The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk was a modern day Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, a man that would turn into a monster drive by rage

When I was growing in there were basically two companies that made the comics boys my age read. First there was DC Comics responsible for such staples as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the Flash. Then there were Marvel comics they brought the world the X-Men, Spiderman, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk. The main difference, obvious even to my young mind, was the Marvel comics dealt with their super heroes in a more realistic fashion. For one thing, most were set in my city, New York. More importantly, the people depicted in those comics seemed to be real people. Their lives were fraught with the types of actual problems real people faced.

The Incredible Hulk was a modern day Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, a man that would turn into a monster drive by rage. David Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby) was an MD/PhD, a man devoted to science and helping people. He was fascinated by stories of ordinary people in a moment of great stress being able to exhibit great feats of strength, a mother lifting a car off her child for example. Torn by not being able to save his wife from a car wreak he is a man driven. During an experiment with gamma radiation Banner is trapped in the chamber and subjected to a massive dose of radiation. Initially there seemed to be little affect on the good doctor but while changing a tire in the rain the lug wench slipped, injures Banner’s hand and in a fit of rage he begins to transform into a giant, green monster, The Incredible Hulk(Lou Ferrigno), with the strength of an army. Of course, stories of a huge green man tearing things up comes to the attention of a sleazy tabloid reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin). His career is needless to say on the skids and he sees this story as his way back to legitimate journalism. When Banner and McGee meet the report gets on the doctor’s nerves prompting the now famous line "don’t get me angry, you wouldn’t like it when I’m angry". The only emotional support Banner has during this tumultuous time is Dr. Elaina Marks (Susan Sullivan).

This adds even more in the may of human attachment for the story, Banner is conflicted between his love for Marks and his fear of unleashing the beast within. The point that audiences can identify with is there is angry and rage in us all but most of us learn to suppress it. What if something happened that not only permitted us to release these feelings but do so in a manner that would make us almost invincible. Marvel was known for these types of dilemmas and the television of The Incredible Hulk was one of the best examples of translating this wonderful comic series to television.

In order to present human emotions required to provide The Incredible Hulk with aspects of a drama, not just a comic book action flick a cast capable of real acting necessary. The producers of The Incredible Hulk found them. Bill Bixby was best known for television roles like ‘My Favorite Martian’ and ‘The Courtship of Eddie’s Father’ but he did make some forays into work on the silver screen. He brought humanity to the role of Banner, something that the audience could identify with. We all have inner torments but with Banner the results of letting it out could be disastrous. There is also the facet that Banner was an extremely intelligent man, an altruistic scientist that found himself lost amidst blind, primitive emotions. Many people overlook the performance of Ferrigno. He brought emotional investment to the audience. It was vital for the viewers to feel for The Incredible Hulk. They had to be able to identify with him and not see him as a monster. Ferrigno did much more than throw things around, he made us care. Colvin is perfect as the reporter. Even his character is not a villain. He’s just a man trying to repair a career that went off track somewhere, a report that dreamed of working for the finest newspapers sentenced to a job at a supermarket tabloid.

Kenneth Johnson has been one of my favorite television directors for many years. His work exemplified science fiction with a social conscious. With television the likes of ‘V’ and ‘Alien Nation’ he demonstrated that television and Sci-Fi could be thought provoking as well as entertaining. His direction of The Incredible Hulk showed the influence of the great Universal horror films of the 30s, films where pathos in the so called monster was generated. True to the Marvel tradition Johnson enabled the audience to forge the emotional connection with the characters. By delving into such topics as inner rage, the harmful effects of a dark secret and the dichotomy in all of us he gives us something deeper than the fluff normally found on the tube. The way The Incredible Hulk is presented is more like a theatrical film than the typical made for television fare. Little touches like the camera moving in on the flashing ‘Danger’ sign to reveal ‘anger’ shows the attention to the tiniest details. There is even a little homage to the Frankenstein film as The Incredible Hulk approaches a little girl near a lake.

The pacing of The Incredible Hulk is excellent. The story moves along sweeping the viewers into the lives of the characters. Johnson is the type of director that helps his actors achieve their best performances while giving the audience a satisfying film. He brings a bright spot of light to a medium that all too often caters to mindless fodder.

I personally felt the DVD was well done in spite of several faults. The video was for the most part well done although there was noticeable grain present. The focus seemed a bit soft but that was typical of the television shows of that time. Still there was a level of clarity not often seen in a show from the seventies. The audio is a rich Dolby two channel mono. You may get a bit more out of it if you bypass the normal bitstream digital audio and process the sound through a Prologic theater or simulated surround emulation. There is a good amount of extras provided, far more that usual for a DVD of a television movie. On the reverse side of the disc is a bonus episode ‘Married’. Both the bonus episode and the main feature have a commentary by Johnson that is not only informative but interesting. Of course there are tie in features to The Incredible Hulk live action Ang Lee movie and the required video game. There are some special effects featurettes round out the presentation. See The Incredible Hulk before going to the theater for the 2003 version.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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