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Incredible Hulk: Three-Disc Special Edition, The

Universal // PG-13 // October 21, 2008
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author

The Incredible Hulk will probably go down in cinema history as one of the more simplistic films to suffer from a sordid creative history. Word spread during production of the Louis-Leterrier-directed, Edward-Norton-produced comic book romp that extensive artistic differences had been walling up the creative process for the film. Rumors of massively-spliced material left and right began to fly, emphasizing an angered Leterrier-Norton combo who wanted to make their Hulk film more than a piece of airy, unsubstantiated popcorn -- and had the footage in front of him and the other filmmakers to do just that. It seems like he was right; the result is exactly what we'd come to expect, and what Marvel desired for The Incredible Hulk from the start: an explosive, bombastic dose of gratuitous fun that shares little to nothing in common with Ang Lee's pensive, overdrawn Hulk. However, it's a sloppy cut that's problematic, full of glaring plot holes, and had the potential of being much better than the surface-level dose of entertainment that it ends up being.

The Film:

Working as both a follow up to Lee's entry and as a reboot for the character, it follows Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, American History X) as he lives in his Brazilian hideaway far away from the United States military. After a series of self-inflicted experiments earlier in his life, his body's mechanics have been re-engineered to trigger a "super solider" type of reaction when his heartbeat escalates over a certain point. The result? His frame expands to at least three-times its size, swelling to a muscle-bound, adrenaline-fueled version of himself -- a hulk, if you will -- that lays waste to everything in its path.

Banner's hiding, working at a bottling plant as both a "topper" and technician, for two reasons: for one, he doesn't want a certain military general (William Hurt, A History of Violence) to get a hold of him for research / military usage reasons, while he also wants to distance himself from everyone he knows and loves, including Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), so that he can learn to harness and control the beast within him. But communication sessions with a mainland doctor lure Banner back to the source, bringing him closer to both lost love and an eternity atop the operating table in the hands of power-hungry military personnel -- led by Betty Ross' father, the general.

The best parts of The Incredible Hulk come in these introductory moments where Banner learns to control his anger by way of meditative breathing and pulse control. Norton's Banner, as a whole, provides a great contrast with his behemoth alter-ego; he's nerdy and uncomfortably quiet, something relatively alien to him outside of flickers from his Fight Club persona. He handles Banner's sense of isolation well, as it further cements Norton's status as a dramatic chameleon capable of an expansive yet subtle range. He carries himself as a man with a secret, sulking around the Brazilian landscape with nary a focus outside of purging this unnatural force from his body.

Everything about these quieter, pensive moments in Banner's demeanor had me dialed in from the get-go. Especially when Norton interacts with Tyler's Betty Ross; there's a playful chemistry between the two that, though a little short on belief amid Banner's absence, offers a strong underlying mechanism between these two enamored science-minded parties responsible for his transformation. At first, I wasn't banking on the Norton-Tyler pair having suitable chemistry. However, as they start to grow closer again once Banner's life becomes more and more dangerous, their simple somewhat-nerdy banter and playfulness becomes charming.

But is Banner the core reason for watching a Hulk film? Some filmgoers would argue yes, myself included, while some would argue no -- while the final result in The Incredible Hulk answers a resounding "no". This echoes Marvel's fears in re-creating the audience-maligned first entry. It took Banner a long time to turn into the Hulk in the 2003 critically-favored, commercially-inept rendition, concentrating on actual character development instead of the half-hearted obligation to justify carnage in this final vision. However, once the big green guy hits the screen quickly in The Incredible Hulk, the excitement alleviates many of these gripes by way of a whirlwind of thunderous action. Very few items dodge the destruction of the Hulk's path of terror here, as he levels tanks, helicopters, buildings, bottling factories, and then re-levels them all to turn them into weapons ripe for blast something else -- and it's all ridiculous amounts of fun to watch. When it comes to harnessing the ferocity behind the character, The Incredible Hulk does its name justice -- whether it needs to sacrifice plot cohesiveness in order to do so or not. There are quite a few gaping plot holes in Leterrier's film; once you've picked up on its direction and rhythm, however, they become glossed over in a flurry of flying debris and guttural growls from the "other side" of Bruce Banner's coin.

