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Posts Tagged ‘Hulk’

There seems to be a bit of a pattern developing, at least to the extent that whenever I end up writing about The Incredible Hulk TV show it’s more than likely to concern episodes from the fourth season. The reason for this is fairly straightforward – with any long-running, somewhat-formulaic series, most of the episodes tend to blur together and become fairly indistinguishable. The thing about the fourth season of Hulk is that there seems to have been a genuine attempt to push back against the constraints of the existing format, with episodes that break new ground or explore the characters in a new way.

This tendency is there from the very start of the season, which opens with the two-part story Prometheus. This is so radically different from the typical Hulk episode that it almost looks like the series is undergoing a significant reformat – for good or ill, this turns out not to be the case.

The story is written and directed by series overseer Kenneth Johnson, and opens with US military radar detecting an object heading for Earth out of deep space. It must be an asteroid, but… it’s a strangely symmetrical cylinder! What can it be? At least the radar techs are certain where it’s going to come down: northern Utah.

Which is where, naturally, we catch up with our man David Banner (Bill Bixby, of course), who is doing a spot of fishing. This turns out to be rather incongruous, given we later learn he has recently had one of his episodes and is planning to make his usual rapid and discreet departure, but I suppose even irradiated fugitives are allowed a fish supper now and then. Anyway, Banner comes across a young woman who has fallen in the river, and ends up fishing her out as well.

She turns out to be Katie, a recently-blinded pianist who has retired to the wilderness to be alone with her bitterness (even in one of the more genre-oriented Hulk episodes, they find time for some slightly sentimental melodrama, but this is one of the series’ charms if you ask me). Katie is played by Laurie Prange, who clearly specialised in this sort of thing: she played an heiress suffering from hysterical paralysis in the series’ second pilot.

Well, unbeknownst to Banner and Katie, the military are preparing for the arrival of the mysterious space object, although running the show is an equally mysterious agency known as Prometheus. McGee (Jack Colvin), who is in the area checking up on the recent Hulk appearance, smells a story, and starts to poke around.

Sure enough, the meteor enters the atmosphere as predicted – ‘A shallow trajectory! Almost like it’s being piloted!’ says someone in uniform. As you can see, the episode seems to be foreshadowing something highly unusual about the object, possibly even the appearance of a genuine extraterrestrial. But this is all a bit of a red herring: on this occasion, a rock is just a rock, albeit one with some unique properties.

As luck would have it, Banner and Katie are in the area when the meteorite strikes, and – thinking it may be a plane crash, with survivors needing help – Banner selflessly trots off to investigate. All he finds is a big rock – but it’s one that seems to cause him severe discomfort, the closer he gets to it. Being Banner, he ends up tripping over a beehive and turning into the Hulk (Hulk smash bees!). It has to be said that this is an extremely well-done set piece, especially considering that not very much happens.

Katie is less than thrilled when the Hulk bashes his way into her cabin, and frankly non-plussed when he reverts back to Banner. Or does he? Here the episode unveils its biggest new idea: the meteorite is giving off unique gamma radiation which screws up Banner’s body chemistry even more. Banner hasn’t fully changed back; he’s stuck in a transitional form between his human form and the Hulk, with somewhat enhanced strength, limited mental capacities, and a bestial appearance. This Demi-Hulk is mostly portrayed by Bixby under prosthetics, but there are frequent and somewhat instrusive moments where bodybuilder Ric Drasin plays the Demi-Hulk in long shot.

With the army combing the area, Katie decides to take the Demi-Hulk into town where her brother can decide what to do with him – but she ends up wandering past the meteor crater, where the army, McGee, and representatives of Prometheus are congregating. Another big set piece ensues, with the Demi-Hulk going back into his full-on green form, and a full-scale clash between the Hulk and the army on the cards. However, Prometheus has another option, dropping what is called the ‘Alpha Chamber’ (basically a dome made of foot-thick steel) on the Hulk and taking him prisoner (probably best not to worry too much about how the dome works as a piece of machinery). The episode ends with the Hulk and Katie being flown away to parts unknown…

You could probably argue that Prometheus‘ first episode is built around some suspiciously static set-pieces, but the combination of big ideas, lavish production values and excellent direction still make this one of the best episodes of the series. Of course, the second episode has the job of paying off this set-up, and it’s here that the story stumbles a bit.

All over the country, scientists attached to Prometheus are being activated and brought to the agency’s secret base, in the belief that the Hulk is actually an alien who arrived on the meteorite (there’s a very X-Files/Andromeda Strain vibe going on here). Meanwhile, the (now badly dented) dome is brought in, Katie is whisked off for examination, and the Hulk is placed in an observation area inside a microwave force-field (quite how the Hulk and Katie are separated is, once again, perhaps best not worried about).

