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COLUMN NINETY-FOUR, JULY 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)


(Copyright - 2003 Joe Viglione)
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THE HULK

The Hulk is a wonderful study in film psychology making multiple statements on politics and the problems with motion pictures coming out of Hollywood these days. It helps ring true that line from Dobie Gray's
The In Crowd: "the original is still the greatest." 

Adapted from the wonderful sixties work by artist Jack Kirby and writer Stan Lee,  this 2003 film project was directed by Ang Lee, a man who has gone on record stating he wanted to create his own version. That is part of the problem. He has handsome Australian actor Eric Bana playing Bruce Banner. Is the similarity of their names beyond coincidence? The name games continue with Jennifer Connelly, the leading lady, playing Betty Ross,  not only the name of the dressmaker for Wonder Woman years before WW made her splash on the scene, but also close to the revered moniker of America's flagmaker. 

Oh for the days when D.C. meant "Brand Ecch", and Marvel reigned supreme in regards to artwork and story content! But the lines are so blurred in the world of comic books that---with the release of X Men and the Chris Reeve Superman flicks---Hollywood started to look like a safe place for these revered heroes. That is, until Tobey Maguire, although he made a great Peter Parker, was found to be dreadful as Spiderman. And until Ben Affleck made a very, very good Matt Murdock but just a so-so Daredevil.

Hollywood's liberties may be a cut above the parody that was television's Batman or the sets of the TV Hulk series---at least Planet Of The Apes got the makeup right on tv!) However, Jean Luc
Stewart/Patrick Picard was born to play Professor X. And that whole Next Generation Star Trek series owed more to The X Men than it did to  Captain Kirk. 

This film falls somewhere in the middle. The Hulk has its good points and its bad. Deviating again from the original storyline created by Stan Lee, this film is an amalgam of the Bill Bixby TV Hulk and what is in the comics. Does it work? Well...let's say it works well enough to entertain. As someone said to me on the phone last night, scriptwriters in Hollywood seeking the big bucks lobby for the chance to "enhance" the original idea.

In his appearance on Jay Leno's TV show, Eric Bana's heavy Australian accent was in full force. But you wouldn't know it when watching his remarkable performance in the film. In my opinion, he has the potential
to take Colin Farrell on as the major leading man of the new millennium. As for Jennifer Connelly, I see her as the second coming of Demi Moore---not that we needed Demi times two. And Nick Nolte is pretty cool as
the bag-man turned creature omnipotent, reprising that role from Affliction.

Remember George Murdock as "God" in 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" In a very wild twist, they've taken the Dr. David Bruce Banner character from My Favorite Martian Bill Bixby's alter-ego (keep


What can you expect from the movies?
Culture?


in mind that TV called him David Banner because Bruce sounded, allegedly, "too gay") and made him the father of this Bruce Banner, bringing genetics into play. Genetics had nothing to do with the original Hulk. And
the Jekyll & Hyde transformation has more in common with King Kong meets Jim Carrey from The Mask (or Dr. Seuss' Grinch or the green Riddler in 1995's Batman Forever, take your pick) than Lou Ferrigno's
hostile Neanderthal man. A shame. The computer imagery gets better as the film develops, but the first appearance of the monster is not as dramatic as it could have been.

This is Universal Pictures, after all, forgetting RKO Pictures' 1933 Merian C. Cooper classic King Kong,
forgetting James Whale's 1931 Universal masterpiece, Frankenstein, and spending two hours and eighteen minutes explaining this new storyline when it all could have started off with Eric Bana being a mad scientist
in his mad military base laboratory accidentally getting spammed with gamma rays. Gamma for Bana! Not in this lifetime, it's too easy to do it right, Hollywood just wants to complicate things.

Now for the good stuff. Although we don't get a Lou Ferrigno for Bill Bixby---the Hulk equivalent of James Earl Jones and David Prouse combining to make a great anti-hero (or in the Jones/Prouse case, total villain)--- we do get the 1954 Gojira (Godzilla) pre-Raymond Burr anti-American, no, make that anti-George W. Bush statement from Director Ang Lee. That pleased the full house at Loew's in Boston on June 17 almost as much as Stan Lee's Alfred Hitchcock type walk-on. 

There's a George W. Bush character fishing in a Maine-like stream while all hell is breaking loose around him, hell caused by the military. Sam Elliott as Thunderbolt Ross and Nick Nolte as David Banner in their
role as evil dads (the week after Father's Day, no less) makes Joan Crawford appear Saintly in her Mommy's Dearest persona. 