I just wish that the main source of intelligent intrigue wasn't in secondary villain Emil Blonsky, though Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs) handles the concentration extremely well as he escalates into The Incredible Hulk's more immediate threat. He's a veteran soldier that General Ross pegs as the man to bring down the Hulk once they discover his whereabouts, as well as a man not averse to some further "enhancements" to his biological arsenal. Those familiar with the comics will know that Blonsky eventually transforms into Abomination, a Hulk-like creature that combines Banner's blood with the initial serum that powers Blonsky forward in his first couple of battles. As can be expected, this growing tension from Banner's ticking-timebomb problems and Blonsky's thirst for power boil to a battle between goliaths. It becomes a furiously entertaining sort of epic battle reminiscent of Godzilla-scale luridness, which keeps the audience similarly distanced from any form of humanity between the two characters.

But, make no mistake; The Incredible Hulk indulges its bloodthirsty audience in concentrated page-to-screen entertainment, taking it to such a degree that makes it worth getting wrapped up in its deafening clash of titans. Some early critiques on a few photographs started a spread of dissatisfaction with the visual rendering of this new Incredible Hulk, even going so far as to say that the original Hulk frame was superior. In still shots, this can be true -- but in motion, I was rather impressed with the big olive / grayish-green guy and all of the veins lacing within his flexing frame. Rhythm and Hues visual effects house intermingles with cinematographer Pete Menzias Jr.'s shots in pragmatic, cohesive fashion, which work to make The Hulk's twitching muscles and erratic movement seem somewhat tangible. Yet, the substance in his rendering is about as thick as the substance within The Incredible Hulk in itself -- agreeably enthralling, but still a few steps shy from the real deal.

Deleted Scenes:

However, The Incredible Hulk could very well become the real deal through a return to the editing room (read: chopping block). It's important to address the deleted scenes in The Incredible Hulk: 3-Disc Special Edition DVD early because, plain and simple, they accomplish two things: 1) they justify the purchase of the Special Edition of The Hulk, easily; and 2) they illustrate the fact that The Incredible Hulk -- though it would've still been second banana to Iron Man in the Marvel universe's corral for summertime cash, as well as third banana overall when taking The Dark Knight into consideration -- would've been a much more gripping feature. But here's the kicker: unless I missed something, aside from the Alternate Opening discussed later, none of the deleted material contains the Hulk himself.

One option that Universal and Marvel should persue is a second DVD / Blu-ray release for The Incredible Hulk that contains these new scenes spliced into its narrative. Call it an Extended Cut, Director's Cut, "Edward Norton Cut", call it whatever seems most marketable; but to release a cut of the film with this removed material would turn a semi-vapid piece of entertainment into a very strong, cohesive hybrid picture that, I believe, would still work extremely well with the Hulk's mythos. Plus, I have the strong suspicion that I wouldn't be the sole person desiring such a cut after taking a gander at this material.

The deleted scenes on the first disc -- believed to be the exact same disc as the single-disc version since there's no annotation of "Disc 1" on the disc itself -- concentrate more on little mundane extensions, stuff that'd be nice to have but isn't as crucial as the stuff on the second disc. Total, these deleted scenes span over thirteen (13) minutes. On Disc 2, we're served twenty-nine (29!) more minutes of deleted material which, put bluntly, are all practical tragedies for being stripped from the film. Whether or not this is the material that came under scrutiny when the film was being edited is somewhat ambiguous, but there's a ton of good stuff here. It elaborates on Betty and Bruce's character emotions and what not, but it also makes Ross' boyfriend Leonard come to the surface. Most importantly, the deleted scenes here answer and/or elaborate on 90-95% of the grievances that left me unsatisfied at the end of the film.

