The Incredible Hulk: The Television Series Ultimate Collection
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 14 Hours 33 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full-Frame (4:3)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Audio: English – Monaural 2.0
The Incredible Hulk is, without question, one of Marvel’s most enduring and popular, albeit somewhat non-traditional, superheroes. In the classic series by Marvel Comics, the brutish Hulk’s alter ego is the fairly mild-mannered nuclear physicist Dr. Bruce Banner, who is endeavoring to develop a gamma radiation bomb. Potentially, these munitions would be even more lethal than the nuclear devices the United States unleashed on Japan at the close of the Second World War.
Unfortunately, during a full-scale test of the new gamma weapon, a youth somehow makes his way out onto the test site. Noticing the boy’s presence, Dr. Banner springs into action and saves him, but is consumed by the bomb’s blast wave, and also absorbs the ensuing gamma rays. Subsequently, this tremendous dosage of gamma radiation transforms Bruce Banner into a huge green (originally gray!!!) behemoth driven by an almost insatiable rage. The monster was not all bad though, and even had a bit of a heart, probably due in part to Stan Lee being influenced by both the classic story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the old James Whale horror film Frankenstein.
Initially, the Hulk was rather intelligent, and could reason as well as a normal human being. Over time, however, the Hulk character changed, particularly after Stan Lee moved on to other projects and new artists and writers exerted their influence on the comic series. Granted, I have not even come close to reading all of the comics, but the most notable alteration for me was the reversion of the Hulk’s mentality towards a more primitive state later in the series.
I should point out that although I enjoy the Hulk comics, I must confess to being a more casual fan of the series. As such, I don’t want to get into the comic book legend any more than I already have. To be honest, I am sure there are many of you that could write rings around me when it comes to Hulk lore. For the sake of space then, let’s just say that the character has undergone some drastic changes during his over 40-year existence, but has never ceased being an immensely popular character, and cash cow, for Marvel. Indeed, earlier this year, the Hulk became the latest Marvel property to make the leap to the big screen, in an expensive, larger-than-life film helmed by acclaimed Director Ang Lee (Sense and Senisibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Unfortunately, this CGI-laden film was overly long, and somewhat disjointed, causing it to fail to meet its lofty financial expectations. Boy, it sure feels weird to have written the last sentence, seeing as The Hulk earned well over $100 million at the box-office!
Long before CGI though, the über-buff bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno (covered with green make-up) played the Hulk in popular television series The Incredible Hulk, which ran from 1978 until 1982. The Incredible Hulk series kicked off in 1978, with the death of David Banner’s wife in a tragic accident. It seems the scientist was working to harness the unusual physical capabilities that manifest themselves in persons subjected to extreme stress. Unfortunately, during his quest, Banner alters his physiology, and transforms himself into the monster known as the Hulk.
For some reason, the protagonist’s name was changed for this program to David Banner (from Bruce Banner), who is portrayed splendidly by the late Bill Bixby. Bixby was a marvelous actor, able to convey complex emotions through simple gestures, facial expressions, or phrasing. In my opinion, he also successfully infuses David Banner with the qualities of intelligence, morality, hopefulness, and loneliness that both lend the series more credibility and help the audience to truly empathize with the character.
The creators of this show were wise to choose Bixby, who was nominated for Emmy Awards in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and a guest appearance on The Streets of San Francisco, for the role of David Banner, as he carried the weight of the series squarely on his shoulders. Seriously, how can you not love this guy, who brought such sincerity and emotion to a series based on a comic book (long before comic book television shows and movies were in vogue)? And his utterance of the now famous line: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” is nothing short of classic. That line still sends chills down my spine to this very day! It is a real shame we lost him so soon.
The series also received a lift from the solid casting in its supporting roles, which were almost always different from episode to episode. Notable guests on the episodes in this set included: Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City), A. Martinez (Profiler), Rick Springfield (yes the guy that sang Jesse’s Girl), Gerald McRaney (Simon & Simon), Mako (Conan the Barbarian and countless other films), and Pat Morita (The Karate Kid series). All of these fine performers helped generate and keep my interest in whatever adventures the good Dr. Banner was embarking upon during a particular episode.
Another plus for the Incredible Hulk was that the writers were able to conjure up a wide variety of storylines, since Dr. Banner was perpetually bouncing from one area to another, aiding people in trouble (usually through his alter ego, the Hulk), searching for a cure for his condition, and fleeing from the reporter who is trying to reveal the creature that is sought for a murder he did not commit. Faced with of unjust imprisonment, Banner becomes a pariah, and must deal with his demons all on his own. The lonely, tormented nature of David Banner was noticeable even though I was only about seven years old when I first started watching this series, which I really enjoyed, despite not having any of the comics at that point. I can vividly remember feeling sorry for him as the haunting closing theme played over the credits after each episode and he hitchhiked towards his next destination.
