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Following unseen events, the Hulk awakens, and finds himself secured in a spaceship. His awakening triggers a pre-recorded video, featuring the Marvel Illuminati, fronted by Iron Man, who apologizes to Hulk, and informs him he’s on his way to a planet where he can’t hurt anyone. Unfortunately, Hulk’s rage damages the ship, and throws it off course through a wormhole. The ship crashes on the surface of the planet Sakaar, and a weakened Hulk is taken captive by Imperial forces as a gladiatorial slave.

Planet Hulk
The good news is that Planet Hulk is definitely one of Lionsgate’s Marvel animated best. The bad news is it’s still rather lifeless, and occasionally painfully simplified. I’m just barely familiar with the series of comics this film was based upon thanks to a quick glance and Cliff’s Notes explanation from a friend, but my knowledge is enough to tell me that as an adaptation Planet Hulk mostly works. The problem is that the source material requires a full telling to not appear entirely derivative. The base idea, that of Earth’s hero’s tossing Hulk into space, is pretty cool, but one gets the sense that the rest of the story was written over the weekend as a Monday deadline approached. I’m not sure where exactly the gladiator that defies an emperor story begins (likely in genuine ancient Rome), but Planet Hulk clearly uses Ridley Scott’s Gladiator as a base. Most unfortunately this basic story arch (and I use the term pretty loosely, as given less than Gladiator’s two and a half hour runtime such a story consists mostly of fighting) was already used effectively in Justice League and Samurai Jack. Justice League told the story with more character embellishment, and Samurai Jack features a much more visually stunning translation of the tropes. I know that the book version of this particular story explores the Hulk as Conan the Barbarian in more depth and respect, but this short version

Concerning the adaptation working is the fact that the writers weren’t allowed to use the Silver Surfer, and replaced him with B-stringer Beta Ray Bill. This is kind of ingenious, I have to admit, even as someone barely aware of the character, as it ties into the other Marvel animated movies, specifically Hulk Vs. Thor. However, the Hulk character’s arc, if that’s what you want to call his screaming anger to more discernable anger change, really makes no sense in the context of this animated universe, if it is indeed supposed to be a canon universe. Hulk’s physical vulnerability, language ability, and lack of turning back into Bruce Banner is never really explained (his ability to understand the alien language is explained, but his ability to calmly express himself in words is not). I suppose this might be beside the point, that there is no movie to movie continuity, and I’m just meant to ‘go with it’, but Hulk really feels like an entirely different character. Not to mention the fact that the Bruce Banner stuff I rolled over in the comic version was pretty intriguing.

Planet Hulk
The animation sticks somewhere between the early Marvel animated films ( Iron Man, Doctor Strange) and the newer ones ( Hulk Vs.), using the preferable hard line shadow hues to the softer ones, but the less stylized character designs. I find the look a little dull, but it’s certainly colourful, and for the most part the animators get a lot out of a less than Disney sized budget. The action scenes are very well orchestrated, but the talking scenes are stiff, and feature some decreased frame rates. Planet Hulk is, I believe, the first ‘unrated’ film in the series, and I do think the producers have pressed the violence slightly beyond their previous PG-13 rating. They certainly push the boundaries with disturbing imagery during the two ‘Spike’ invasion scenes, which feature hordes of gooey, mutating zombies, who are dispatched with despite their relative innocence outside of their mutation. The thematic dark streak surely makes this one of the more adult releases from the studio.

Video


Planet Hulk looks a whole lot like the other Marvel animated Blu-ray releases, and television animation in high definition overall. This 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer is probably the most colourful we’ve seen out of the studio yet, with the possible exception of Hulk Vs. Thor, which was a little brighter overall. The backgrounds are the most impressive elements, especially the cosmos and general space shots, which revel in pulpy lavenders and blues, speckled with harsh white stars and deep black edges. The characters are full, sharp and bright, though a little flat in 1080p, especially when set against the deep focus backgrounds. The high definition look doesn’t sever the mixed media aspects very well either, as the digital embellishments look a little strange when they’re presented this crisply against the clean, two shade and an outline look of the animation. The flashback scene that takes place on Asgard is especially awkward. The digital wind, cloud and grass effects look very computer animated. There’s also an issue with blending throughout, where different shades are blocked. I’ve seen this on most HD cell animation, so I suppose this is some kind of creative choice. Composer Guy Michelmore manages one of his better animated scores here, which goes a long way in creating the film’s epic atmosphere, though the keyboarded symphonic elements are a little cheesy.