In total, that's around fourty-two (42) minutes of chopped material that, to be honest, is like slicing the beef from the fat on a steak and throwing away half the beef, or like cutting up a florette of broccoli and ridding half the top with the stalk. It's all nourishing, effective material that certainly deserves to see the light of day in another medium other than the deleted scenes on this disc. It's a shame, too; considering continuity, lead-in, and lead-out, it'd be overwhelmingly easy for Universal to slap together this projected new edition. All it'd take is a little work in the color timing department, making it progressive (since all the scenes are interlaced anamorphic), and slapping a sticker on it for sale. Maybe with the release of one of next year's Marvel summer blockbusters, they'll consider an Incredible Hulk: Director's Cut.

SPOILER ALERT: View Film First


Deleted Scenes on Disc 1:

Bruce in Brazil (3:11) -- Adds scenic shots of Bruce running in the wilderness and up towards his town, mostly for pure atmosphere.

Bruce Meditates (:47) -- Atmosphere once again, but strong atmosphere that adds to the initial moments of the film.

Searching for the Flower (:41) -- An important deletion that connects Banner with his connection for the first flower he discovers in the film.

Building the Lab (1:34) -- If you're curious how Bruce built that rickety tube-spinning device in his Brazilian house, then this is the deleted scene for you. It shows off his intelligence and resourcefulness, but it also adds some further intriguing atmosphere.

After the Bottling Factory / General Greller (2:50) -- This first fragment is a scene that takes place shortly after the initial raid to locale Banner. It's actually a pretty weak scene for Hurt, one that would've flubbed his character a bit. The second half, though, gives Roth a great span of material that marvels at the size of the Hulk, as well as teasing about Hulk's colors. It even has a reference to Moby Dick in this span.

Ross and Blonskey Conspire [Extended] (4:38) -- This was one of the weaker, more bluntly executed scenes in the original cut. Here, there's a lot more elaboration on Ross' motives. It gives both Hurt and Roth great material, though it does ramble a bit long for concentration.

Deleted Scenes on Disc 2:

Bruce Delivers Pizza (1:46) -- In this scene, we follow Banner as he delivers pizzas for Stanley's, which includes helping a group of college kids out with their homework and nearly stomping down the door of a few self-absorbed sorority girls. Nothing essential, but great for connecting with Banner.

The Computer Lab (0:52) -- Here, the process of Norton getting into the bottom lab and using the internet makes sense -- as well as adding a dash of humor to the scene.

Bruce and Stanley (:51) -- Here, Stanley and Banner discuss the explosion that closed the school down, as well as showing Banner's ulterior motives for returning outside of visiting Mr. Blue. Adds flesh on Banner's reasoning for returning.

Bruce Meets Leonard (:54) -- Adds dash of Ross' boyfriend and his profession, but operates mainly as a bridge to introduce the two men.

Bruce and Betty Talk (3:20) -- Extended Sequence that gives MUCH more side character to both. It introduces questionability around the crazy scientist Mr. Blue early. Makes presentation of data stick so much more cohesive. Most important, Banner reveals to Betty HOW he found out from Ross' father that he wants to use him as a weapon, where it was flat and undeveloped before. Pretty darn significant.
Disc 2 Deleted Scenes, con't:

Dinner With Bruce (1:30) -- This bit adds emotionality and desire for safety to Banner, thus weakening his already weak character. It also slaps more flesh on Leonard. Wonderful.

The Orchid (1:26) -- Shows gift Banner gave to Ross from Brazil, fleshes out idea that Ross knew where he was.

Betty and Leonard (:33) -- Simple show of emotionality between Ross and Leonard in an embrace.

Bruce and Leonard Material (4:18) -- Remember the conversation from the trailer, between Banner and Leonard? This is it. And it's a very good character builder for Leonard, as well as to the dynamic with Betty and Banner with idea of "dark corners". He's really not a character that deserved to be severed from the film, as he adds another facet to Betty's life outside of Bruce.

Bruce's Guilt(1:47) -- Self-explanatory title, it elaborates on his guilt over developing the gamma manipulation and the scientists' tinkering with nature's design.

