David Banner (Nick Nolte) is a military scientist conducting tests on manipulating the immune system. However, when he goes against military procedures and uses himself as a human guinea-pig, he is removed from the project and destroys the military base in a rage. His actions that day have a profound effect on his young son Bruce, not to mention the mutated genes that he has passed on to the boy. Years later, Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is also a scientist, experimenting with creatures that have the ability to quickly regenerate and heal wounds, and, like his father’s tests, this is something that would also be of great interest to the military. However, when an experiment goes wrong, Bruce is subjected to a powerful blast of gamma radiation that unleashes the powers hidden within.
In contrast to the 4-colour comic pulp of the Marvel character’s 1962 origins, Ang Lee adopts a modern graphic novel approach to the material, giving us characters driven by dark traumatic events from their childhoods, but it’s not a style that the story can always sustain. Like many revisionist graphic novels, the film tries a little too hard to make the characters a bit more interesting than their 2-dimensional origins. There are vague hints of the failed love affair between Bruce and Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), delivered in expository comic-book style (all the film lacks is a Stan Lee caption - *See #88, Hulk Historians!) - and flashbacks to repressed childhood memories, neither of which succeed in making the characters or their motivations any more interesting than the scientific nerds they really are.
The director's appropriation of comic-book references and stylisations however is much more successful. From the comic-book font of the opening titles and primary-colour schemes to the cut-aways, overlapping frames and transitions, he brilliantly captures the rhythm and pace of the best comic work. Elsewhere, there are comic-book literate references to other more modern monster-within comic classics, from an elevator shaft to an underground military experiment reminiscent of Katsuhiro Otomo’s 'Akira' to the testing in an flotation tank reference to Barry Windsor-Smith’s 'Weapon X' Wolverine origin story. All show a respect for the character’s source and an understanding of both the comic-book and film media, remaining faithful to one and experimenting with the other.
The film ratchets-up the tension to the Hulk’s eventual appearance mid-way through the film to such an extent that the character’s long-anticipated appearance really needs to be cataclysmic in order to justify that kind of build-up. And it is here in the CGI representation of Hulk that the film either wins or loses its viewers. What makes comics work, and what has often led to their failure on the big screen, is their ability to effectively create a world that invites suspension of disbelief in outrageously improbable characters and physically impossible events. CGI is only now starting to catch-up with what comes as second-nature in comics, but it is still not quite there. The Hulk still looks detached from the real-world setting, not really seeming to conform to the same laws of physics and gravity that affect everyone else around him. All too rarely is there any sense of real power, real weight and real force - demonstrated in an inconsistency between struggling in a battle with a mutant dog yet being able to effortlessly flip-over a tank or a helicopter.
Against all the odds however, one of the most cartoonish Marvel characters is the one that works best on the big screen, simply because the filmmakers haven’t tried to do a grimly realistic, ultra-violent, revisionist update of the character. Instead of trying to force a comic-book to fit the conventions of film, they have made a film that tries to be a comic-book. It effectively recreates the sense of awe, the complexity and interaction of comic-book visuals and narrative and uses the very factors that make it successful – the ability to take hugely imaginative flights of fantasy that would look out of place any other medium. It neither ironically mocks the creation’s origin nor tries to imbue it with more cinematic realism than it can sustain. It remains faithful to the source and is a great film for doing so.
Picture quality is very good, perhaps a little too good coming across as too harsh, too sharp and too detailed, lacking warmth and making the Hulk’s rubbery-green CGI appearance that bit more incongruous than it need be. Strangely on a couple of occasions when Hulk is on the screen, it seems to cause some moiré waver and blocking of blue skies, but this is not a big or very noticeable problem. Rather more irritating is some unnecessary edge enhancement. Although again this is only really noticeable when figures are isolated against light backgrounds, it sometimes tends to make figures look like cardboard cut-outs. Neither of these problems prevent this from being a very fine picture though.
In the main both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and the DTS soundtrack are clear and strong. The DTS has a bit more of a rumble, but it is not as effective as it should be. I would have expected a deeper low-frequency response from a DTS mix of a film like this and it’s not really there. Oh, it’s loud enough – don’t worry about that, but just as the CGI Hulk seems a little too light and nimble for such a big guy, so the DTS soundtrack doesn’t carry the required weight either.
Extras: Disc One
Ang Lee Commentary
There’s a lot of talk in the director’s commentary about where scenes were shot, about lighting and about the number of cameras and takes used – so if you like a technical commentary, this is great. For the rest of us, there’s not much here, but to be fair Lee does try to cover as many aspects of the film as possible.
Hulk Cam: Inside the Rage
This plays the film with a ‘white-rabbit’ style feature, taking you behind the scenes in certain shots. There are 13 sequences, mostly 1-2 minutes each. Some are interviews, others stunts, CGI modelling or other behind the scenes footage. I can’t understand why anyone would want to break up the watching of the film to see these. Do we really even need to see any of this?
Thunderbirds Teaser Trailer
It looks cheesy, but it impressed me. FAB!
Extras: Disc Two
This feature allows you to view the confrontation scene between Banner and Talbot in original storyboards or as interpreted by a number of comic artists. A split screen allows you to move between the pencils and the inked and coloured artwork and there are biographies of the artists involved.
Evolution of the Hulk (16:18)
Marvel Comics have been criticised in the comic world for not capitalising on the success of the X-Men and Spider-man movies to draw kids back into the dwindling comicbook market. They certainly make up for that with the previous featurette and this one, which takes a look at the history of The Hulk in Marvel Comics, through its Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series to the conception of the movie. These are good extra features.
The Incredible Ang Lee (14:28)
Ang Lee was not the most obvious choice to direct a superhero film. This featurette examines what particular qualities the director brought to the film, not least personally acting out the Hulk’s body movements for motion capture. The extra material starts to get bogged down in making of features from here on in, which I think tends to detract from the film.
The Dog Fight Scene (10:09)
One scene is used to demonstrate how the filmmakers balanced original vision with what could effectively and cost-effectively be put on the screen and how they achieved it.
The Unique Style of Editing Hulk (5:34)
The comic-book influence – finding a new and original way to tell the story.
Making Of (23:42)
This is broken down into four sections – Cast & Crew, Stunts & Physical Effects, ILM and Music. Can anybody tell me the point of this? Ang Lee talks about striving for naturalism and they spend millions trying to make the Hulk look as realistic as possible, then they include a Making of feature showing you just how unnatural and false it all really is. The next time you watch the film, the ‘wow’ will be gone and you can sit and think – that’s Ang Lee moving up there. Way to spoil a film.
Deleted Scenes (6 mins)
Six scenes are presented, some of them short and inconsequential. A longer scene explaining some of the science is quite good.
The usual PC wallpaper and screensavers are included.
Superhero Revealed: The Anatomy of the Hulk
This is a nice interactive feature using a touch-screen style model to show facts and figures. Nothing too informative though.
Universal have produced an excellent 2-disc set for this film with a good but not exceptional DTS mix and fine but not perfect picture quality. Is Hulk the best comic-book adaptation to screen yet? I think so. It has avoided the pitfalls of other film adaptations that try to make comics fit onto the big screen and instead has made the film more like the comics. A few minor liberties have been taken, condensing events and characters, but in every case, the changes are better for the film. It’s a touch on the long side, some of the CGI animation is dubious and the plot and style are definitely not aimed at a young audience – but this is the most intelligent and literate adaptation of a comic character to date.
Last updated: 14/07/2018 18:47:50