The Incredible Hulk series really brings back some fond memories of my childhood, so I suppose I cannot be completely objective when it comes to the series itself, but I was pleased to find that it still holds up remarkably well, even though it has been several years since I have seen an episode (my old VHS tapes with several episodes on them all wore out long ago ). To be sure, it is an older show, so the effects are rather lame by today’s standards, but I am not ashamed to profess my love for this series, even now that I have watched it again through the eyes of an adult.
In my opinion, this series stomps all over the animated and CGI Hulks that have followed in its footsteps because of its superior writing and acting. Of course these are subjective matters, and I could be wrong, but I expect that if you are reading this review, you probably feel exactly the same way! Thank you Universal, for bringing this series to DVD! I am quite sure that some people are probably disappointed that this is not a Full Season release, but the episodes included are among the best the series has to offer. Now all of us Incredible Hulk fans have to do is keep our fingers crossed that the rest of the episodes see the light of day in the near future!
Here is a brief rundown of the episodes (highlights from throughout the series’ run) included in this 6-disc set:
NOTE: Disc One contains forced trailer for Battlestar Galactica, The Hulk (Ang Lee’s film), and Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision
DISC ONE: “The Search For a Cure”
“ Rainbow's End”
David becomes entangled in a plot to kill a champion racehorse.
“ Another Path”
In the search for a cure, David experiments with Chinese meditation techniques.
David reunites with a dying philosopher/martial arts instructor, in the hopes that following his teachings may cure his condition.
DISC TWO: “The Legend of the Incredible Hulk”
“The First, Part 1”
“The First, Part 2”
Dr. Banner discovers that other Hulk-like creatures have existed.
Artifacts on an Indian reservation lead David to investigate the possibility of an ancient link to his condition.
DISC THREE: “The Jack McGee Files”
“ Stop the Presses”
David races to retrieve photos of himself from the National Register Building.
“ Mystery Man, Part 1”
“ Mystery Man, Part 2”
David tries to conceal his identity from Jack McGee after a plane crash leaves both of them battling the elements.
“ Dark Side”
The Hulk exhibits the capability of murder and mass destruction.
“ Deep Shock”
David’s alter-ego is suddenly able to see violent imagery from the future.
“ The Harder They Fall”
The Hulk must cope with the possibility that David may never be able to walk again.
David is forced to land a commercial jet liner.
“ Death in the Family, Part 1”
“ Death in the Family, Part 2”
Dr. Banner stumbles across an inhuman plot to murder a disabled young heiress.
“ The Psychic”
A psychic identifies David Banner as the Hulk’s alter ego.
“ Prometheus, Part 1”
“ Prometheus, Part 2”
David’s transformation from the Hulk is interrupted, leaving him half-man and half-creature. As a result, scientists come to believe he is a visitor from another world.
So, How Does It Look?
Universal offers The Incredible Hulk episodes in full-frame (4:3), and the results generally look good (I watched every episode), especially considering this is a 25-year-old television program! While the video quality of this release is not on par with newer material, I certainly cannot say I am disappointed, because the care Universal has taken with this wonderful series is both evident and appreciated. In all likelihood, the source material limited what could be done with the transfer (within a reasonable budget), and I think that expecting these episodes to look a whole lot better than they do in this package would border on being unrealistic.
Just so all of the cards are on the table though, let’s go over the negative aspects of the Incredible Hulk’s video quality. To begin with, it is quite clear that there was no Lowry Digital restoration of these episodes (a la the Indiana Jones films and Snow White), since specks and dirt are periodically visible throughout each episode. During two or three episodes, flesh tones also appeared to veer towards orange, but only slightly enough to notice.
Further, there are occasions where the image appears soft, and even a bit out of focus on rare instances. A couple of visual anomalies popped up here and there as well. For example, in one episode where a news program was being shown on TV, the anchorman’s jacket almost looks like it is crawling off of him. Lastly, the “canned” cityscapes and aerial photography also tend to be rather grainy, which was mildly distracting. Fortunately, a majority of the issues I have listed above occur both minimally and very briefly, and do not detract from the individual episodes too much.