Meanwhile, McGee has also managed to infiltrate the complex and is watching what happens with interest. Unfortunately, the Prometheus scientists meet with little success in their attempts to establish intelligent communication with the Hulk, and their bright idea of sticking a chunk of meteor rock into the chamber goes badly wrong when the enraged creature escapes by ripping a hole in the concrete floor and goes on the rampage through the complex…

This is still a very strong and distinctive episode, not least because it is so Hulk-centric – Lou Ferrigno gets much more screen-time than usual, possibly even more than Bixby. And the big new ideas keep coming, with the revelation that Prometheus is a secret government agency tasked with handling possible alien contacts and exploiting any discoveries in the American national interest (a bit like the Torchwood Institute from that other show, in fact). There’s the prospect of a team-up between McGee and Prometheus in order to capture and study the Hulk.

But all of this… doesn’t really go anywhere, unfortunately. The big climax of the episode largely concerns Banner’s relief at discovering that, away from the meteor fragments, he can fully de-Hulk himself. Which is fine, but the Hulk has been the object of so much of the episode, that for it to conclude with him as its subject is a slightly jarring shift.

And there is a lot of padding and filler in the episode – the Prometheus scientists are introduced in detail and at length (slightly sleazily, in one instance), there are endless scenes of the Alpha Chamber being moved about by crane, and so on. Even a scene in which McGee discovers the shady hidden agenda behind Prometheus doesn’t contribute much to the plot.

You almost wish the episode had really gone all the way with the sci-fi B-movie vibe and had the meteorite disgorge some kind of gamma-guzzling alien monster for the Hulk to have a proper fight with. There’s certainly slack in the episode that could be used to accommodate setting this up, and I’m sure it would have been a great climax. There was also clearly a big budget for this episode, so producing another monster suit could certainly have been possible. The series wasn’t afraid to go down this route just a few weeks later with the Hulk-on-Hulk battle at the end of The First. So one wonders why Prometheus doesn’t just go for it a bit more.

In the end, though, everything just resets back to normal come the end, with the exception of Katie being less of an embittered recluse: Banner magically replaces all his stuff and goes back on the road, McGee goes back to hunting the Hulk, and so on. Given the Hulk has just demolished a multi-million dollar base, one wonders why the US government don’t pursue him much more actively from this point on, but that’s TV from this point in time: the episodic format was king, even if it could productively be pushed against sometimes.

This is why I say that Prometheus is only halfway-brilliant – it’s full of potential which never quite gets fully realised. But even a halfway-brilliant Hulk story is still extremely watchable TV.

 

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published  17th July 2003:

When it comes to the big, mega-profitable, summer event movie blockbusters, who would you say was the most influential man in Hollywood right now? Spielberg? Nah. His last few films have shown an edginess which, while welcome, is rather uncommercial. Lucas? Give me a break. The man’s head is wedged firmly up his own thermal exhaust port, and in any case, the original Star Wars owes a clear debt to the work of the real big cheese – octogenarian comic book writer Stan Lee.

My evidence? Four of the most financially successful action movies of the last year or so: Spider-Man, Daredevil, X2, and now the long-awaited adaptation of Hulk, directed by Ang Lee (no relation) – all of them fruits of a relatively brief period of extraordinary creativity for Lee, nearly forty years ago. Co-created, like the X-Men, with legendary artist Jack Kirby, the Hulk has always been the darkest, strangest, and most morally ambiguous of the big-name superheroes. The fame of the character, in the UK at least, is largely due to the TV series of the late 1970s, where a rather domesticated and wimpy Hulk travelled America as a kind of hitch-hiking social worker. Lee’s film returns to the original comics, with impressive results.

Hulk opens with a sequence set in the 1960s, as army scientist David Banner struggles to artificially augment the human immune and regenerative systems. Forced to test his work on himself, he is shocked when his wife gives birth to a son, Bruce, who possesses a unique genetic anomaly – and his attempt to rectify his mistakes will have tragic consequences for all three of them. Thirty-five years later, the now-grown Bruce Banner (played, slightly confusingly, by Eric Bana) is a civilian researcher in the same area, though unaware of his past – or that his girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly, once again playing the love interest to a genius with a split personality) has a distant connection to it. But Bruce is forced to confront his personal demons as his father (now played by Nick Nolte) reappears, and an accidental dose of gamma radiation leaves him rather green around the gills. And everywhere else…

This film has taken a fair bit of stick for being overly long and wordy and slow to get going. And to be totally honest, this is not entirely unfounded. It’s over half an hour before the Hulk puts in an appearance, and prior to this it is quite talky, with Ang Lee seemingly obsessed with close-ups of lichen growing on rocks. This is nothing like as faithful an adaptation of the comic as, for example, the Spider-Man movie, but given the extent to which the Hulk changed in the early years of his career this was probably inevitable. It’s to the script’s credit that nearly all the regular characters from the early books appear (no sign of Rick Jones or the Grey Hulk, though) and it wholeheartedly adopts the psychological take on the relationship between Banner and the Hulk which Peter David brought to the comic in the early 1990s. This is why the film takes its time to begin with – establishing Banner’s character and inner turmoil is crucial to the story it wants to tell.