These guys are not just self-centered, their self-hatred is aimed at each other and taking a cue from Marvin Gaye's dad the destruction of their own offspring is not potential collateral damage, it is their raison d'etre. And throw in good-looking Joshua Lucas as Major Glenn Talbot to bring in yet another dynamic, a real envy thing going on between Dr. Bruce Krenzler (the adopted name here for Bruce David Banner) and the Major. The Talbot/Banner relationship gets no time in the incubator, and it could have been the key to characterization. But Ang Lee's too busy desecrating a legend the way George W. Bush let historic artifacts
get blasted into oblivion or stolen. In a way, Americans who cherish our art should feel outraged that Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Man reinvents one of our cultural heroes, adding more confusion to the mix
than clarifying Hulk's presence in American folklore.

Remember when Dino de Laurentis gave us King Kong in 1976? Ang Lee reiterates Dino's mistake with a monster straight out of Finding Nemo. De Laurentis redeemed himself in 2001 by crafting a new evil, making up for Jodie Foster's disappearance when he gave Anthony Hopkins a classic Universal Pictures type 1930s monster malevolence with Hannibal. The sets were stunning and the panoramic views breathtaking, though chopping off Ray Liotta's head was the type of thing that distracted from the elegance of the Peter Lorre atmosphere (Liotta's character was Paul Krendler, Eric Bana is Dr. Bruce Krenzler---very odd) Hulk has the best elements of Hannibal mixed with the worst of de Laurentiis' King Kong. The serious trauma and the rage
issues needed to be addressed more and are left in mid-air.

Yes, the scene of the Hulk fighting his father's three doggies in the woods with a cowering Jennifer Connelly (needing to study Janet Leigh from 1960's Psycho a bit more to get us to believe her) was certainly fun, and Bana's transformation back into Banner stark naked while she's fondling his head is about the most romantic scene in the movie. The beauty of her concern for this pathetic soul made it a moving experience, not as much sexual as totally endearing. If only Ang Lee put more of that kind of emotion into the fight scenes! Blowing up the Grand Canyon is akin to George W. Bush saying "Weapons of Mass Destruction" as he stomps all over the Warka Vase, that prized artifact from the Iraqi museum. 

The imagery is frightening as General "Thunderbolt" Ross uses his daughter to destroy Moby Dick at all costs. It is Captain Ahab in a chopper blasting away at the Great Green Whale, make no doubt about it, and George W. Bush is the individual in Ang Lee's sights as he does what the Japanese filmmakers did in the original Godzilla---makes a blunt political statement. How does a filmmaker go from getting 14 Oscar Nominations to failing to find the essence of this fantastic Marvel Comic Book Character? Somehow Ang Lee did it, or didn't
do it.

Yes, it's a fun summer movie, but its not The Matrix Reloaded, it's not Terminator 3, it's part cartoon with split screens right out of Woodstock (the film), a big sloppy pie with a built-in following just waiting to swallow the Hollywood rendition of a TV character. They might as well have re-made Mr. Ed or My Mother The Car. It's The Hulk in name only, a sequel to The Mask only with no Jim Carrey to make funny faces.

When Bill Bixby produced the made-for-tv film The Return Of The Hulk, it made up for the cheesy early 1980's sets and wardrobe with lots of heart. Heart is missing in this new Hulk film, yet it was the late Bill Bixby who fixed that creature's famous line into clich? and legend---"You don't want to see me when I'm angry."
The Hulk is an explosive character on many levels. Why a professor Ray McNally wasn't brought in to consult, his recent in-depth research on Jekyll & Hyde could have done much to enhance the psychology and tension missing from this episode. It's glitzy and as pedestrian as Tobey Maguire's Spiderman. No doubt the
mantra is to follow in Spiderman's footsteps.

And how foolish of us to expect Hollywood to be involved in art? The Hulk can eventually be an artistic masterpiece when some director searches his soul and wants to do something very special to move people, to make them think, to go for the gold. This enjoyable flick succeeds as splashy loud entertainment but fails to preserve the valuables stored in the Iraq museum. It is effective in knocking George W. Bush, not because
that's the right thing to do, but because the filmmakers are as guilty as Bush in stomping on important art. Squish. 

Picture The Terminator rolling over a child's toy with technology or an Agent from The Matrix getting out of his vehicle to put his foot down, quoting Frank Sinatra "some people get their kicks/stomping on a dream". Films used to bring dreams to life, The Wizard of Oz proving a well constructed masterpiece can live forever.
Hulk's potential to break new science fiction ground is not realized. Instead we get a 2003 version of Walt Disney's Son of Flubber. But in a world where we are forced to attack another country and dissenting voices are called unpatriotic, what else can you expect when that all-important ten bucks is demanded by the
movie makers from the patrons? Culture?  ##

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