THE INCREDIBLE HULK
The Complete First Season
Review by Mark Wiechman
Stars: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Susan Sullivan,
Director: Kenneth Johnson
Length: 11 hours, 32 minutes, four discs
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Video: Color Full Frame 1.33:1, English Subtitles
Features: See Review
Release date: July 18, 2006
“Mr. Magee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
It is sadly true that despite so many good Marvel comic book characters over so many decades, there has really only been one good television show based on a Marvel character, and not the one you would ever think would work on television. You can attribute it to great acting, writing, and ingenious changes to the comic book saga which made it work on the small screen. And in my opinion, it also topped Lois and Clark and Smallville in every way. Sorry, DC. Stan Lee is still The Man.
Before I elaborate on how great this show is, let me reveal once and for all what a comic book geek I once was by explaining the difference between the comic Hulk and the TV Hulk. In the early 1960’s saga, atomic scientist Bill Banner is supervising the detonation of a bomb when he realizes that a teenager has ridden his motorcycle into the bombing range, and as he runs out to the range to get the boy to safety, he is “bathed” in radiation in the blast (instead of just being vaporized), and he later discovers that he becomes The Hulk, but not necessarily when he becomes angry. He can jump over building and “fly” more or less.
In the TV version, David Banner is trying to understand why some people have extraordinary physical strength under stress, and theorizes that gamma radiation exposure might have caused a genetic change in these people. So he foolishly experiments on himself, alone, and accidentally exposes himself to an unsafe level of radiation. While changing a tire in the rain, he injures himself, and in his anger, he becomes The Hulk. When his anger subsides, he becomes nice Dr. Banner again. Instead of being a hero, he has to hide his secret, as a nosy reporter stalks him. He He is wrongly accused of murdering Banner and his fiancé after the lab burns down, and so goes into hiding. This is more timely and plausible, and Bixby’s great acting want us to watch him make it out of one jam after another every week.
The TV show works because the story is more plausible and timely in many ways, and because special effects were very minimal, with the only real effects being his clothes tearing as Lou Ferrigno’s green muscles pop out (second only to Ah-nuld at the Mr. Universe contest). This Hulk never flies, but kicks the bad guys butts, usually when they deserve it. The whole Incredible Hulk story thus becomes a modern version of the Beauty and the Beast tale. Kenneth Johnson’s foresight in making these small changes enabled the show the work wonderfully for many seasons. He turned the great comic into a psychological drama of a misunderstood man who is trying to understand the rage inside himself and his world, and many of his blackouts and mistaken accusations against him remind me of future episodes of CSI, Law and Order, and the excellent Memento film.
I suppose my two big criticisms of the show are that like many shows of the late 1970’s, it glorified violence that seemed an end in itself, and every episode was pretty much the same formula. David goes looking for a normal life, and work, and someone ticks him off, beats him off, he gets angry, becomes the Hulk, then runs away. Having said that, the stories were very inventive, the acting and directing was excellent, and the emotions quite believable for most of the series run.
1) Pilot: The Incredible Hulk, 2) The Incredible Hulk: A Death in the Family (2 hr movie), 3) A Final Round, 4) The Beast Within, ,5) Of Guilt, Models, and Murder, 6) Terror in Times Square, 7) 747, 8) The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas, 9) Never Give a Trucker an Even Break, 10) Life and Death, 11) Earthquakes Happen, 12) The Waterfront Job.
On close inspection there are some of the usual flaws that any television footage of the late 1970’s has but the colors are very clear and even in dark scenes there is very little splotchiness. I have seen brand new releases that are not this good. Only the sharpest eyes standing right in front of the screen would ever see them.
While I am disappointed that it is only two mono channels, again it is better than I expected for the era. No serious problems.
Special Features ***
“The Incredible Hulk” pilot episode is itself considered one of the features, and it has a commentary by writer, director, and producer Kenneth Johnson. Johnson is very sharp storyteller and this is one of the better “feel-good” commentary tracks. An episode from Season Two, “Stop the Presses” is also featured.
Like the hologram on the package, we watch a mild mannered doctor become a monster, and the beast within every human came to life on TV screen. Thanks to the magic of DVD we get to see the late Bill Bixby in his finest hour and one of Stan Lee’s creations is immortalized is some of the best television of the 1970’s. Put away your Village People albums and remember that there was more to do than just boogie on those great 70’s nights.