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HULK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte
Director: Ang Lee
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 138 Minutes
Release Date: October 28, 2003

"TALBOT!"

"Yeah?"

“You’re making me angry.”

Film **1/2

Make no mistake about it. Of all characters to grace the pages of comic books, The Hulk has probably been the most highly anticipated in terms of being brought to the big screen, next to Spider-Man. When audiences packed in the multiplex's to see Spidey's feature film debut, they were given a first glimpse of what was to come the following year.

The brief teaser was quite a stunner. It showed a shivering man looking at himself in the mirror, looking as if he was trying fight some kind of emotion trying to take control over him, which indeed it was, as we saw his eyeball turn a monstrous green. It rocked the audience at the screening I atteneded, illustrating that many fans of The Hulk had waited very long for the angry green giant to make it to the big screen. When it was revealed that Ang Lee was going to direct the movie, my expectations soared even higher.

A year later, Hulk landed in theaters, and was met with perhaps the most extraordinary level of mixed reaction of any movie of recent memory. Many film critics praised the film, lauding Ang Lee's vision of the eccentric Marvel hero as a modern day Frankentstein, with a touch of Greek tragedy. At the same time, this somewhat artistic gesture is what turned off those who were seeking a non-stop bombastic thrill ride, a la Spider-Man and Daredevil. This is possibly the most dark superhero movie I, for one, have ever experienced.  

As for me, my opinion falls somewhere in between, but more on that further down the road. What I will eagerly state is that there is a lot to admire about what Ang Lee has done with this material. Many will note that Lee films have no relation in terms of genres, and he likes to try something new. Hulk is indeed Lee's most ambitious project to date, filled with both highs and lows.

The centerpiece, of course, is the character of modern-day nuclear scientist Bruce Banner, played with perfected ease by Eric Bana. Banner is a man plagued by not knowing much about his past, even though he admits that both his parents have long been dead. But that soon proves to be nothing of the case when Bruce's father, David Banner (Nick Nolte), turns up to spy on his son's every move, and for bizarre reasons.

The older Banner was once a military scientist. As revealed in an opening prologue, which briefly chronicles the father's science work as well as Bruce's eventual birth, the father did the unthinkable when he passed along tampered DNA genes to Bruce when he was an infant. Needless to say, the elder Banner, who is obviously a deranged mad scientist, is awaiting the birth of something…well…bigger.

Eventually, Bruce comes to acknowledge this troubled gift, following a lab accident that has indeed triggered the very specific genes altered in his youth. This, of course, leads to the young scientist's discovery of his inner hulk, a transformation process triggered by pure rage.

Another important plot note is Bruce's unique relationship with co-worker and former flame Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). Despite not being able to spark a romantic fling, the two remain very close. In fact, she feels more close to him than ever as a companion, a thorn that doesn't sit well in her father's side. Betty's father is the stern General Ross (Sam Elliott) who was an adversary of Bruce's father and doesn't much care for the offspring, especially when the alter ego is revealed.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a whole lot to admire here, all of which can be credited to Ang Lee's unique vision. What Lee has brought to this interpretation, in terms of comic book essence, is quite simply bold and superb. Staging many key scenes in a spilt-screen-like format, with images seen from different points of view, Lee has incorporated the look and feel of a comic book onto the screen, which is very much a treat for the eyes.

Much was made about the movie's special effects surrounding the look of the Hulk. Many felt the computer generated effects made the Hulk appear like an all too obvious computer generated effect. I didn't have a problem with the look of the Hulk, mainly because the movie is clearly a representation of the original comic book character, which was lifelike in size and shape. To have another actor play the Hulk, as in the popular 70s television show, would've been the wrong move for the movie. An elaborate standoff between the Hulk and military forces is a show-stopping moment, and comes very close to saving the film.

However, Hulk does have a few flaws too many that cause it to not be the success it should've been. Its main flaw is that of story construction, most notably in the later portions of the film. A good percent of the film has Bruce/the Hulk secured at a discreet military base/laboratory, which eventually leads to the military's pursuit of the monster. At the same time, a subplot involving Bruce's father plotting to upgrade his DNA cells doesn't make much sense, and it leads to a standoff between Bruce and the father in a section of the movie that feels a bit tacked on and unnecessary, although the two's confrontation is somewhat effective.

So, for me, in the end, Hulk is a mixed bag. Some applauded it for being a different take on your typical superhero movie, while others blasted it for being too talkative and slow moving. I, however, am in that rare position of being mixed, though I do think there's plenty to enjoy here. I feel that with a bit more tightening on the editing and story handling, we really could've had something here.

BONUS TRIVIA: Look closely and you'll spot Hulk creator Stan Lee and former television Hulk Lou Ferrigno as security guards.

Video ****

Acknowledge the unique visual style of the movie, I had a feeling that this would make a grand DVD presentation, and I was proven right. Universal's anamorphic offering of Hulk is among the studio's best looking releases ever. It's a clear cut case of all the visual elements getting the absolute right touch. In terms of picture detail, clarity, and use of colors, which is lively especially in the greens, Hulk soars on every level. The many visual effects come off superbly, in addition. To sum it up, this presentation represents everything the way a big visual feast of a movie, or any movie, should appear in the DVD format. Also available in a full screen version.

Audio ****

Don't make him angry, you wouldn't like him when he's angry, except of course if he had an outstanding 5.1 mix to back him up. Hulk has risen to that prestigious level of DVDs with such superior sound quality, that you want to test it a good sound system. Every single audio aspect, from Danny Elfman's searing score, to the bombastic action sequences (Hulk's battle with a trio of angry mutt's is a highpoint), to dialogue delivery is at a high level in this ultimately outstanding sounding disc, which epitomizes dynamic range to the fullest extent.

Features ****

This 2-Disc set is one Hulk-tified (please pardon the cheesy expression) and loaded to-the-extreme package, with the lengthy listing of feats spread out among the two discs. Included is a commentary with Ang Lee, deleted scenes, 5 documentaries; "The Making of Hulk", "Evolution of Hulk", "Superhero Revealed", "The Incredible Ang Lee", and "The Dogfight". Also featured is an interactive viewing option called "Hulk Cam", and "Captured Fury", a look at scene recreations from the perspective of several animation artists.

Also, for those who own an XBOX, you can insert the DVD and play one level of The Hulk video game.

Summary:

I've hardly been has mixed on a single movie as I am with Hulk. I commend Ang Lee for breathing some life into this superhero tale, but I just wish certain elements had been either rearranged or removed to make a much tighter film.