The Hulk: Special Edition
Film Length: 137 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Audio: English, French, and Spanish - Dolby Digital 5.1
With the financial success of Blade, X-Men and Spiderman, the last few years have seen many other comic book properties, particularly those in the Marvel Comics stable, fast-tracked by movie studios. Indeed, sequels to both X-Men and Spiderman are already beginning to multiply, and even niche superheroes like Daredevil are becoming franchises. Meanwhile, DC Comics’ iconic superheroes Batman and Superman seem to be languishing in cinematic hell! What the &%^$ is going on here?!?!?!
Well, since this is supposed to be a review of The Hulk by Ang Lee, I will place my burning desire for a decent Batman or Superman movie aside (for all of our sakes) and return to business! To begin with, Hulk aficionados may be offended that the origin of the Incredible Hulk is altered a bit, but this element of the story remained faithful enough to Stan Lee’s decades-old creation not to stir me (a more casual Hulk fan) up. Maybe it is just my twisted viewpoint, but I relish a new take on things (a la Sam Raimi’s wonderful spin on Spiderman) every now and then, as long as it serves the story. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like forking over $10 for CGI-enhanced scene-for-scene rehashes of classic films or stories, which seems to be happening too often these days.
As Ang Lee’s version of The Hulk starts, we are introduced to Bruce “don’t call me David” Banner (Eric Bana), a scientist researching nano-technology in a Berkeley, California laboratory. During the rapid-fire introduction, it is revealed that Bruce’s father David (Nick Nolte) performed experiments on himself that involved gamma radiation exposure, in an effort to develop regenerative powers. In doing so, David alters his genetic structure, and passes strange and volatile (although dormant) powers down to his son. Years later, Bruce discovers his dormant condition during a lab accident, and learns that healthy doses of gamma radiation will transform him into the explosive and super-human Hulk.
Once the Hulk begins wreaking havoc, General Thunderbolt Ross (wonderfully portrayed by Sam Elliot), who had Bruce Banner’s father put away, deems him a threat to the security of the nation, and tries to neutralize him with the help of rival researcher Ben Talbot (Josh Lucas). After several failures, General Ross wearies of wasting U.S. military trying to corral the Hulk, and hatches a plot involving his daughter Betty (Jennifer Connelly), who just happens to be Bruce Banner’s former girlfriend, to help him stop the muscle-bound green behemoth once and for all.
Through it all, complex relationships between the main characters are explored, at least as far as a summer “action” flick is concerned, and there is much more plot development going on here than I am willing to touch on, in case you haven’t seen the film. Simply put, Ang Lee really throws a lot at the audience during the first half of the movie, especially an exploration of the dysfunctional relationship between a father (David) and his son (Bruce). While this is not a problem, in and of itself, I found myself getting bored, for several reasons. Specifically, it takes far too long for the Hulk to start doing his thing, and the movie dwells on the Hulk’s origin to the point of redundancy. During these sequences, Lee does keep things interesting (visually at least) by employing a creative, comic-book-like editing style, where the screen is sliced into multiple frames to propel the story or make transitions between sequences.
Sadly, the relationships between the characters failed to grab me, partially due to the largely forgettable performances turned in by the lead actors. I know that this is a subjective area though, and some people might think Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, and Nick Nolte were fine in their respective roles. In my opinion, the characters just don’t “feel” real, which probably disappointed me the most, because Ang Lee is usually able to pull some amazing performances out of his actors. This time around, the only really solid performance comes from Sam Elliott, but I can’t say I am surprised he turned in another noteworthy effort in what has become a great body of work.
I think Ang Lee also misfires by tinkering with the very nature of the Hulk character. Comic-book icon Stan Lee’s Hulk, like most of his superhero creations, was a truly “human” character, full of self-doubt, and to some degree overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a superhero. In the film though, Bruce Banner exhibits an almost sick appreciation for his ability to release his anger without repercussions. I did not find this incarnation of the Hulk to be very likable, and at the very least, the character is quite different from the traditional superhero. This Hulk is more preoccupied with the waging a solitary war on his inner demons, and his rage towards the father who “created” him, but he also enjoys the physical benefits of being the Hulk.
