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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Incredible Hulk - The Complete First Season
The Incredible Hulk - The Complete First Season
Universal // Unrated // July 18, 2006
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted July 7, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:

The Incredible Hulk, based on the Marvel Comics creation of the same name created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s, debuted on CBS in a made for TV movie in 1977 before becoming a full fledged weekly series in 1978. The show ran for five seasons before it was cancelled in 1982. Despite the fact that it wasn't all that long lived a series, the show definitely developed a cult following over the years and as such, Universal has now deemed this the right time to release the complete first series on DVD in its complete form.

So what is the show all about? Well, most of us know the story of the Hulk, but for those who don't let it suffice to say that it's the story of a scientist named David Banner (Bill Bixby) who was accidentley exposed to high levels of gamma radiation while researching the strength that lies within us all. Whenever David gets angry, he 'hulks out' and turns into a giant green skinned monster (played by Lou Ferrigno in a role that Arnold Schwarzenegger was famously turned down for) of incredible strength and very short tempermant who tends to smash first and ask questions later. It's sort of like Dr. Jekyll And Mister Hyde with a little bit of Frankenstein thrown in periodically in that sometimes the Hulk is a fearsome creature, other times he is quite sympathetic in his childlike simplicity. As if turning into a giant green monster weren't bad enough for poor Banner, he's being followed from town to town by a tabloid reporter named Jack McGee (Jack Colvin).

Many of us who grew up in the late seventies and early eighties while the show was on the air were completely freaked out by the show. Whenever Banner turned into the Hulk his eyes would turn white and then slowly he'd glow and his muscles would bulge and eventually he'd be the giant green monster that the series was named after. The Hulk's make up was pretty odd too, in an unsettling sort of way, with the giant bushy eyebrows and the forehead appendages that made Ferrigno look like a cro-magnon man. Needless to say, it scared the crap out of a lot of kids at the time, but many of those same kids and plenty of people from an older demographic tuned in each week to see what kind of mess Banner would end up in, how he'd try to help the situation, and how he'd make friends only to have to get back on his way to avoid detection by the cops or by McGee before the end credits hit the screen. It was a pretty good premise for a show that, despite having aged to the point of camp these days, still proves to be genuinely good entertainment in spite of its shortcoming (obviously low budget effects, the fact that the Hulk's make up smears off sometimes, little things like that).

DISC ONE:

Pilot: This is the feature length movie that started it all. Here we're introduced to David Banner, a scientist who, after the death of his girlfriend in a car accident, wants to know how it is that sometimes people can complete feats of unimaginable strength in times of stress. He and his co-worker, Dr. Elaina Marks (Susan Sullivan) finally finger the cause as having something to do with gamma radiation and so when he finds the radiology lab empty one night, Banner decides to experiment on himself. Of course, he 'hulks out' and goes on a bit of a rampage, beating up a few bad guys and eventually trying to save Elaina from a fire that breaks out in the lab. She dies and despite the fact that Jack McGee was the one responsible for starting the fire in the first place, the authorities think that it was the Hulk. David Banner was also presumed dead, his body never recovered from the blaze, but we all know he's alive and on the run until he can learn to control the monster that lives within him.

Death In The Family (a.k.a. The Return Of The Incredible Hulk): This is the second TV movie that was shown before the series started, it too is feature length. With everyone believing Banner to be dead, he makes his way to California where he meets a crippled girl named Julie Griffith (Laurie Prange). She takes a liking to him and gets him a job on their ranch and he soon finds out that the medicine that Dr. Bonifont (William Daniels, the voice of K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider) is giving her is actually poison and that he's in cahoots with Julie's stepmother to try and kill her off so that they can steal her inheritance. Good thing Banner is on the up and up, and so he and a drunk hermit named Michael (John McLiam) set out to expose the bad guys and save Julie's life before it's too late. Gerald McRaney from Simon & Simon shows up in this ninety minute season premiere as Julie's boyfriend, and the Hulk kicks his ass, and he also fights a bear!

DISC TWO:

The Final Round: With his chances in California shot, Banner heads east where he ends up befriending a local wannabe boxer named Rocky after some thugs try to mug him. Rocky (Martin Kove) takes him in and gets him a job at the local boxing ring as a medic but soon Banner finds out that the owner (Al Ruscio) is using Rocky to smuggle heroin for him. When the owner of the gym finds out that Rocky knows what's going on, they set him up to die in the ring. Banner gets knocked out and tied up, will he be able to hulk out in time to save the big palooka from a horrible fate?

