Incredible Hulk, The (US - BD)
Gabe isn't tricked by the addition of the word 'incredible' in the new Hulk's title
The Hulk is back. Well, he’s back, but it’s a different Hulk. No, it’s still Bruce Banner, he’s just played by Edward Norton this time. He’s hiding out from the army in Latin America. I know that’s where the Eric Bana Hulk was hiding out at the end of the other movie, but it’s different this time. I know it was the army last time too, but this time the army is run by William Hurt instead of Sam Elliot. Yeah it’s the same character, but this time he’s generally angrier. No, Bruce Banner’s dad is still dead. Well that’s not entirely true, in this movie he never existed. No, I don’t want to get into some kind of existential discussion about the Hulk’s dad; it’s just that this movie features a different villain. You know what, we’re just gonna cut to the review, okay?
I’ll start by warning the reader that I’m finding myself unable to review Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk without comparing it to Ang Lee’s Hulk, or without going into a few minor plot spoilers. If you’re unhappy with this approach please feel free to skip to the A/V and extras sections.
The second I heard that Marvel Studios was going to more or less ignore Ang Lee’s Hulk because its generally intellectual and art filmish tendencies didn’t bring in enough money the first time around, I was upset. When I read press interviews and watched made for TV EPKs featuring interviewees that either ignored, or made fun of Lee’s film, I got a little angry (and you wouldn’t like Gabe when he’s angry *Editor*). It wasn’t just that this was an insult to Lee and the few of us that actually liked the film, it was also blatantly unprofessional and frustratingly childish. My view of the film was unfortunately coloured by this reaction.
I like the Ang Lee film a lot, more than even Richard Donner’s Superman films. Even Lee's many detractors have to give the director some credit for doing something different with the medium. Lee’s mix of intellectual plotting and brazenly cartoony and abstract visuals are still refreshingly brave in mainstream filmmaking. Visually speaking the film also touches on Mario Bava and James Whale’s gothic horrors, which is in keeping with Stan Lee’s original Jekyll and Hyde meets Frankenstein concept. Five years later it still looks and acts differently than just about every other big budget super hero flick out there.
I’m unconcerned with minor spoilers in this review because this new The Incredible Hulk appears to have been crafted with a the assumption that the audience wanted to know exactly where the story was heading at any given moment. There really aren’t any surprises in the ‘A’ plot, at least not for anyone that knows anything about the main character. If you’ve read the comic, seen the ‘70s show, seen the animated series, seen Lee’s film, or any other superhero movie, you probably aren’t going to find many surprises in the basic narrative of this version of Hulk. This treatment is obviously directly responding to Lee’s film, which was considered by the masses to be too thoughtful (which is pretty sad when you stop to think about it). The response is understandable—Lee’s film was occasionally needlessly cryptic—but Marvel’s reaction strikes as placating, and frankly a bit insulting.
Incredible Hulk, for better or worse, is treated like both a reboot and a sequel. The basic structure follows the same lines of the second and third acts of the original film, from the standpoint that Banner is dealing with repressing the Hulk and running away from Ross’ army. The events take place in what is assumed to be a later period in the characters’ lives, which points towards a sequel. The script also hammers home the difficulty of living as a superhero, and presents a period (however brief) where the superhero is given a chance at living without the powers, but ultimately discovers he needs them to protect the people he loves. These are both popular, and entirely too common themes for superhero sequels.
One thing I neglected to make a big enough point of in my review of Iron Man was how happy I was to finally see a superhero embracing his ‘powers’, and the attention that comes with the lifestyle. The angst and hardships that so often accompany superhero features might be the bit of commonality that eventually nauseates audiences out of the theatres. All three Spider-Man and X-Men films, both Hellboy films, both Punisher films, Superman 2 and Superman Returns, and every Batman film, despite quality of the final products, deal aggressively in the depressing elements of superheroship. The adversity facing superheroes humanizes them, but it’s becoming a little stale, at least to this fan.
The Incredible Hulk’s most intriguing element from a pre-release standpoint was the inclusion of wild card actor/writer Edward Norton. A side by side actor comparison between Norton and Lee’s Hulk, Eric Bana, can be a sore point for some cineastes. For the most part younger film fans seem to see Norton as somewhat infallible, sometimes even calling him the Marlon Brando of our generation. American History X aside, I’ve often seen Norton play the same character in many of his films. It’s a good character (see Fight Club), but as the consummate straight man, the character can wear thin. Bana also plays similar character in the majority of his films (the sweet natured but intense guy), but his general range is more impressive to my mind, and I feel he's successfully carried some not very good movies on his own ( Troy, for example). Despite my personal take on his possibly limited acting ability, Norton’s inclusion with this project was a good sign for the script. Or so I thought. I don’t think Norton’s post-production battles with Marvel are exactly news anymore, and the final cut exhibits almost none of the deep seeded character explorations Norton original went on about when he was brought on to the project (more on that in the extras section).