Another major issue I had with this film is that some of the material is downright silly, even by comic book standards, which contrasts too sharply with the somber, tragic tone that Ang Lee tries so hard to establish. In addition, although Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) did a pretty good job rendering the Hulk character, he failed to suspend my disbelief the way the Gollum character (rendered by WETA) did in The Two Towers. The Hulk has a distinctly digital feel to him, which is particularly evident during the sequences where Bruce Banner morphs into the Hulk. As such, I wonder if the CGI Hulk is a character capable of instilling a genuine sense of wonder into a contemporary audience during the action sequences, or of drumming up the necessary emotions during more tender moments.
Perhaps the best way of describing my feelings about The Hulk is that the final product feels a bit uncertain of what it wants to be. Indeed, although it is visually fluid, it seems like there are two completely separate and distinct Hulk films: one is an intimate, personal tragedy; the other is a chaotic CGI stomping ground for the effects wizards at ILM. That is not to say that The Hulk is a dismal failure, because it does have some “Wow!” moments in it, but there are not enough of them, and I just found the film to be too long and un-involving to be truly memorable.
Still, I would be remiss not to at least give Ang Lee a lot of credit for trying to inject serious drama into what could have been another by-the-numbers summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, however, different is not always better, and that is definitely true in this case. I have, and will continue to, respect Ang Lee’s immense talent as a filmmaker, but The Hulk, while not terrible, is a quite a letdown.
So, How Does It Look?
NOTE: A separate “foolscreen” (4:3) version of this film is also available! Make sure that you pick the right one up (that would be the widescreen version, of course! ).
Universal presents The Hulk in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), and the resulting visuals are nothing short of splendid! For starters, the image is richly detailed, sporting deep blacks and outstanding color reproduction. The extremely clean print also appears to be completely free of specks or other debris. Further, fine detail and shadow delineation are fantastic, giving the image a three-dimensional look.
Most impressively, background detail is only obscured during the most dimly lit scenes, and even then blacks did not completely lose definition. Edge enhancement is also extremely minimal, and I did not notice any compression artifacts despite the fact that the approximately 2 hour and 20 minute long film, three 5.1 channel audio tracks, and a few special features are sandwiched on Disc One. Quite simply, there is a whole lot to like about the way this film looks on DVD!!! Another great transfer by Universal!
What Is That Noise?
The Hulk’s fits of rage are brought home by Universal in all of their glory in Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround sound. While I wear my allegiance to DTS on my sleeve, this audio track is certainly more than satisfactory. Overall, frequency response is excellent, and dialogue (which rules the film’s first half) is reproduced faithfully, without any distracting audio anomalies like hissing or sibilance.
Better still, Danny Elfman's energetic, rousing score sounds great as well, and thanks to a nice mix (the score is spread nicely throughout the soundfield) instrument separation is remarkable. I am a big fan of Mr. Elfman’s work, and I can say that I have never heard it sound better!!!
Now the above factors are all fine and dandy, but most people interested in seeing The Hulk probably want to know how things sound when our large green friend starts tearing s*&t up! Well, let’s just say that the aggressive surround channel use and impactful low end create a raucous, immersive experience that will put any listener with a quality sound system right in the middle of the action. The only issue I had with this audio track was that the low frequencies sounded a bit muddy (only very slightly) on a couple of occasions. Despite this minor quibble, I will not hesitate to place The Hulk’s audio track up there with the best Dolby Digital soundtracks I have experienced!!! If you want to disturb your neighbors, or demo a new subwoofer, this disc would fit the bill nicely!
For those who desire to hear the film in a language other than English, Universal has been kind enough to include Dolby Digital 5.1-channel tracks in both French and Spanish as well.
Feature Length Commentary by Ang Lee:
This commentary track, located on Disc One, features Director Ang Lee’s thoughts on all things Hulk. Lee provides a wealth of information about his creative process, anecdotes about what is transpiring on-screen, and how hard everyone worked to translate the comic-book experience to the audience through film.
