-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
"Bruce Banner's dream is Hulk's reality." - Ang Lee
"We're doing the basic science... for everybody."
- Bruce Banner (Eric Bana)
"Emotional damage can manifest physically."
- Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly)
"Bad science, maybe, but personally gratifying."
- Talbot (Josh Lucas)
"Angry Man is un-secure."
- General 'Thunderbolt' Ross (Sam Elliott)
"You're making me angry!" - Bruce
All film stills on this page © 2003 Universal Studios
cast: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, and Josh Lucas
director: Ang Lee
132 minutes (12) 2003
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Universal DVD Region 2 + 4 retail
reviewed by Tony Lee
An imaginative and exciting comicbook drama about super-heroic power fantasy, and one
man's uncontrollable anger, Ang Lee's magnificent Hulk is very probably the best
SF adventure thriller of the last 15 years. While the
X-Men movies are everything I'd
hoped for and fulfilled unpretentious expectations, Hulk is vastly superior to
anything I'd thought was possible in Hollywood. Strong performances from the gifted principal
cast, the convoluted and ambiguous nanotech-genetic-gamma 'creation myth' for the gigantic
green monster (which is simply more scientifically plausible than Marvel Comic's straightforward
gamma-bomb mutation origin) and a slow-building plotline that gives the scenes of mass destruction
far greater impact and dramatic weight than any other Marvel or DC comicbook-based movies, are
all combined so that Hulk sets a new higher standard for comicbook action cinema that
will be difficult to improve upon.
A civilian research laboratory run by Bruce Banner (Eric Bana, of Ridley
Scott's Black Hawk
Down) and Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly, from the extremely disturbing
Requiem For A Dream) are
testing nanotechnology applications using gamma irradiation to trigger cellular regeneration
in reptiles. Inevitably, the military take an interest, and ruthlessly ambitious Glenn
Talbot (Josh Lucas) plots a hostile takeover of the project. Then a routine experiment
goes wrong, causing a nuclear accident that fails to kill Bruce, yet transforms him into
the strongest and most powerful creature on Earth. Betty's father, a US Army general (played
with great subtlety and menace by Sam Elliott, notable for Tombstone, 1993, and Peter
Bogdanovich's Mask, 1988) captures the potential 'super-weapon' when Hulk reverts
back into a bewildered Bruce, but cannot contain the monster, who breaks out of an underground
military base and wreaks havoc in a spectacular desert battle against US Army tanks, some
hi-tech 'Comanche' stealth helicopters (in scenes reminiscent of King Kong), and F-22
warplanes before a seemingly 'cosmic' final encounter with the Hulk's nemesis - his father...
There's much to admire in this literate adaptation of Marvel's iconic
anti-hero. With lots of advanced split-screen work, and even control-room monitor screens
to evoke comicbook 'frames', Hulk delivers an ingenious blending of the physical
and the virtual, where CGI and real world footage are seamlessly integrated in a manner
that results in stunning visual effects sequences throughout the movie's latter half.
But there's even more to Hulk than cutting-edge cinema technologies, as director
Ang Lee brings a frankly startling 'artistic' sensibility to every aspect of this genre
blockbuster, reportedly Universal Studio's biggest ever production.
Not shy of abstraction (many of the witty transitional effects comment,
albeit obliquely, on the story's biological and technological themes), symbolism (Hulk's
lifting of the gamma sphere recalls the ironically familiar image of Greek deity Atlas -
with the world supported on his shoulders), or contemplative moods (Hulk gazes with mute
wonder at coloured mosses on desert rocks, as if surprised to find anything alive in such
a hostile environment), Lee's aesthetic tendencies for presenting cinema narrative, and
his variably successful filmic attempts to explore 'speculative' fictional connections,
are apparent throughout the storyline. Hulk winningly conveys the aspect of a
reluctant hero. Unaware of evil in the world, the Hulk isn't a champion of justice or a
superhuman avenger. He represents the underdog, a scourge of discrimination and hostility
and, certainly, a thorn on the side of intolerance. Yet the Hulk doesn't really want to
fight anything or anyone, and only goes on the rampage when he's cruelly provoked into
violence. This engagingly psychological approach to comicbook material ensures that many
of the non-action, non-dialogue scenes have a unique energy and colourful affect of their
A nightmarish mirror view scene has Bruce face-to-face with the Hulk,
permitting the script to incorporate the Marvel comic's most frequently repeated line:
"Puny human!" registering the Hulk's annoyance when dealing with mere mortals.
