Blu Ray Title: Hulk
Disk Release Date: September 16, 2008
Screen format: 1080P Widescreen 2.35:1 High definition
First theatrical release: 20 June 2003
Previous releases on disk: Multiple including Anamorphic Widescreen DVD and a single disk HDDVD
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte, Cara Buono
Sound Formats: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French, French Canadian, German, Castilian, Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Japanese and Italian DTS 5.1
Length: 2 Hours 18 minutes on 1 BD-50
Subtitles: English, French, French Canadian, German, Castilian, Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Traditional Mandarin, Italian
Ang Lee reboots the Hulk’s comic book genesis story into the modern realm, making Dr. Bruce Banner (Bana) a mild mannered geneticist with an uncertain past. When Banner is exposed to a gamma radiation spill that causes him to transform into the Hulk, a 10 foot tall brute with enormous strength, any time he gets angry he must do whatever he can to save those around him from the destruction that he can bring. Keeping his emotions in check should be hard for him, it's something he has done his whole life but now he has a growing love interest and his past is coming back into focus with dark tidings.
In this version Banner’s father David (Nolte) is an experimental geneticist as well, but when his army sponsors threatened to block him from testing on human subjects he chose to test his research on himself, and unknowingly passes it on to his newly conceived son, and causes him to get locked up for over twenty years. As the film opens, however, Bruce does not know his true past but is experiencing flashbacks and dreams of the last day he saw his parents. After Bruce’s gamma exposure David catches up with him and begins to explain the history, but there are many complications preventing this.
One complication is Bruce’s love for his coworker, Betty Ross (Connolly) who happens to be the daughter of the army General overseeing their research, ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (Eliot). Another comes in the form of a contractor (and former love of Betty) named Talbot (Lucas) who wants to pursue the military applications of their work. As the layers of the onion are revealed, Banner and The Hulk are both exposed as much more than the one dimensional faces that they seem to be. Banner is deeply emotional but has kept his rage bottled up for decades. When that rage takes the form of the Hulk however we find that The Hulk has his softer side and that is controlled by Betty.
The question becomes, does this make a good comic book movie? I was stunned when I first heard that Ang Lee would direct this film, as his previous movies had been so much more about depth of character and emotional roller coasters. When I saw the film theatrically it became clear why this choice was made, as Lee saw the pairing of Banner and Hulk as two sides to the same coin, but both had more to say than it first appeared.
The film didn’t work for me on a lot of levels, the most important of which is that it’s a very linear story despite all of the hidden history that gets revealed. Also, despite all of the hoopla about how difficult it was to get real emotion out of a pure CGI character like Hulk, the choices made about his look absolutely did not work for me, he was too cartoony, too ‘floaty’ with respect to physics, and he seemed like a wimp half the time he was on screen.
I came out of that screening giving it a major thumbs-down, although I did respect the choices that were made to try to make this just a bit more cerebral a film than the pure mass of destruction that most expected from ‘The Hulk’. After viewing the DVD and now the BluRay I remain convinced that it’s still not a good film and certainly not what I want out of a Hulk film.
If you are going to promise mass carnage then don’t overthink the other parts that make up the film. I can put up with a lot of exposition if the end result is an exciting and surprising series of action clips but this film didn’t deliver that. The first set of battles is with genetically modified dogs, and that falls flat. The next series is the Hulk versus the Army and most of that he is on the run rather than really fighting back. Even the final confrontation between father and son (which didn’t match up with the tone of the rest of the film) we don’t really get a satisfying end, and I think that’s what frustrated me most.
Sound Quality: 4/5
Sound quality is consistently good, including both the score by Danny Elfman and the raucous explosions and crashes during the action sequences. There’s quite a few slow moments in between though, and the very un-Elfman like score doesn’t really help carry us through them. Elfman’s main theme is probably the most recognizable piece in the film and I found that to be a bit too repetitive for my tastes. Previous to the film’s release Uni made a big deal about the track “Set me free” by Velvet Revolver, though in actuality that song is used in the credit sequence and isn’t really among my favorites by the band.
The sound in the action sequences as noted is quite good and there is no cartoony-ness here to drag the whole down. There are a few nice instances of creative surround use but not as much as you would have suspected. Bass is solid and punchy in those isolated instances but very minimal in the rest of the film and even the score hardly ever touches into the sub’s frequencies, which again is very unlike the expected results of a Danny Elfman production. Dialogue is well imaged, especially Elliott’s gravelly drawl.
Visual Quality: 4.5/5
As noted, I think the Hulk himself looks horrible on whole and cartoony in motion. I won’t let that drag the score down but I have to mention it again as it really distracted me from enjoying a lot of the film, but your mileage may vary. Overall the film is very sharp with many scenes using slim depth-of-field to direct the user’s attention in a very comic like move. The palette tends to be strong in the greens and features heavy blacks with a lot of dark indoor scenes, but once the Hulk breaks out into the desert there are some terrifically filmed vistas and canyons that are quite impressive in the range of colors that are shown competing with the green guy.
The print is quite clean with zero damage such as pops or scratches and I never noticed a single bit of edge enhancement. I do not know if this is the same transfer used as the one for the HD DVD nor if there are any additional layers of noise reduction used in this version, but on my screen it looked quite detailed and very close to what I remember theatrically, including a nice dose of grain that matches well with Lee’s aesthetic. It’s not perfection but on the whole it looks pretty darn good.
Extra Features: 4/5
I never reviewed the HD DVD version of The Hulk so I cannot say if any features are missing from that release, but overall there are a really nice batch of extras here and many of them have Lee’s direct input so it is interesting to get his perspective on the film and what he brought to (for good or bad!) to the story.
First off there is a feature length commentary track and an assortment of PiP clips that are autoplayable throughout the film using U-Control. These clips are not labeled in any way so it is impossible to pick and choose which ones you want to view or to simply skip from each embedded segment to the next, but at least they are menu-selectable.
From the Extras menu we get to the real heart of the bonus features, and these are pretty extensive. There are a number of deleted scenes and about a half dozen featurettes. The two I spent the most time with are ‘The Evolution of the Hul’ which is a four part ‘behind the scenes’ looking at a few different aspects of the production and ‘The Incredible Ang Lee’ which looks at the challenges the film maker had to overcome in switching to this genre of movie which is so different from anything he had done previously. There is also an extended look at the techniques used to create the fight against the dogs and another focusing on the tools used to edit the film. Finally there is a traditional ‘Making of’ featurette that talks over the issues that the cast and crew faced.
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)
Overall I found The Hulk to be the weakest of the recent batch of Superhero films, but that may be because of my preconceived notions about what a Hulk film should be like, and my disappointment in seeing that those were not met. I found this interpretation of the Hulk creature to be hugely disappointing in particular (in both look and mannerisms) and the final confrontation between Bruce and David to be ham-fisted and poorly resolved. That said the film itself had a lot going for it including the talents of Connolly, Elliott and Nolte, tho truthfully Nolte went too far with his performance in the end. For fans however this is a pretty solid transfer and a decent batch of extras, and if nothing else I’m using this as an opportunity to gear up for “The Incredible Hulk” which is due on Blu next month and which I missed in the theaters.