Nature's Mystery (3:02) -- Conversation with General and Assistant soldier. Depth of character builder. Typically great hurt, but it deviates from the tone of the General. Doesn't matter. Should've been kept in. Introduces idea of Hulk having "no agenda", as well as the messages of God in Hulk's power. Compelling, overdrawn, but solid.

Motel Room Conversation (1:21) -- Elaborates on the mood after Bruce and Betty couldn't make love. Illustrates Bruce's inability to heal wounds, though Hulk can. Shows Betty's scars from the accident

Ross and Greller (1:26) -- Extended conversation with associated General. Illustrates more intrigue behind Ross' soldier manipulation, as well as further knowledge that implies the soldier knowledge was a bit more widely-known that originally implied.

Pawn Shop (:25) -- Confirms Betty sold her necklace. Adds further emphasis on her and Bruce's connection to it, which is elaborated late in the movie.

On the Hulk Hunt (1:25) -- Features a helicopter ride to city in search of Banner. Adds little character dynamic between Ross and Blonsky, but nothing detrimental.

Ross and Sparr (2:38) -- Nice conversation between Ross and his assistant soldier, also beefs up General and daughter Ross' conversation outside of helicopter. It has a FANTASTIC line highlighting Betty's slam on the truth behind Papa Ross' motives that absolutely should not have been cut.

Leonard Calls Betty (1:49) -- Possibly the most important deleted scene for continuity sake; affirms the fact that Leonard ratted Banner out to the government, which drew the soldiers to them at the park that was otherwise unexplained. Leaves much less to assumption


The DVD:

Universal has sent over their Three-Disc Special Edition of The Incredible Hulk for evaluation, which comes with somewhat spoiler-sh coverart that conveys the feel of the film well. It comes with a slightly-raised slipcover, which enhances the aesthetic feel of the package, but each and every one of the three discs in the set has a silver top with line-green writing. Attrative outside, but disappointing inside.

The Video:

The Incredible Hulk harnessed a grand scale of visual development, certainly, but it's also a attractively-photographed film. In its 2.35:1 widescreen presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions, it looks about the way you'd expect a highly-refined Hollywood blockbuster to look without too much in the "wow" department. There's a lot of solid color usage in the film, which is undoubtedly its strong suit since they all come out with bold solidity. Of course, the digitally-rendered elements looks a bit stronger than its surrounding points; when it comes to the shading and textures on both Hulk's and Abominations bodies, there's very little detail that doesn't come out at the screen. The native film elements, though, displayed a little more noise than I'd like. Edge enhancement peeks its ugly head out here and there during the transfer, but it only creates a mild mucky border around certain lines. Overall, regarding the rendering of details and black levels along with everything above, this somewhat dark transfer packs a meaty punch that'll satisfy those desiring a similar experience to that of the theater.

The Audio:

The Incredible Hulk'a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, however, accomplishes everything that it sets out to do with tight, boisterous bass and crisp high-range effects. There's a lot of sound activity present in the Incredible Hulk, both in traditional explosive effects and in some rather unique usage of reverberations and sonic flutters. There's a scene where Hulk is fending off the potent sound waves, which absolutely fills the room with lush, vibrant bass that flutters in every direction. The dialogue and musical mixing can get a little touch-and-go, though -- not because they are handled poorly, but because both fight for attention on-screen. However, this is only an occasional flaw in this supportive aural architecture. Along with an English 2.0 Stereo track, 5.1 tracks area available in English, Spanish, and French, while optional subtitles for all the aformentioned languaged are also available. One final option is a "DVS" track, which creates an audio presentation for visually impaired individuals.

The Extras:

Aside from the Deleted Scenes, we're also treated to an expansive supplements package that contains a wealth of material to be discussed. It ranges from graphics rendering and production, all the way to the climate conditions at the individual filming locations. It's an exceedingly solid array of supplements that highlight all the attributes that would intrigue most viewers about The Incredible Hulk's assembly.

