It was an interesting choice for director Ang Lee ("The Ice Storm") to helm "The Hulk", which would be Universal's big picture for the Summer of 2003. While the director had certainly proven himself a strong choice for character-driven material ("Ice Storm") and graceful action ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), he had never been at the controls of a project so large and so effects-driven.
I suppose I can't fault the director and the team of writers for wanting to inject more character development into such a picture, either. However, it just doesn't work here; Lee and the film's trio of writers try to add nearly ridiculous amounts of depth to a story that's a little too thin to support it. As a result, the film starts to stall as the film goes over ground the audience has already clearly understood a while prior. It doesn't help that there's a few patches of laughable dialogue, either.
The film focuses on Bruce Banner (Eric Bana, looking rather blank), who is unaware that his genetic structure has been altered by experiments his father (Nick Nolte, acting not only like he's in another movie, but on another planet) did on himself decades prior. One day, he gets blasted with gamma rays in his labratory, and instead of the horrific result that should have occured, he feels better than he ever has - aside from that hair-trigger temper (in one of the film's most cringe-worthy lines, after the accident, he tells ex-girlfriend Betty, "Hey, I'm not going to explode, okay?").
It's difficult to know where to begin when discussing the film's faults, although this isn't the worst fare that has hit multiplexes in 2003. The first mistake is in the performances, as "Hulk" offers two lead efforts that seem so flat as to be inert. Both Bana (well, especially Bana) and Connelly underplay to a nearly strange degree, making it especially difficult to be involved with either character. Nolte's performance is alternately dismaying and not; while his oddball, evil Yoda effort is unfocused and not in touch with the rest of the picture, it's also the only thing energetic about the whole effort. Josh Lucas ("Sweet Home Alabama") is amusingly sleezy as a corporate-type who wants to buy out the research that Bruce and former girlfriend, Betty (Connelly) are doing. Sam Elliot is also good as Betty's father, a conflicted military general.
The film's rather absurd length also makes the picture suffer. In an attempt to fit in both the action that audiences are expecting from such a picture and the character-driven moments that Lee apparently desired, the film seems bloated, mopey and overlong - a good thirty minutes here could have been lost. This is especially true early on, as the film takes completely too long trying to present the backstory and sins-of-the-father conflict.
Positives? Well, Lee and cinematographer Fredrick Elmes have created a very enjoyable, comic-book style for the feature, with panel, split-screen and wipe effects employed fairly well (although the panel effect does become rather overused). The Hulk himself, a completely computer-generated creature, is also quite well-done, as the computer effects are generally quite good and effective. On the other hand, there's also an effects sequence involving a fight between mutated dogs and the Hulk that's ridiculous and extended to the point of being almost silly.
Although I didn't dislike "The Hulk" quite as much on the second viewing (viewing it in the theater, it felt like four hours instead of nearly 2 and 1/2), I still find it to be a disappointment. Although the idea of adding depth and character to such a big-budget blockbuster certainly isn't unwelcome, "The Hulk" takes a considerable amount of time to tell a relatively simple tale. That, and it never soars - it's a big movie that never quite seems to be able to get out from under the glumness that it imposes on itself.
VIDEO: "The Hulk" is presented by Universal in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film is largely on its own on the first disc of this 2-DVD set, allowing the 138-minute picture to not have to have image quality suffer from sharing space with too many supplements. This still isn't a presentation without some issues, but it's largely a pretty good effort. Sharpness and detail are usually strong, although somewhat inconsistent, as shadow detail could seem a bit weak on occasion.
Some minor flaws were noted on a couple of occasions. Edge enhancement - in somewhat mild amounts - was seen in a couple of scenes. A couple of specks and some slight grain was occasionally spotted, but neither issue was anything terribly noticable. Colors remained natural and well-rendered throughout, with nice saturation and no concerns.
SOUND: "The Hulk" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although there are several stretches of this film that are mostly dialogue-driven drama, the film's few major action scenes certainly provide the expected amount of low-bass thumpage, as each one of Hulk's footsteps are as floor-shaking as one would hope from the film's soundtrack. The surrounds certainly are engaged when called upon, too, providing some enjoyable sound effects work during the action scenes and some reinforcement of Danny Elfman's score. French and Spanish 5.1 options are also available.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Ang Lee. Director Lee does offer some interesting insights into what he was trying to attempt with the film and some good stories about the production. However, stretches of the commentary seemed rather sparse and I eventually lost interest.
Hulk Cam: Enabling this feature will allow viewers to click on an icon during various points in the film to see a short clip of behind-the-scenes footage related to the scene.
Hulk Anatomy: This feature is essentially a snazzy way to do text notes - a computer image of the Hulk is presented; clicking on one of the areas will offer a bit of info about the character or, in another section, about ILM's CGI work.
SunnyD: Yes, this is actually just a series of Sunny Delight drink ads.
Deleted Scenes: Nearly 6-minutes of deleted footage, w/o any commentary options.
Also: Cast/crew bios.
Hulkification!: This supplement is the first to be found on the second disc. Four renowned comic book artists were asked to provide their vision of a scene from the movie. Viewers can watch the film's storyboards, versus the artist's take versus the final scene in the film. Bios for each of the four artists are also included.
Evolution of the Hulk: This 16-minute featurette offers a look at the origins of the Incredible Hulk, with information about the early work of Stan Lee. Lee is also interviewed, and discusses his inspirations for the "Hulk" character. This piece provides a good, informative overview of the history of the character (comic, to TV series, to movie) and also reminded of the great "Simpsons" episode where Stan Lee hangs out in the Comic Book Shop and unsuccessfully tries to become the Hulk.
The Incredible Ang Lee: With a title like that, is it any surprise that this is 14 minutes of "happy talk"? Not really; this is pretty much the entire cast and crew talks about how wonderful it was to work with Ang Lee and how great his ideas were. While it certainly may have been great to work with the talented director, that doesn't make 14 minutes of other people talking about it very interesting.
Dog Fight Scene: This is a 10-minute piece that takes the viewer through the development of the dog battle scene. It's actually quite a great piece, as it shows an early meeting where it was found that the fight was bigger than what could be done. Ang Lee speaks up at the meeting, saying "I don't know how much this is going to cost." Another participant dryly states, "A lot." We're then shown the various parts and pieces of the scene as it was shot, with interviews with both actress Jennifer Connelly and the film's visual effects supervisors. There's also brief footage of director Ang Lee in the motion capture suit in the effects studio, trying to work out - literally - what he wanted to see in the scene.
Unique Style of Editing "The Hulk": This is a brief featurette where the film's editor discusses how the "panel" look of scenes was achieved.
The Making of "The Hulk": Somewhat better than the usual promotional documentary, this 23-minute piece takes a look at the film's music, stunts, performances and visual effects work.
Note: The featurettes on disc two have English captions and French/Spanish subtitle options.
Final Thoughts: Again, I disliked "Hulk" a little less the second time around, but its multiple flaws - most noticably, a running time that could have been cut down quite a bit - still were too major to overlook. Universal's DVD provides fine audio, video and supplements, but I'd only recommend it to those who saw the film in the theater and are fans of it. Others who haven't seen it and are still interested should, at most, consider a rental.