Movie: The Incredible Hulk, originally a comic book from Marvel Comics, details a story about a scientist who pushes the limits of science and pays the price. In the comic book, Dr. Bruce Banner was working with gamma radiation to invent a super powerful bomb. Those were the days when the arms race was in full swing and scientists were pushing the limits of various ways for mankind to destroy itself. The good doctor saved a young man and thereby exposed himself to the radiation of a bomb that caused him to change color and increase his strength to tremendous levels but lose all control and consciousness. That was the true birth of the Hulk. Over the years, the creature changed with the times but the elemental nature of the beast remained the same, the highly evolved mind of the human scientist gave way to the impulsive nature of the beast who left a swath of destruction in his wake.
Okay, in 1977 a television movie, and then a series, was made where Dr. Banner was investigating altering the human body by means of radiation. The mood of the times, including a change in public attitudes towards defense department scientists and government in general, made this necessary. Regardless, the doctor gets overexposed to the radiation and ends up turning into a large, green creature known as the Hulk whenever he gets mad. The creature's minimal intelligence retains, on some deeper level, Banner's sense of right and wrong so when he attacks someone or something, he never hurts the innocent. A tabloid reporter follows Hulk sightings which puts Banner on the run. The television Hulk was a much powered down version compared to the comic book version (relating to budgets) but he was still strong enough to overpower large bulldozers, heal faster than Wolverine, and escape when chased.
The movie I'm looking at here was the last TV movie, The Death of the Incredible Hulk, made in 1990, before the passing of actor Bill Bixby (who played Dr. Banner and directed this movie). In it, the good doctor played a janitor at an advanced research facility who uses the equipment on the sly, at night, in an effort to cure himself of the Hulk. He's been on the run for years and is tired of waking up in strange places after a wild night on the town (so to speak) and I can identify with this on a personal, if less dramatic, level. The story also involved some spies who were trying to steal the research conducted at the laboratory but it was pretty weak and uninvolving. I can't say more without revealing too many spoilers.
I find it difficult to tell you how much I loathed this movie. I was a fan of the comic book for a long time, enjoyed the television show more often than not, and like the many ideas the concept presented. The director was almost certainly suffering from his cancer when he directed and starred in this and it showed. The movie looked worse than many episodes of the television series and it was made nearly ten years later. Bixby's performance seemed pale and subdued, his assistant, Dr. Pratt (veteran actor Philip Sterling) gave what might've been the worst performance of his career, and most of the others could've phoned in their lines. The only two performers here that did a decent job were Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk himself) and Andreas Katsulas (Babylon 5). The technical limitations were many but it looked like it was shot in Canada (it was) with a smaller than average budget. Bixby did a lot of work as a performer and director that was much better than this so perhaps he wanted some sort of closure on the series before his life ended. I know a follow-up movie was initially reported but none of the television movies were worth making (and one had Daredevil, another had Thor) and I still find this claim to be tough to swallow. Perhaps the series will be released in season by season boxed sets in a marketing coup tied to the upcoming Hulk movie (it looks pretty wild with a CGI Hulk)-a fan can hope, can't he?
Picture: The picture was presented in it's original full frame 1.33:1 ratio. The bad news is that it looked really low quality. I knew I was in for a downhill slide when I saw the opening credits. They looked like something you'd find on a low end home videocamera. Unfortunately, it got worse as the show progressed. The colors were a bit muted but the lighting was often too low which made the picture lose detail. On top of that, there was too much grain, the blacks weren't "true black", and the darker sections of the movie had that annoying color bleeding so many of us hate.
Sound: The sound was presented with a choice of English or Spanish Mono (no stereo here). There was a choice of English or Spanish subtitles too. As a whole, the soundtrack did not impress me. I've heard some fairly decent audio tracks made from mono television sources but this sure wasn't one of them. It was hollow and the music pretty much a rehash of the older score from the television series. The highs were low and lows were high (essentially limiting the dynamic range to a middle ground much like AM radio).
Extras: Some trailers for Fox movies. Nothing else.
Final Thoughts: The movie was designed to cash in on the fanbase of the original television series and while that's not always a bad thing, in this case it was. The weaker than average technical aspects (audio, video, transfer), a poorly written story, and an obvious attempt to cash in on the upcoming blockbuster theatrical release make this one a release to pass on. Perhaps when the original series is released, they'll wisely include some great extras (Lou Ferrigno providing some commentaries comes to mind as do many of the television specials and the older interviews by Bixby and others) as a tribute to the late, great Bill Bixby but I'm not holding my breath. At very least, a remastering of the sound and audio tracks should be considered as well as a low price point. Skip this one unless you're a completist and spend your money on tickets to the new movie.