There's tremendous visceral impact in Hulk's defence of Betty against three mutated and
monstrous dogs at the Sequoia park homestead (where the huge creature blends into the
greenery, amusingly camouflaged by nature at night), and David Banner (Nick Nolte, quite
unashamedly chewing up the scenery at one stage) is psychotically intimidating before
the melodramatic and impressionistic finale, where he transforms via a supposedly lethal
electromagnetic discharge into the Hulk comic's most inspired supervillain, the Absorbing
Man (though this alter-ego character is referred to only as "the Father" here).
With the emphasis on anxiety, frustration, repressed memories and psychic
trauma instead of physical assault or violence as the trigger for Bruce's change into Hulk,
this remarkable screen adaptation of the early 1960s' comicbook (created by Stan Lee and
Jack Kirby) releases the scientist's childhood demons that are bottled up like lightning,
in an utterly compelling Jekyll and Hyde transformation sequence that stretches out and
stresses time itself, from heartbeat seconds into a moment of evident recognition when
the innocent Hulk first meets his obsessed father - before leaving Bruce's trashed nuclear
lab straight up through the roof, and bounding away into the night. In this review's quote
from worried antagonist General Ross, we could easily replace 'un-secure' with 'insecure'
to make plain just how vulnerable the Hulk's psyche is.
The romanticised climactic scene on the streets of San Francisco, where
the Hulk is calmed by the arrival of Betty is reminiscent of the emotional climax of Ken
Russell's Altered States (1980), another film of 'excess' and the discovery of a unique,
transformative power. There's even a scene in Hulk with Bruce suspended inside a
sensory deprivation tank, directly evoking the experiments into racial memory and human
truth by Jessup (William Hurt) in Altered States. Although Hulk rewrites
modern history by showing David Banner performing genetic research in the 1960s, there's
an impressive sense of authenticity in the Berkeley lab sets where next-generation scientists
Bruce and Betty perform their nanotech trials, and the other convincingly realistic bits of
hardware counterbalance the drama's more 'fantastic' elements.
Hulk is the most supremely imaginative genre adventure since
RoboCop. With its intelligent screenplay based on a complex, ambiguously mythic
backstory, this dazzling film is carried along by its director's uncompromising creativity
and commitment to exploring the characters of damaged children (Bruce, Betty) haunted by
the presence of repressive fathers (David, T-bolt), in scenes of intense human tragedy -
tempered by a nonetheless upbeat tone, massive widescreen views of destruction, and tightly
controlled dramatic impact. The visual effects produced by ILM establish a new benchmark
for fantasy action cinema.
The special edition DVD has a superb anamorphic transfer of the main
feature, with Dolby digital 5.1 or DTS sound options, plus English or Dutch subtitles.
The director's commentary (also available as subtitles) offers fascinating insights, and
is one of the most interesting I've heard for such an obviously generic film. There is
also a Hulk-cam feature, granting access to behind-the-scenes footage available
throughout the film, and a teaser-trailer for next year's Thunderbirds movie.
Disc two has some deleted scenes (including an inspirational talk - by Bana as Banner,
explaining the great potential of nanotech); a bog-standard making-of featurette; the
somewhat gimmicky interactive item Superhero Revealed: The Anatomy Of The Hulk
- which dissects a 3D model of the CG star; Evolution Of The Hulk and The Dog
Fight Scene look at general and specific aspects of this groundbreaking production;
Hulkification celebrates the "You're making me angry" scene with a
selection of artwork drawn in various styles; a look at the unique editing style of
this film, and The Incredible Ang Lee - a tribute to the director. DVD-ROM stuff
on the extras disc is comprised of four desktop wallpapers and a screensaver.
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