The Beast Within: After leaving Delaware, Banner ends up finding a part time job at a local zoo. He meets and becomes friendly with a scientist named Dr. Claudia Baxter (Caroline McWilliams) who is researching genetics which he hopes could lead to a cure for his Hulk problems. Of course, we all know that can't happen this early on in the series and when trouble arrives and the Hulk appears, Banner finds himself in hot water again. This episode feature the Hulk fighting a giant gorilla (that's actually quite obviously a guy in a suit).

Of Guilt, Models And Murder: When Banner completely Hulks out, he never remembers what he did or what happened and often wakes up in strange places with no idea of how he got there in the first place. This time, Banner wakes up in a room with a bunch of dead fashion models, and of course, being the pessimist that he is, he automatically assumes that he's the one who killed them all. He sets out to investigate and finds out that there's no way the Hulk could have done this, but who is responsible, and why would they want to kill all those stone cold foxes? Loni Anderson guest stars.

Terror In Times Square: Banner takes a job working in an arcade in Times Square where he falls for the owner's daughter, a med school student named Carol (Pamela Susan Shoop). When her dad, Norman (Jack Kruschen) finds himself involved in a mob protection racket scam lead by Jason Laird (Robert Alda) Banner finds that he must turn into the Hulk in order to save the day. Best part of this episode? A fantastic shot of Ferrigno standing on 42nd. St. in front of a theater that is probably now a Disney Store with a huge marquee over top advertising Saturday Night Fever. Either that or seeing the Hulk run past some 'live nude girls!' signs.

DISC THREE:

747: Banner hears from another scientist who just might have a lead on a cure for his transformation problems. In order to go meet him, he has to take a flight across the country and while he's in the air he uncovers a plot by the pilot (Del Hinkley) to drug the passengers and bail out, leaving everyone to fall to their deaths! How will hulking out help Banner this time? Only a young boy named Kevin (Brandon Cruz) knows for sure. Lots of awkward looking stock footage in this one, kids!

The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas: Banner finds himself wandering the streets of Las Vegas looking for work and he winds up getting a part time job helping out in a big Casino. While there, after he helps a man who gets run down by a hit and run driver, he hooks up with a reporter who is trying to crack an illegal gambling ring and of course, the Hulk is able to help out in his own special way. The catch? The reporter is a very close friend of one Jack McGee… This one is great, higlighted by some ultra-cool scenes of a painted up green Ferrigno running around a crowded seventies Vegas casino!

Never Give A Trucker An Evan Break: Banner finds work helping out a female trucker named Joanie (Jennifer Darling). Everything seems to be going reasonably smooth until Banner finds out that she's more interested in settling an old score than she is in delivering the goods safe and sound. It turns out that her father's truck was highjacked and she wants revenge and she has no qualms whatsoever about using Banner to do it! This one, interestingly enough, features stock footage inserts from Steven Spielberg's killer truck movie, Duel!

Life And Death: While wandering around trying not to get angry (we don't like him when he's angry) Banner finds himself having to help a very pregnant woman get to the hospital before nature takes its course and she pops out a kid. Along the way, some rough types run interference and soon the Hulk is needed to stop the bad guys from stealing people's babies and selling them to some mad scientist/evil doctor types for DNA sampling! The fiends!

DISC FOUR:

Earthquakes Happen (a.k.a. Nuclear Cave In): When Banner finds out about some top secret gamma radiation equipment being setup in a high-tech physics complex, he poses as a physics expert to gain access to the compound in hopes of using the experimental devices on himself and ending his problem. Just as he's about to start experimenting on himself (you'd think he'd have learned the first time) a massive earthquake rocks the area and he ends up getting caught! When it looks like there's going to be a melt down that could destroy the area and kill loads of people, it's up to a certain green skinned behemoth to show up and save the day.

The Waterfront Story: A woman named Josie (Sheila Larken) runs a saloon in the waterfront area of Galveston, Texas and Banner winds up befriending her and before you know it, he's got a job. As he gets to know her he learns of her late husband's murder at the hands of a crooked but well to do businessman who didn't like the fact that he was turning the union against him. With that man now running for control of the union, Banner, or more specifically, the Hulk, will have to act fast or the whole town will find out just how evil rich businessmen tend to be sometimes.