Planet Hulk

Audio


Sticking the Hulk in a gladiator ring with giant robot monsters is certainly a good way to earn a DTS-HD Master Audio mix, though Planet Hulk isn’t quite as well endowed as theatrical release animation, or it’s live-action counterparts. The channels are consistently busy with humming spaceships, rushing winds, cheering crowds, and massive explosion fallout. The LFE rumbles with everything Hulk, from his footsteps, his smashing, and his bassy voice. Actually, most of the character voices are pretty bassy, and even the girly ones are directionally appropriate. Directional movement is usually diverted to the hand to hand combat scenes, which feature whooshing fisticuffs, jumps, and shockwave punches. The back and stereo channel noise is usually set up as a textured environment, however, and sounds the best during the second Spike attack.

Extras


The disc begins with two audio commentary tracks. The first features supervising producer Joshua Fine and screenwriter Greg Johnson. Fine and Johnson mostly focus on storytelling and adaptation, and give a good rundown of their process. The second track features director Sam Liu, character designer Philip Bourassa and background painter Steve Nicodemus. This track obviously focuses more on the look and design of the film, but also covers some of the adaptation and character aspects too. The second track features more blank space, so those aiming for only one sit through will probably want to stick to the first track, which also points out some of the Marvel character cameos.

Planet Hulk
‘A Whole World of Hurt: The Making of Planet Hulk’ (21:40, HD) follows the precedent set by all the previous Lionsgate Marvel animation releases, and gives a basic overview of the filmmaking process. The production crew interviews oversell the whole thing a little too much, but things are interesting where adaptation is concerned, and the pre-production art is gorgeous. There’s a long look at the creation of the credit sequence, as well as an interesting look at the use of Beta Ray Bill, and the casting process. ‘Let the Smashing Commence: The Saga of Planet Hulk’ (11:30, HD) looks at the production of the ‘Planet Hulk’ story arch in the Hulk comic series, and lets those of us out of the know in on the places the story went from there. Also included here is an episode of Wolverine and the X-Men (21:50, SD), where Wolverine and the Hulk face-off. It’s very similar to Hulk Vs. Wolverine, but has enough differences to make it interesting.

The rest of the extras have a lot less to do with the Hulk. These start with a preview and opening sequence of the team’s next film – Thor: Tales of Asgard (6:15, HD). The new film looks a lot like Thor meets The Lord of the Rings, and generally recalls a more ‘80s brand of animated adventure. Next up are two Marvel ‘Motion Comics’ – Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. (10:20, SD) and Astonishing X-Men: Gifted (14:10, SD). The artistic choices are pretty cool, and though no one is going to mistake these for traditional cartoons, the motion is effective, and the audio features some solid music and stereo effects. Unfortunately Spider-Woman (written by the king of the hit and miss, Brian Michael Bendis) likely reads better than it sounds, and the attempts at animating Astonishing X-Men (written by Joss Whedon) are pretty silly. Both shorts are also available on Hulu.com. They’re coupled with two music videos culled from the footage (‘Watch Your Step’ and ‘Rise Up’). Everything is wrapped up with trailers.

Planet Hulk

Overall


The Lionsgate/Marvel people continue their slow crawl to better filmmaking with Planet Hulk, which is one of their better showings. The derivative elements of the original comic miniseries are unfortunately brought front and center, and the character arcs over-simplified, but the action animation is solid, and the art direction is fully realized. The short Hulk Vs. Wolverine is still the crew’s most consistent work. This release really earns its Blu-ray upgrade through sheer quantity of colours and textures, and big epic sound effects. The extras, unfortunately, sound more exciting than they actually are, but aren’t a waste of time either.

*Reviewer Note: The images on this page do not represent the Blu-ray release.


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