But once the Hulk does appear, things pick up pace rapidly. This is the real deal, the comic-book Hulk – all the movie retains from the TV show is the iconic ‘Don’t make me angry…’ line, and even this is given an arch twist. (Oh, and TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno cameos alongside Stan Lee himself near the start.) The CGI Hulk is hugely impressive, both in the action scenes – demolishing redwoods during a startlingly brutal fight with irradiated pit-bulls, casually ripping tanks apart, leaping miles at a time – and in the quieter moments when he confronts Betty or his father. It’d have been nice if the big guy had been given more dialogue, but I suppose you can’t have everything. (The perennial question of ‘Why does the Hulk’s shirt fall off but not his trousers?’ is also sort-of addressed, a source of much sniggering during the screening I attended.)

The film stutters a bit in its closing stages. Clearly recognising the similarities between the Hulk and Godzilla – both the result of accidents with radiation, both slightly morally ambiguous, both very bad news for insurance companies – the film-makers give him an opponent worthy of his mettle in the final reel (the lack of which was one of the main flaws in the Emmerich Godzilla of five years ago). Without wishing to spoil it too much, the villainous character is essentially new, but his superpower should be very familiar to long-time comics fans. However, his actual agenda and motivation are rather unclear and – while undoubtedly spectacular – the actual battle is too brief and poorly lit to be really satisfying.

This doesn’t detract too much from a satisfyingly meaty and intelligent action movie. All the main roles are solidly played – with the possible exception of Josh Lucas’ slightly hammy performance as Banner’s rival Glen Talbot – and Ang Lee directs with impressive pace and energy, using split-screen and a range of imaginative cuts and wipes to great effect. This possibly isn’t a movie to take small children along to see, as it is a slow starter and what humour there is is subtle and quite black – but with its brooding intensity and emphasis on characterisation it fully does justice to the source material. Now all we need is for the Hulk to fight Wolverine in the sequel, and a spin-off starring Michelle Rodriguez as the She-Hulk, and I can die a happy man.

Another one for the ‘rather over-enthusiastic and over-generous’ file, I fear…

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Crikey, it’s only the Second of Jan and already we’re enjoying brand new realms of stupidity courtesy of the nation’s TV program planners. I refer, of course, to the crack lemurs employed by ITV and Channel 4 who, brilliantly, decided to schedule the network premieres of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk at exactly the same time.

This is outstanding because, of course, both these movies appeal to exactly the same audience. But what makes it particularly special is that not only are they both from the same studio, but they also have many of the same creative personnel even down to members of the cast: in a possibly unprecedented feat, for a few seconds today Robert Downey Jr. was appearing as the same character in two different films on different networks.

Artist's impression of the ITV and Channel 4 schedules.

However, this run of form did not stop there, as the ITV guys have pioneered a strange and rather astonishing new variant on censorship. Regular censorship, of which I am not a great fan, generally consists of hacking bits out of films to make them less overtly violent or sexual. Much to my amazement, The Incredible Hulk was actually edited to make it look more violent and sexiful than was originally the case.

For instance – in the version I saw at the cinema, the Hulk kicks Tim Roth’s character, who flies back about fifty feet and splats into a tree. In the ITV version, you see the big guy start to swing his leg, then there’s the crunching noise of Roth hitting the tree and a crumpled limb flopping into shot. The original is kinetic and overblown in that unique Louis Leterrier way, but not actually nasty – the ITV cut just makes it look like the Hulk’s stomped him into paste.

Moving on to sex (how infrequently I get to use those words in that order), in the theatrical release Ed Norton and Liv Tyler rekindle their old romance, but are forced to abandon things mid-foreplay as Norton’s heart-rate is becoming dangerously elevated and he’s about to turn green and level the place. It’s a poignant moment (and illustrates yet another drawback to being the Hulk). Now, I thought the foreplay was very mild, but still enough to get ITV flustered – they’ve snipped everything after their initial kiss. So a scene of which the original point was that they don’t have sex has been re-edited to imply that they do. Good work at maintaining the moral standards of the nation, guys.

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