While the series isn't the most literal comic book adaptation of all time – there were many changes made by the producer, Kenneth Johnson, such as the lead being named David Banner (well, according to his gravestone, Dr. David Bruce Banner) instead of just plain old Bruce Banner as in the comic books for one, and none of the supporting characters from the comic really show up here at all – but it is never the less a whole lot of fun. The fact that the series is full of funny little slip ups gives it a whole lot of replay value (try and spot how many times Ferrigno's body paint is smeared or rubbed off in each episode!) even if sometimes it is for the wrong reasons, and the strange situations that Banner finds himself in from one episode to the next, no matter how preposterous they might be, always make for enjoyable stories. Bixby, may God rest his soul, is appropriately hammy in the lead role playing his character with equal parts ladies man coolness and innocent sympathy whereas Ferrigno is a grunting, snorting animal as the Hulk, flexing and smashing his way from episode to episode. He breaks through walls, jumps over things, throws people and objects through the air with ease, and he makes it look easy.

It's all very melodramatic and predictable and nowadays the whole thing feels like one big cliché but that doesn't at all hamper the enjoyment that can still be found out of this series. Sure, nostalgia is sure to come into play for a lot of us but the series is fast paced, entertaining, and creative. While we know that pretty much each and every episode will end with Banner walking off into a crowd or a desert or somewhere that he won't be found to the familiar musical notes of 'The Lonely Man' it doesn't stop us from wanting to find out where he winds up next.

Video:

The series was made for TV so it makes perfect sense that it was shot and shown fullframe, which is exactly how Universal presents it on DVD in this set. Surprisingly, considering the age of the material, these episodes look very good. There are some stock footage inserts used in various episodes that definitely exhibit more grain and print damage than the rest of the footage does, but thankfully the actual footage shot for the show is in very nice shape. Some film grain is present, and periodically you'll note some specks and possibly a bit of dirt here and there, but color reproduction is stronger than what you usually see on seventies television and there's a surprisingly good level of both foreground and background detail. Mpeg compression artifacts are never an issue and while there is some mild aliasing and some mild edge enhancement from time to time that you'll detect if you want to look for it, overall The Incredible Hulk arrives here in very nice shape.

Sound:

The series was recorded in an English language mono presentation and that's what we get in this set, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono across the board. Quality is fine, no problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout. The limitations of the source material show up from time to time in that the range is really limited but that isn't really a fault so much as an observation and a limitation of the technology at the time. There are no problems with the audio in this set, it's all completely satisfactory. No alternate language dubs or subtitles options are present though there are English closed captions present.

Extras:

While the packaging states that the two pilot movies are 'extra features' the reality is that this is how the first season started off so their inclusion in the set has been covered with the rest of the episodes. The only genuine supplement is a commentary track with the producer of the series, Kenneth Johnson, over the very first feature length movie episode. All in all, this isn't a bad commentary track at all. Johnson was heavily involved in creating the series and he's not at all shy when it comes to talking about what he thinks worked and didn't work about the show. He covers the casting of Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby, some of the themes and ideas that they were working with, the challenges of working with a big body builder guy covered in green paint, and the comic book that inspired the series in the first place. Fans of the show should enjoy this talk, as he covers a lot of ground here.

Aside from the commentary, Universal has also included a 'bonus episode' from season two entitled Stop The Presses. It's puzzling why they choose to do this on their releases as really, most fans who get the first season are likely going to get the second one as well and so they're just giving us something we're going to be paying for a little while down the road anyway.

Each disc includes menus that allow you to check out each episode individually or via the 'play all' button. No submenus for episode chapters are provided though you can skip through the chapters on each episode manually by way of your remote if you want. The packaging for the set is quite nice, with a very cool lenticular cover on the front that, when you move it, morphs a big old Bill Bixby head into a big green Lou Ferrigno Hulk head. Corny, but very cool and in keeping with the tone of the series.

Final Thoughts:

While the set is light on extra features, it does look and sound pretty decent and there's a whole lot of fun to be had with the material contained on the four discs that make up The Incredible Hulk – The Complete First Season. Hopefully next time out Universal will pay a little more attention to the supplements, but regardless, this release still comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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