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THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
Director:  Louis Leterrier
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  113 Minutes
Release Date:  October 21, 2008

“How are you feeling, man?”

“Like a monster.”

Film ***

One legendary comic book hero, two distinct films by talented directors and terrific stars…talk amongst yourselves.

Okay, I guess I can’t let myself off that easily.  Once upon a time, a future Oscar-winning director named Ang Lee was given the task of realizing the Hulk for the big screen as the latest Marvel comic offering to unleash fury on the box office.  The film had its fans, most notably Roger Ebert, who has used it in his film festivals in the years since.  But it had detractors as well, mostly from those who felt Lee forwent action and heroics in favor of a more cerebral, somber approach.  Or, in other words, that Hulk offered the emotion and angst, but nothing else of what made Hulk…well, Hulk.  The CGI, which was necessary to construct the visions of the green skinned hero for a new generation, seemed awkward and unreal, and took some viewers out of the moment time and time again.

But in this age of cinema sequels, a new term had been coined:  reboot.  Batman did it, with tremendous success.  So why not Hulk?  Instead of using the first film as a jumping-off point, Marvel decided to go back to their eternally fertile drawing boards and re-imagine what the big guy could be.

They started with an established French director in Louis Leterrier, a solid star in Edward Norton, and a brand new approach.  The resulting movie, The Incredible Hulk, brought more happiness to fans of the comic and the indelible television show (with more than a handful of throwback nods to it), and re-established itself in Marvel’s vision for the future of their comic movie endeavors.

The story is well known:  Bruce Banner (Norton) is a scientist on the run, and we see most of why as the opening credits play out.  An overexposure to gamma radiation during an experiment has left him with a side he can’t control.  He causes injury to both his love Betty Ross (Tyler) and her military man father (Hurt).  Now, General Ross is determined to hunt down and recapture what could possibly prove to be the ultimate new soldier.

An interesting gimmick is the way Banner wears a pulse monitor…whenever the numbers spike, he uses mediation and breathing exercises to keep calm.  But without ever saying it, we get the feeling that 200 is the magic number.  When his pulse reaches that apex, there is no longer control…only unbridled rage.

Banner is communicating with another scientist in trying to find a cure for himself.  He can no longer see Betty without endangering her or himself.  But the constant pursuit of the general means the Hulk can’t stay dorman for long…especially when the general decides to reproduce a ‘superman’ experiment made famous by another hero clad in red white and blue mixed with the gamma rays.  He finds in Emil Blonsky (Roth) a willing participant.  It may be the only way to capture the Hulk…if Blonsky can control what he’s about to become.

The movie makes up for Lee’s lack of action in spades, and the CGI renderings are better and more believable this time around…or at least as believable as a nine foot bulked-out un-jolly green giant can be.  The casting of Norton is pivotal; he makes Bruce Banner an emotionally involving character in his own right, instead of just being somebody we watch hoping for a cool transformation.  I wasn’t as convinced by some of the other casting choices; Liv Tyler and William Hurt are both accomplished performers, but neither seemed completely comfortable for my taste.  Tyler reacts instead of acts for the most part, and Hurt just knows one note for his take on the blustery, power-mad general.  Tim Roth, however, was an inspired selection…it’s hard now for me to imagine anyone else in his role.

Those who appreciated the Ang Lee approach might be less than satisfied with Leterrier’s effort.  It’s not as emotional or as tightly focused, but it’s not meant to be.  The Incredible Hulk serves to deliver more action and a broader scope…the final moments of the movie indicate just how much the studio’s eyes are on the future.

In that sense, I believe The Incredible Hulk will have a longer lasting impact than Hulk.  But both films are available on Universal Blu-ray, so there’s no harm in checking out both visions and deciding for yourself.  It certainly wouldn’t make me angry if you did.  ;-)

BONUS TRIVIA:  As in the Ang Lee film, there are cameos from both creator Stan Lee and original television Hulk Lou Ferrigno.

Video ****

I had a feeling The Incredible Hulk would be one of the best looking Blu-rays of the year…hardly a fair bet, considering how good other comic book and Marvel movies have looked.  But I like to wager when the dice are loaded, and this high definition transfer is definitely that.  With the mix of CGI and live actors, the relentless action sequences, the beautiful contrast between lighter and darker scenes, and the overall crispness and vividness of the color and detail, this is reference quality all the way.

Audio ****

Man, this is one dynamic DTS HD track…the action scenes are almost overpowering.  You want to keep your volume control close by for safety.  The explosiveness powers the subwoofer and keeps the surrounds in almost constant play, though the dialogue and music score both render equally as well.

Features ****

This is a loaded up Blu-ray, with all features in high definition.  You can see a slightly animated version of the comic books that inspired the storyline, or view an alternate opening.  There are over twenty deleted scenes, as well as featurettes on the making of the movie, becoming both the Hulk and the Abomination, and anatomy of a Hulk-out.  There is a cool commentary with director Leterrier and star Roth, and a bonus digital copy for your personal devices.

The disc also features Universal’s exclusive “U-Control”, whith allows one click access to an on screen comic book gallery, files on the characters and locations, and some picture-in-picture behind the scenes footage, which, curiously enough, has no audio track of its own that I could find.  The limited edition 3-D cover art is also quite cool!

Summary:

Hulk is a smash…The Incredible Hulk not only marks a satisfactory reboot of the franchise, it makes for a strong puzzle piece pointing toward the future of Marvel as a film studio.  Green and Blu-ray are indeed a superior combination.

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