The Incredible Hulk runs full bore on a full tank, and Leterrier is in full control of his grandiose action. Iron Man and The Dark Knight are both overall stronger films, but The Incredible Hulk features some remarkably stronger action scenes. Though I don’t subscribe to the belief that Lee’s film was somehow not action packed, Leterrier’s action is easier to savour on a visceral level. The key here is diversity. The first Hulk-out and preceding foot chase work well on a more ‘realistic’ and gritty level, like Casino Royale and The Bourne Ultimatum. The army vs. Hulk scene eases us into the more comic booky violence of the last act, with a good sense of geography and movement. I am especially fond of the Super-Soldier vs. Hulk moments, which helped me visually understand what filmmakers can do with Captain America in the future. The final scene of Hulk vs. Abomination action devolves into two boring CG creatures hitting each other pretty quickly, but the first half of the fight, where less is more, is fantastically crafted.
The finely tuned action alone wouldn’t have been enough to make me get over my stupid problems with the studio ignoring Lee’s superior feature, but the tale of Major Emil Blonsky’s transformation into the Abomination, the accidental birth of Spoiler the Leader, and Tony Stark’s cameo were all enough to force me to get over myself. Though both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk are flawed films they are exciting first steps in the first ever greater filmic superhero universe (save the Tromaverse). The little pieces of information concerning this greater universe are among the most exciting Easter Eggs I’ve ever seen, and ultimately enough to make me revisit Leterrier’s film when the time comes.
Generally speaking this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer is as highly detailed and full figured as expected, but there are a few noticeable flaws in the execution. Leterrier doesn’t go for the more literal, panelled comic book representation of Ang Lee’s film, but he and DP Peter Menzies Jr. still manage to reproduce an effective sort of four colour reality. The disc finely reproduces the garish warm hues of Brazil without blooming, the lush greens of Virginia, and the cool blues and greys of various labs with just enough kick to push things into the realms of comic book reproduction. Skin tones are a little on the red side for my taste, but overall the colours are incredible.
Leterrier seems to prefer to slightly soften many of the film’s human to human sequences (perhaps in an attempt to make things look a bit more like the ‘70s series), but details are still very realistically rendered, and in close-up feature almost zero noise. Wide shots, especially the action packed daylight sections, are aimed a little sharper, but not entirely flawless. There are noticeable compression artefacts, including edge enhancement on background details, general noise in darker shots (though the black levels are spectacular), and subtle blocking during the more fiery explosions. I vaguely recall more texture and grain on the big screen. I also didn’t notice Tim Roth’s obvious CG enhancements on the big screen either. I suppose these are the ‘downfalls’ of hi-def.
There are some big 'show off your system' moments on this DTS-HD Master Audio track. The whole of the Hulk vs. Army sequence is impressive, but the sonic cannon bit is a regular 5.1 party. This mix isn’t about subtly, it’s about the ‘Kapows’ and ‘Baddams’ of a comic book property, and I’m positive that if comic books could stick sound effects on the pages behind your head too, they would. The word balloons, I mean dialogue is clear, and positioned appropriately according to the character. Technically speaking my player does downgrade Master Audio tracks a bit, but this is one I can’t image dealing with anything anymore bombastic in my relatively tiny viewing room. The bass track alone just about rolled my DVDs off the shelf.
The overall mix is extremely tight, and very well balanced, with the exception of the musical score, which is often muffled and small. The non-action cues are plenty loud and wide in scope, but when the monsters start hitting each other I could barely make out all the brassy horns and violent strings, except in the rear channels. Craig Armstrong’s score is actually very effective, and though I wouldn’t call it ‘innovative’, it features a mostly novel approach to the usual chases and hero moments.
Extras begin with an amusing, informative, and consistent commentary track featuring director Louis Leterrier and the film’s chief scene stealer Tim Roth. Leterrier’s commentary goes well beyond the description of a given shot, or even how a given shot was created, he’s often sure to give satisfying reasons for the existence of the shot. Roth, who has a few directing credits under his belt, is an amusing and technically proficient commentator as well. Roth also brings up a good point about the Abomination’s missing ‘bits’. Between the two of them listeners aren’t going to miss any Easter eggs (and I missed a few). There’s a small acknowledgement of Ang Lee’s film, and a few mentions of deal with the reboot/sequel status, but for the most part the discussion is aimed at the new film.