Ang Lee is pleasant to listen to, and dishes out a lot of interesting details on The Hulk, but the over two-hour running time makes this track a tough listen towards the end. Nothing against Mr. Lee, who I think is incredibly talented, but I find it very difficult to listen to any one person speak for such a long period of time. The inclusion of other speakers on this track would likely have made it easier to listen to, but that is only my opinion. All things considered, if you can manage sitting through it, this commentary track is certainly more informative and entertaining than most!
The Unique Style of Editing The Hulk:
This brief featurette, which runs for five minutes, contains the musings of Ang Lee (Director) and Tim Squyres (Editor), who discuss their inspiration for, and the execution of, The Hulk’s unique comic-book appearance.
The Making of the Hulk
This four-part featurette (Cast & Crew, Stunts and Physical Effects, ILM, and Music) is well put together, and features a nice mix of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and insight into the complex, highly technical processes used to create the mean, green, fightin’ machine.
Some of the highlights included:
--- Ang Lee discussing his ideas for the film, and the pains that were taken to translate the comic book to the big screen.
--- Writer James Schamus talking about his long-time partnership with Ang Lee (they have worked together on 8 films now!).
--- The crew revealing how the objects the Hulk interacts with on-screen were manipulated, and how much care had to be taken to realistically integrate the physical and CGI effects.
--- Danny Elfman talking shop with Ang Lee, and discussing his approach to scoring films.
--- Footage of the band Velvet Revolver in the recording studio working on their track “Set Me Free”! Slash and Scott Weiland also touch on how this song fits in with the theme of the film.
On the whole, I thought this documentary was both entertaining and informative, and definitely well worth watching, despite the fact that I did not care for the movie that much. More importantly, it managed to outline the technical aspects of creating the Hulk (the ILM section especially) without becoming boring getting into an absurd level of detail.
Evolution of the Hulk
This wonderful 16-minute featurette outlines the origin of the Incredible Hulk, one of Marvel’s most successful and enduring characters. There is a whole lot of interesting information presented during the course of this featurette, most notably Stan Lee describing how James Whale’s classic film Frankenstein, and the story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde served as the inspiration for the Hulk character. There are too many other high points to mention, including tidbits on the early days of Marvel Comics, and the fact that green was not the Hulk’s original color! If you are a fan of this film, the Incredible Hulk series, or just comics in general, you should check this one out!
The Dog Fight Scene
Dennis Muren (Industrial Light & Magic), Janet Lewin (Visual Effects Supervisor), and Larry Franco (Producer) provide interesting insight into the development of the scene where the Hulk fights several dogs. This featurette is well-done, and brimming with details, like the fact that the cost of the scene as originally intended caused it to be trimmed considerably. Some of the tricks employed by the animators to make the final product appear photo-realistic are also revealed. Finally, this featurette contains a good discussion of the pains the animators took to give each dog a unique personality, and lots of behind the scenes footage of Ang Lee performing the motion capture for the Hulk.
The Incredible Ang Lee
Although a bit more “fluffy” than some of the other featurettes, the Incredible Ang Lee provides quite a bit of insight on Ang Lee’s creative process, through interviews with the actors and crew, as well as a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage. Even renowned musician Danny Elfman chimes in, reminiscing about Ang Lee pushing him as a composer, and getting him to “sound less like Danny Elfman”. Some of the behind-the-scenes footage was kind of tedious though, as there is plenty of footage of Ang Lee doing motion capture work for The Hulk in the other featurettes.
Lee also talks about his philosophy for The Hulk, and about his approach to direction in general. Specifically, he envisioned the story for The Hulk as a blend of both pop culture and serious art. Your opinion may differ, but I thought Lee’s hands on, intense approach to direction is impressive, even if the end result of this project was not so impressive.
