things classy, rolled her eyes, made sarcastic remarks, and generally dismissed the movie, right up until Mr. Ziering (formerly best-known for his role in "Beverly Hills, 90210) took his seat at the table. Other actors might have walked out an hour before. But Ian sat down and then had to grin and bear it while Mika continued to diss him and the film. "Can somebody explain it to me?!" she kept asking her tablemates, who frankly seemed a bit embarrassed by her Lady of the Manor manner.

Ms. Brzezinski is often down on popular culture and what she deems "acceptable" for her two daughters. Those two daughters, by the way, are mentioned as often as Joe Scarborough's time in Congress. If there were a drinking game based on how many times Mika and Joe mentioned these things, people would be hammered 40 minutes into the program.

I like "Morning Joe," actually, but Mika -- whose hair is bleached so aggressively it can be seen from Mars -- needs to loosen up a bit. She's supposed to be more liberal, after all. Actually, I hope she offered Ian Ziering an apology.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)

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