Now, on to the good news (of which there is a lot)! As I inferred in my opening statement, to this sci-fi geek’s eyes, episodes of The Incredible Hulk have never looked so good! Although fine detail is generally not too much better than average, the overall clarity of the image is exceptional when you consider the source. In some scenes, I could even tell Lou Ferrigno was wearing green stockings, which made me feel stupid, because I always thought it was make-up on his legs! Well, I guess he had to have some protection from all the breakaway glass/walls he was always jumping through, now didn’t he?
Better still, I have to say that I was more than impressed by the accuracy with which colors are rendered, although they fall just short of vibrancy. With the exception of sections of a couple of episodes, flesh tones are reproduced correctly as well, with even slight variations between the skin tones of the actors faithfully depicted. Finally, although I cannot say black level is outstanding, it was consistently solid throughout, allowing for a good deal of detail even in dimly lit environments.
Unless one is expecting a full-blown restoration of these episodes, I am pretty confident that Universal’s effort will prove to be more than satisfactory. While the images in any given episode are not exactly outstanding from beginning to end, some scenes, particularly those shot outdoors, look so good you would never imagine that you are watching a television show that is a quarter-century old! I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but let me say that The Incredible Hulk looks a lot more incredible than at any other time I have had the occasion to enjoy his exploits. As a self-proclaimed Incredible Hulk fan, I will close by pronouncing that I am very happy with the overall visual quality of this release, and I hope that future releases (do you hear me Universal?) are treated with the same care!
What Is That Noise?
The Incredible Hulk DVD set features a monaural (2.0) English language track, which does an adequate job of reproducing the encoded audio information, nothing more. Since this is a largely dialogue-driven program, I do want to point out that the actors’ voices generally sounded warm and natural on my system, which was a pleasant surprise. The musical score also comes across nicely, especially the famous closing theme, despite a “narrow” soundstage (see below). Unfortunately, however, there is some distortion and sibilance audible when the action heats up and characters raise their voices, or when the Hulk appears and starts trashing stuff.
Another problem is that the soundstage is so narrow that it almost sounded as if everything (dialogue, music, and effects) was coming from directly in front of me. I know the source material is dated, but I could “sense” how confined the soundstage was more so than with any of the other releases with monaural soundtracks I have reviewed so far. Also, as I had expected from a 25-year old television program, there is almost no surround use or low frequency effect presence. This last comment is not a criticism, but I would not be doing my job if I did not mention it.
Overall though, the audio track reproduces the source material effectively, if not impressively, and I am convinced that Universal did a pretty good job with what they had to work with. I will, however, stop short of saying that the audio tracks present for these 18 episodes of The Incredible Hulk exceeded my realistic expectations, but I was not terribly disappointed.
None to speak of!!!
The Score Card
(on a five-point scale)
The Last Word
The inclusion of some of the Incredible Hulk’s best episodes in one package, and the pleasing overall video/audio quality should make fans of this series smile! With that being said, it is somewhat of a letdown that there are absolutely no extras included. As I mentioned above, I was only a wee lad when this series aired, so I was not interested in behind-the-scenes material then like I am now. I realize that the untimely demise of Mr. Bixby probably makes coming up with worthwhile extras difficult (especially a retrospective), but anything would have been welcome.
This also might be a little trivial to some, but I think the packaging, while attractive, stinks in terms of functionality! Would it have hurt to include the outer cardboard shell that seems to be part and parcel of the release of boxed sets, so this digipak is not flapping open all over the place and sending discs dropping out? Just so you know, there is also no insert that breaks down the contents of each disc. The back of the box also fails to do this adequately, so you if you are perusing the contents of the set for the first time, it may take a bit of effort to locate a particular episode. No big deal, but annoying enough to wonder why no one at Universal bothered to remedy such a simple issue. For me these are not deal-breakers, because I don’t remember ever purchasing a title for the packaging or an insert, but the bear mentioning all the same. Hopefully, these quibbles will be addressed in future releases of the series (yet another shameless hint for the “suits” at Universal).
Despite my small complaints about the packaging, the lack of a breakdown of what is on each disc, and the complete lack of extras, the ability to see Incredible Hulk episodes without annoying commercial breaks or the unbearable pixelization caused by satellite TV compression makes this massive 6-disc set well worth the coin! It also doesn’t hurt that the series has probably never looked or sounded better (although neither area is reference quality).
In my opinion, the positives on this “Television Series Ultimate Collection” box set more than outweigh the negatives, making it is easy for me to recommend it, unless you are planning on holding out for full season releases, or you just can't live without extras. Unfortunately, if no one picks this set up, future releases may never arrive…
October 21st, 2003