Hulk Cam: Inside the Rage:
Behind-the-scenes footage, specifically the set up and execution of the “Tank Battle” scene, the sequence where the “Military Surrounds the Hulk”, and the “Bruce Cuffed in a Chair With His Father” scene is offered up by these short featurettes.
Universal has included six deleted scenes for our viewing pleasure, although there is no commentary that goes along with them. Most are very short, and my guess is that they were probably trimmed either for time or because the material was covered elsewhere in the film. Here is a brief rundown:
--- Scene 29 (Nanomeds):
Hoping to secure funding for their research, Betty and Bruce make a presentation about the potential for Nanomed technology to repair wounds to human beings instantaneously.
--- Scene 59 (Phone Call):
Bruce places a late-night phone call to Betty.
--- Scene 21 (Teen-Aged Bruce):
A young female classmate mocks a teen-aged Bruce, and their classmates enjoy a laugh at his expense.
--- Scene 153 (Willie Brown):
General Ross has a very brief conversation with Mayor Brown about his “visit”.
--- Scene 41 (Lou):
Bruce has a short conversation with a security guard (played by none other than TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno).
--- Scene 78 (Betty’s House):
Betty’s computers and lab-related equipment are seized by the feds.
Anatomy of the Hulk
This featurette is broken into two sections:
--- Section one allows the viewer to select nine different parts of the Hulk (e.g. Chest, Triceps, Biceps, etc.), at which point some information about the Hulk’s physical capabilities is provided. A tenth option provides the physical measurements for Bruce Banner and the three incarnations of the Hulk (angry, angrier, angriest)! Whatever you do, don’t forget to select Hulk’s brain for a completely silly, yet somehow amusing, factoid!
--- Section two pertains to Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). There are four selectable options, each of which provides information on the work ILM did to create the Hulk, and the number of people involved in rendering the Hulk, among other things.
Split screen art, and storyboards, are shown while the scene where Talbot enrages Bruce to the point that he transforms into the Hulk plays in the upper right corner. If you choose to, you can select either ink or color renderings, and have them fill the screen (without the footage from the film) while the dialogue plays.
I thought it was fascinating to see how each artist’s take on things leads to a very different visual feel to the sequence. The featured artists include the highly regarded animators Adam Kubert, Tommy Ohtsuka, Salvador Larroca, and Katsuya Terada. I found Ohtsuka’s distinct anime style to be especially interesting. This is a very unique and interesting bonus feature, and I highly recommend taking a look at it, especially if you have any interest in animation.
Cast and Filmmaker Bios
Brief biographies are provided for the Eric Bana, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, and Ang Lee, among others.
I shouldn’t even dignify their presence on the disc, but there is a credit card commercial and some “Sunny D” TV spots located on Disc One. For some reason, they are in the bonus features section! As if there aren’t enough commercials on network TV!!! Forced trailers and now this? I hope this doesn’t signify the beginning of commercials on DVDs.
The Score Card
(on a five-point scale)
The Last Word
I have to commend Ang Lee for trying to make The Hulk a summer blockbuster with substance. Unfortunately, although the film is not quite terrible, the end result left me very un-inspired. On the other hand, Universal’s special edition presentation of The Hulk on DVD is pretty special. Specifically, this 2-disc set features a nearly flawless transfer, an extremely lively Dolby Digital track, and a bounty of quality, in-depth extras. In fact, other than the film, all I have to complain about is the lack of a chapter listing insert, TV commercial extras , and the forced trailers!
This is a rather difficult call, but my bottom line on this release is that I find myself hard pressed to recommend purchasing this title, primarily because I can’t recommend The Hulk as a film. Frankly, it doesn’t strike me as something I would watch again, despite my love for the Incredible Hulk TV show, and my being a casual fan of the comic-book series. For perspective, these statements are also coming from someone who has seen a lot of movies over 30 times.
However, given the first-rate presentation of this release, fans of the Hulk character, aficionados of action-packed, big-budget blockbusters, or those looking for yet another demo disc for their HT setup might want to give this title some consideration. All others should probably try and evade The Hulk’s iron grip.
October 28th, 2003