Under the U-Control menu are five features, which are (mostly) scene specific, on-screen options. Unfortunately I still have a Profile 1.0 player, and there hasn’t been a firmware upgrade for PiP options. The flat out Picture in Picture option was entirely lost to me, as was the comic book gallery, but I was eventually able to get the ‘Scene Explorer’ option to work. ‘Scene Explorer’ allows the viewer to switch between four different angles: storyboards, the clean plate, two levels of visual effects, and the final film. The ‘Thunderbolt Files’ are a character file option, and the ‘Animated Comic’ option is a link to a Flash animated sequence from ‘Hulk: Gray’, a semi-recent comic reboot by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale comic, the same team that brought the world ‘Batman: The Long Halloween’, which was a major influence on The Dark Knight. This extra is available elsewhere on the disc as well.
The most exciting section of the disc is the deleted scenes section. As mentioned, there was a lot of well publicized post-production bickering between Norton and the producers, with Leterrier apparently caught in the middle. Well, it sounded exciting on paper. First up is an alternate opening (in HD) that features Bruce Banner taking a trip to the North Pole, which has no apparent bearing on the rest of the plot, which is probably why it was removed. The only use of the scene is a blurry little chunk of something in the ice Hulk crushes, which is rumoured to be a frozen Captain America. There are twenty three other scenes, all in SD, and slightly gummy anamorphic widescreen. The scenes start with six minutes of Banner tooling around Brazil, General Ross whining about Banner trying to cure himself, some fun extended information about the ‘Super Soldier’ program, Banner tooling around the college, Banner chatting with Betty and Betty’s new beau (you saw some of it in the trailer), Banner admiring Betty’s flower (ahem), Banner and Betty saying goodbye, General Ross acting all angsty, Betty and Banner pillow talkin’ and jewelry hockin’, Blonski acting insubordinate, and a little coda for Betty and her beau (poor Ty Burrell was almost entirely cut out of the film altogether). All in all the scenes run almost forty three minutes, and though they feature some nice character moments, they would’ve destroyed the film’s pacing.
‘The Making of Incredible’ is a pretty speedy, thirty minute behind the scenes featurette. As per the norm the doc is a mix of raw behind the scenes footage, interview footage (likely taken before the theatrical release, including Norton), and scenes from the film, editing into sections concerning pre-production, casting, filming, special effects, post-production, and so on. I am again surprised to hear the producers and director referring to Ang Lee’s film in a relatively positive light after all the pre-release trash talking. Most of the actors and Leterrier admit to confusion concerning the reboot vs. sequel status when approached for the project.
‘Becoming the Hulk’ concerns the specifics of the design and production of this new Hulk, which generally looks like an angrier and lumpier version of Ang Lee’s version of the character. I’m personally fine with the re-invisionment, though I’m surprised that the overall ‘realism’ of the special effect isn’t really any more impressive than the original version. I’m usually great about suspending my disbelief when it comes to digital effects, and the kind of waxy look of the character didn’t pull me out of the film or anything, I was just expecting a bigger difference, perhaps out of ignorance. The facial subtleties of the new character are an improvement, and the new mo-cap technology section of the featurette is fascinating. These nine minutes also offer us the most candid look at Norton’s involvement with the process. ‘Becoming the Abomination’ is the obvious follow up, putting a more focus on the full body mo-cap.
‘Anatomy of a Hulk-Out’ is a three part featurette examining the making of the film’s three Hulk-Outs (‘The Bottling Plant’, ‘On Campus’ and ‘In Harlem’). These feature a little more raw footage than the other featurettes, and this footage is a little more technically minded concerning stunts and practical effects. All together these run another twenty seven minutes.
On the side of not-so-special features are a BD-Live option and a digital copy version of the film.
I’m really struggling with what score to give the final film. The tightness of the editing, the action, and the film’s spot in what will soon be a larger universe, all point towards a solid 7/10, but the generally disappointing plotting turns my enthusiasm down to a more realistic 6/10. I hate this part of the reviewing process because I know most people don’t actually read my review, just the final number, so those of you nice enough to read this bit know I’m actually giving the film both scores, because I have a feeling I’ll continue to slide between the two for several years. This second viewing was actually more enjoyable then the first, but I still prefer Ang Lee’s weirdo art house take. This Blu-ray disc features some very minor A/V problems, and a solid assortment of extras, including a load of deleted footage, and a very entertaining commentary track.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 21st October 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Surround English
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Director/Actor Commentary, U-Control Options, Making of Incredible, Becoming the Hulk, Becoming the Abomination, Anatomy of a Hulk-Out, Digital Comic, BD-Live, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Christina Cabot
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 113 minutes
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