On Disc 1:

Commentary with Louis Leterrier and Tim Roth:
Here, the film's director and core villain actor discuss the film in a very relaxed fashion, which is normally the case when a director and actor sit down and evaluate thir film. Leterrier name drops a bit amid his elaboration, but also gives nice detailed tidbits about filming in the bottling factory along with some of his interesting camera techniques

On Disc 2 ...

Alternate Opening:

Taken from bits and pieces learned from the other supplements on this disc, it seems like this Alternate Opening was opted against purely due to the grim nature of its content. It features Banner traveling to the cold North, trekking out over mountains and icy terrains to an open patch, then proceed to pull out a gun in an attempt at suicide. Makes sense, considering the fact that the lower temperatures would, assumedly, constrict his blood flow to a point where he couldn't "hulk" out. But that, however, isn't the primary reason many are interested in this deleted scene: it's for this fleeting still shot that shows a frozen visage of Captain America in the ice shard on the lower-left corner -- one that, nanoseconds later, flies at the screen due to Banner's failed attempt at keeping the Hulk from coming to the surface during this moment.

Making of Incredible Hulk:
30 Minute featurette. Discusses full nature of Edward Norton's love for Incredible Hulk, as well as his impact on assembling the other characters. Focuses on cool production design, especially the bottling plant Consumer's Glass that became multifaceted during shooting, and finding ways to coordinate with locations -- such as with the aircraft used in the film. Coolest part is the emphasis on the Mercedes Steadycam unit and the process of filming the final explosive scene over four days (!), as well as other techniques Leterrier used to film the picture. Great assembly feature.

Becoming the Hulk:
Nearly 10-minute featurette that concentrates heavily on building the Hulk. There's a massive amount of lineage behind the assembly that looks back on previous designs. One of the best things about Universal owning rights to both films is the availability to compare all concepts of the build, especially to tAng Lee's previous effort. It shows how they conformed his size, process in deciding his hair design, everything. It also shows how Edward Norton participated in the capturing, to the unusually interesting capture technology implemented through the phosphorous make-up on Norton's face. It's incredible to see the amount of investment Norton pushed into this film.

Becoming the Abomination:
Essentially, you can take the previous paragraph, copy the material and paste it here with Abomination replacing Hulk. There's a lot of emphasis on making Abomination feel different from the film's core creature. Tim Roth is close as involved in Abomination's rendering as Norton was with The Hulk, illustrated by quality interview material with the actor and footage of him doing motion-capture for the monster. Great supplemental feature to the previous one.

Anatomy of a Hulk-Out:
Total of about 28 minutes of featurettes that cover the transformation sequences involving Hulk in three locations: bottling plant, at the college, and in Harlem -- which is practically half the film.

From Comic Book to Screen:
This featurette reminds me a lot of the Flash-style artwork used for Tim Burton's narration of his original poem on the Nightmare Before Christmas DVD. It illustrates a scene from the comic in a similar fashion to the way it is presented in the movie (the cavern rain scene).

On Disc 3, there's no other materials outside of the Digital Copy of the film that comes packaged in a white sleeve tucked into the case's inner tabs.


Final Thoughts:

Calling The Incredible Hulk a "missed opportunity" wouldn't be accurate, as it undoubtedly wraps up the viewer in explosive entertainment mixed with shards of thoughtful mythos within its non-stop rhythm. It's a kinetic, to-the-point visual treat that shies away from exposition in fear of rambling about the narrative too much -- like its eschewed predecessor. But there's an overwhelming feeling that there could have been more to it; though it glosses over plot holes and overall reason, The Incredible Hulk's bombastic nature makes you care less and less as its adrenaline levels spike higher. The film itself is Recommended.

Universal's comprehensive package provides an ample viewing experience rich with lively visuals and thunderous sound levels. The supplements, however, are what make this multi-disc set worth the money, as everything from assembling the Hulk to shooting locations are elaborated on ti great depth. But the show-stealer is the range of deleted scenes, only partially visible on the single-disc version. In those respects, this package comes with a High Recommendation for the experience in illustrating both the work that went into The Incredible Hulk as it appears on screen -- and the work that didn't make it to the theaters.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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