J.D. Lafrance


September 1, 2001

Director: Ang Lee,
Starring: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte, Paul Kersey, Cara Buono, Todd Tesen, Kevin O. Rankin, Celia Weston, Mike Erwin, Lou Ferrigno, Stan Lee, Regi Davis, Craig Damon, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

The last of the really huge comic properties gets its modern day movie magic treatment, and HULK is something of a strange result. If Universal were expecting a Spider-Man or X-Men styled actioner then they’ll be markedly disappointed, but then hiring Ang Lee for the project should have told them what they were going to get. HULK is a slow, pondering, thoughtful movie that stays loyal to its origins and its comic heritage. Much like a comic, the story is dense and tangled, with non-linear sequences gradually giving away the information required to formulate an opinion. The characterisation is strong, and the acting solid, yet for those who have never read a decent comic in the past the film is a tough one to understand. This movie is very much for the fans, and is a confusing property for the casual viewer.

The technique of using split screen is one that is sparsely used in film, yet is commonplace in the comic book world. Ang Lee was very mindful of using the split screen correctly, and indeed wanted to use it more but was facing studio resistance. Some of the uses of the technique are quite brilliant, in particular one scene that shows the reactions of Betty, Bruce Banner and Talbot at the same time. This technique though may have been hard to read for those unfamiliar with comics, as many of the conventions of film itself were hard for viewers to understand when the medium was invented.

In time we can probably expect to see split screen used more in film, as audiences begin to understand its uses and meanings.

During production the images of the HULK itself were kept tightly under wraps, as this is where the film really delivers its money shots. The CGI on the HULK has been criticised for looking too cartoonish, which is fair comment, as digital effects haven’t yet reached a point where they can accurately replace a human actor. The CGI agent Smith’s in The Matrix Reloaded were rigid and blocky, and let’s not forget the satanic image that is Ja-Ja Binks. The HULK shows far more humanity than any of those, as the facial expressions were worked on heavily and used by Ang Lee to convey very complex emotional moments.

Still the overall appearance of the HULK looked as if it had been lifted from the cartoon series, and almost had that Roger Rabbit feel to it when he interacted with live action sequences and actors.

The cast more than played their part in the film too, rather than just leave everything up to the effects team. Unlike some comic book adaptations where performances can get a little jovial, Ang Lee kept his actors under a tight reign. Sam Eliot, who has in the past been guilty of over egging his omelettes, played his role straight and true, for which he should be commended.

Eric Bana too gave the gentleness required to Bruce Banner, although he did throw up an interesting dilemma of character. When Banner becomes the HULK, it is supposed to be because his emotions have been frayed to the point where he has lost control and turned into this rage filled being. The HULK however always seemed to be in control and knew the difference between right and wrong, he never harmed anyone and certainly never harmed Betty Ross. When he turned back into Banner however he nearly choked Betty as he remembered what the HULK had done. It seemed as though she was more at risk from Banner that from the HULK.

I feel I can’t mention the actors from HULK with focusing on Jennifer Connelly; she is one of the most attractive actresses currently working in film. What’s so staggering though, is that she is genuinely a great actress. Her understated performance against a fictional colossal monster gave the film some much-needed grounding, but enough about Nick Nolte; she acted well next to the HULK as well.

One failing HULK may be accused of is its overly long running time. It does seem as though the film gets just a little self-indulgent in places and could have benefited from some cutting down. This is open to argument however as it all depends on what you’re after. If it’s straight forward action like Spider-Man then HULK certainly could have done with a good thirty minutes cut out, but if it’s a more thoughtful movie true to the traditions of the comic then maybe HULK was spot on.

I must confess I’m undecided about it. I personally like the film immensely, more so than Spider-Man and X-Men, yet I can see how it has justly come in for criticism. I guess it’s a matter of taste in this case, as HULK is very much a fan’s film and is difficult to digest by the non-comic initiated.

Special Features

The features on this disc are unusual for most films, they’re actually very interesting and honest! I refer specifically to the Dog Fight scene featurette, where Ang Lee presents a story board for a sequence that he wanted to do, only to be told in a meeting by the producers that they’ll only green light a quarter of the scene. They actually show this meeting too, and Ang looks rather disappointed at the outcome. It shows that they perhaps had a lack of faith in him and the box office potential of the film to curtain one of his major action sequences in this way.

There’s a special feature on the editing of the film, where they show how new editing techniques were created purely for the film. Now, the techniques worked great in the movie, and were one of the strongest aspects of the film, but when they cut them all together for this featurette it’s very nauseating.

There’s a featurette entitled the Incredible Ang Lee where the cast show how they had total faith in him as a director. Eric Bana even didn’t understand some sequences when they were being filmed, but trusted in Ang that he was doing the right thing and just concentrated on his performance. There are few directors who inspire that level of faith in their cast. Ang Lee even donned the motion capture suit himself to give his animators the motion of the HULK to animate to. When he couldn’t describe what he wanted, he just did it himself, so when you see the HULK smashing things up, that’s Ang Lee himself – animated over of course.

The Deleted Scenes show an even greater level of characterisation, particularly from Bana and Connelly. There was even a speaking role for the HULK TV star Lou Ferrigno that was cut, but it’s not hard to see why that time. If you didn’t know Lou Ferrigno and HULK creator Stan Lee had a cameo in the film as security guards exiting the lab as Banner entered.

The Evolution of the HULK shows the history of the HULK within Marvel comics, and his progression to present day. This is a great little featurette for any comic fan as Stan Lee tells how he created the HULK, and talks about his influences. Notice how the first HULK looked a lot like the Frankenstein monster, who he was actually based on as a premise!

Much like the Spider-Man DVD, this DVD features a lot of comic styled animations and references. There’s even a gallery of comic art that shows how famed HULK artists interpret scenes from the film. The art is great, but why is a more interesting question.

One of the cute special features is a very short teaser trailer for the upcoming Thunderbirds movie, showing Thunderbird 2 landing next to the Houses of Parliament. The effects are a little blocky and cartoony, but it’s early to tell if that’s the finished article. It’s nice to see though.

As well as all of these great featurettes, we still get a making of documentary on top. This features the usual specific areas of interest, stunts, ILM, music


J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 91%



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