DVD Review: The Incredible Hulk - (Three-Disc Special Edition)
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Distributor: Universal Studios
· Louis Leterrier
· Edward Norton
· Tim Roth
· William Hurt
· Liv Tyler
· IMDb: Incredible Hulk
by R.J. Carter
Published: October 21, 2008
I'll admit up front that I didn't have much anticipation to see "Incredible Hulk." First, except for the storylines written by Peter David and Bruce Jones, I never had that much interest in the character. I watched the Bill Bixby show growing up out of more of a religious obligation to the comics I collected than out of any reverence for the character, and despite all the great Marvel movies with "Spider-Man" and, more recently, "Iron Man," the Ang Lee "Hulk" still left a bad taste in my mouth.
So viewing the DVD was my first exposure to Louis Leterrier's re-envisionment of the big green guy, even though my interest was piqued during the first run of the release when I heard confirmation of Robert Downey, Jr's cameo as Tony Stark. And all I can say is... "Incredible Hulk" (is a) smash! Gone is the angsty, introspective character that occupied most of Lee's interpretation. Leterrier wipes that away before the credits even roll, giving us instead a Hulk that's created from a scientific research accident right out of the pilot episode for the Bill Bixby / Lou Ferrigno series. Okay, it's still not a "gamma bomb" explosion, but given that the writers made the event integral to the attempts to revive the "super soldier" experiments (words that set every Captain America fan in the audience to tingling), I can forgive this deviation from the source. In fact the influence of the television series pervades the show, with the Bruce Banner character even flubbing the classic line because of weak Portuguese language skills ("Don't make me hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry.") The lonely piano notes of the old theme song, clips of Bixby himself seen on a television playing reruns of The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and the flash of green in his eyes right before transforming brought back all the good nostalgia. In the deleted scenes, viewers will even learn that the campus reporter who captures footage of the Hulk's battle with the military was named Jack McGee, yet another television nod. (And for those keeping track, yes, Stan Lee continues his track record of Marvel cameos, and Ferrigno also returns as a security guard in this film.)
Edward Norton is completely captivating as Bruce Banner, the mild-mannered scientist who grows to a ten-foot behemoth of rage whenever his heart rate accelerates due to anger or excitement. When we first encounter him, he's living in Brazil, working menial labor fixing things at a guarana soda bottling plant. He spends his evenings in a secured satellite linkup searching for a cure to his gamma poisoning through chat sessions with the enigmatic Mr. Blue. We later find that Mr. Blue is a researcher named Dr. Sam Stearns (Tim Blake Nelson), who will have a gamma incident of his own before the film is out, although we won't see anything beyond the initial mutations that will show us a glimpse of the villainous Leader he will become in the future.
Hulk's nemesis in the film is the Abomination -- a Hulk-like creature that's bigger, meaner, and quite possibly stronger than he is. Tim Roth plays Emil Blonsky (in the comics, Blonsky was a Russian spy, something not too easy to pull off in a story set in post-Cold War times), a soldier near the end of his career. Blonsky's team first encounter the Hulk when they attempt to apprehend Banner in Brazil, and when he learns of the project from General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), he wants in. And, for a while, it appears the super-soldier experiment may be a success with Blonsky after all -- until the Hulk all but pulps him in their second encounter. Convinced he isn't powerful enough, Blonsky forces Stearns to put his own experiments into the mix, creating the bone-crushing creature Hulk must face down in the middle of New York City. Explosions, fires, and thrown cars rule the day as these two go head to head in a climactic battle the likes of which moviegoing audiences have never seen.
When Banner escapes his pursuers in Brazil, he makes his way back to New York in the hopes he can recover some of the data from his initial experiment. Complicating his life is a reunion with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), his old flame as well as General Ross's daughter. In his absence and presumed death, Betty has taken to shacking up with psychiatrist Leonard Samson (another character destined to have a Gamma accident in the Hulk mythos, albeit not in this film, played by Ty Burrell). Not much is shown of the relationship, or the impact Banner's return has on it, unless you go again to the deleted scenes. In fact, most of the deleted scenes are so good, it makes one wish there was a way to have seen a director's cut of "Incredible Hulk" with all the scenes restored.
This is the Hulk fans wanted to see the first go-round -- a Hulk story with not only wall-to-wall mindless violence and adrenaline-charged action, but also one with grounded characters who were interesting to follow when the Hulk wasn't around. Norton's portrayal of Banner is brilliant, as is Hurt's blustering general. Roth is equally magnetic as Blonsky, who longs to have the body of his youth with the fighting skills he has acquired to date.
This 3-Disc Special Edition includes an audio commentary track by Louis Leterrier and a handful of deleted scenes accompanying the feature presentation on disc one. The second disc is where most of the behind-the-scenes goodies are kept. The bonus features begin with the alternate opening for the film. I had heard a rumor that this would include a scene of Captain America on ice; alas, there's plenty of ice, but it's a scene of Bruce Banner trying to kill himself in the frozen north -- foiled by the intervention of the Hulk. After that, there are an additional thirty minutes of more deleted scenes, followed by thirty minutes on "The Making of Incredible." This feature focuses on Leterrier's vision (and initial reluctance) for Hulk, and Avi Arad's desire to see Hulk among people in a city setting. There is also discussion of retooling the Blonsky character, and interviews with the Canadian Armed Forces who assisted with several of the military scenes in the film.
"Becoming the Hulk" is a nine minute looks at getting a realistic yet Hulk-looking Hulk out of CGI, making him a more comfortable height than the giant who walked the Ang Lee set, as well as trimmer -- "more linebacker than weightlifter," as the crew describes it. We also see Norton in the phosphorescent makeup used for motion capture of his facial features via the Mova Contour Reality Capture process. This is followed by a ten minute segment, "Becoming the Abomination," which takes us into the efforts of creating the Hulk's CGI foe. We'll see Tim Roth in the motion capture suit, going through his stunts, and hear the animators discuss the unexpected challenges of animating a character whose muscles and bones are on the outside of the body.
"Anatomy of a Hulk-Out" is twenty-eight minutes which goes in-depth into three key scenes of Banner becoming Hulk: the bottling plant in Brazil, the campus fight against the military, and the climactic slobberknocker in Harlem.
Wrapping things up is a six minute animated segment from (Jeph Loeb and (Tim Sale's "Hulk: Grey," comic book, which spotlights Hulk and Betty Ross alone on a mountainside in the rain -- a scene that was inspirational enough for Leterrier to adapt into the film.
Finally, the third disc is the owner's digital copy of the film to be installed on their personal computer, a growing trend with DVD releases.
Fans of Hulk will definitely be rushing to get this one. Even lukewarm fans like myself will find themselves excited by the storyline, action, and blowout effects. If this second step toward "The Avengers" (following "Iron Man") is any indication, Marvel is looking to make a ton of box office money over the next few years.
Previews on this disc include "Beethoven's Big Break," "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," "Iron Man," "Wolverine and the X-Men," Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Marvel Super Hero Squad, "Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow," "Hulk vs. Wolvering," "Hulk vs. Thor," and "Black Panther."