To say comic-based movies have had a resurgence is like saying The Incredible Hulk has a skin-tone issue. After the Superman films in the 1980s, comic-inspired films hit an impasse that only included the Batman films, a franchise that (oddly enough) has also been resurrected as an outstanding duo of films. Ben Affleck got in on the action as Daredevil, and Robert Downey Jr. took his turn as Iron Man. But for the latest version of The Incredible Hulk, none other than Edward Norton has taken the lead. Really? Edward Norton? Yes. But to understand why Norton took the role, it’s important to understand the premise of the new The Incredible Hulk from Universal Pictures, which recently released on Blu-ray Disc.
The first Hulk movie featured a CGI character running through the desert smashing things. Sure, it was thematically sound, but the desert setting didn’t give the character a true sense of scale, and the focus on “Hulk smash!” removed any semblance of humanity from the Hulk as, well, a person. Enter Edward Norton. As Bruce Banner, Norton portrays a new type of Hulk, one whose rage is viewed less as a novelty and more as a burden that Banner wants to overcome. In fact, most of The Incredible Hulk is spent exploring Banner’s drive to “cure” himself, whether it be through yoga, meditation, avoidance or a good old-fashioned injection.
While looking for his love interest and one-time lab partner, Betty Ross (played by Liv Tyler), Banner finds himself on the run from a U.S. General (William Hurt) obsessed with replicating Banner’s blood to create a supersoldier, as well as the prey of a curious assassin (Tim Roth). With the military in hot pursuit, Banner undergoes a radiation treatment that he believes cures him of his Hulkness. Unfortunately, just after he’s “cured,” the assassin is transformed into the Abomination, a 15-foot-tall experiment-gone-wrong creature created from a mutated version of the Hulk’s DNA. Talk about timing; Murphy’s Law would be proud. So, while being carted off by the General, Banner jumps from the helicopter, “forces” himself to turn into the Hulk and defeats the Abomination. If this sounds pretty outlandish, that’s because it is. And we wouldn’t have our Hulk-based movies any other way.
The thing is, amid all this action, what really carries the film is its narrative exploration of Bruce Banner and his emotional side, not the bang-it-all-to-Hell action that drove the first Hulk film several years ago. Sure, seeing the Hulk use police cars as boxing gloves makes for good entertainment and what ends up being the best climax for any superhero movie. But watching Banner’s attempts to control the Hulk, particularly as he learns to do so at the end, brings an element of intrigue and depth to The Incredible Hulk that I frankly didn’t expect.
Fortunately, watching this narrative exposition unfold amid the on-screen action is as outstanding as the acting, as the AVC-encoded 1080p video absolutely jumps with color. Every color of the spectrum pops from the screen in vibrant, saturated hues, and the blacks show incredible depth while still retaining contrast and detail. Seldom is there any noticeable grain, although two instances — the first ride inside a helicopter and the aerial shots of Manhattan — do look quite rough. Other than those two scenes, though, The Incredible Hulk provides more than a dozen “demo-quality” sequences to show off your HDTV.
The DTS-HD Master Audio picks up where the video leaves off, with every channel picking up even the smallest environmental and surround-sound nuance (bullet casings hitting the ground is one of the best effects in the film). Universal’s audio engineers have also done a great job balancing the dialogue volumes; never do voices seem inordinately quiet, nor are they drowned-out by noisier explosions or vehicles. This is a nice and surprising development, considering the loud “crash-bang-boom” subject of the film and the common need to adjust volume levels manually as you go from scene to scene in an action film.
The Blu-ray bonus features on The Incredible Hulk are also solid, though a few of them seem somewhat forced. The first feature is U-Control, a picture-in-picture track that Universal generally includes with its Blu-ray releases that runs concurrent with the movie. Similar to a popup track, the U-Control injects video, photographic and informational tidbits whenever relevant. Well, normally that’s the case. For The Incredible Hulk, Universal has gone all-out, with PiP elements, an Animated Comic, a Comic Book Gallery, a Scene Explorer that breaks down each scene and “Thunderbolt Files,” a series of background documents from the General that amounts to a dossier of Banner and the Hulk. For a U-Control track, this content is of Hulk-like proportions.
The Alternate Opening (2:34, HD) is a serious alternate, as it starts in the frozen wilderness of Alaska rather than in Brazil, where the theatrical release opens. In this opening, Banner is hiking through the mountains rather than bottling soda in a factory. You half expect to see Superman’s ice place up there. In this opening, Banner is going to commit suicide, but as his pulse naturally quickens, he becomes the Hulk and fails in his attempt. This would’ve truly been a weird opening, and may have been categorized as an alternate ending, after Banner realizes he can never truly regain his old life.
The Deleted Scenes in The Incredible Hulk easily surpass any such bonus feature you’ve ever seen on Blu-ray. Totaling 42:45, these 23 scenes span the entire film, from the opening in Brazil to the ending, and they’re all divided by chapter, so it’s easy to navigate from scene to scene. It’s obvious that these scenes were all cut early on, for multiple reasons. First, they’re all in 480p MPEG-2 format, so their resolution is poor, particularly in light of the incredible quality of the feature film’s video. Second, the audio is strictly a two-channel affair. Third, the video is completely free from any semblance of post-production work, as indicated by the poor contrast and lack of color saturation. Many of the earlier scenes, like Banner doing yoga or building his chemistry set, were justifiably cut. But most of the scenes in the middle of the film, such as Banner interacting with Betty’s new boyfriend or the General talking with his second in command, would’ve really added some good context or exposition to the main work. As a result, the last two-thirds of these deleted scenes are a must watch.
The Making of Incredible Hulk (29:54) is a traditional making-of feature with extensive behind-the-scenes footage intermixed with interviews with the director, producers and the key cast members. It’s interesting to hear that Edward Norton didn’t originally want the job as Bruce Banner, but once he really gets going in the interviews, it’s obvious that he made the role his own. It’s amazing how much behind-the-scenes footage is included in this bonus feature, but also how much the cast and crew interacted with the cameramen shooting it all. The only odd aspect of this feature is that it’s “brought to you by Volkswagen.” Pardon me? That’s as random a marketing deal as I’ve ever seen. Banner doesn’t even drive a VW! I suppose VW did get its money’s worth, though; their sponsorship was noticeable enough to get me to mention it.
Becoming the Hulk (9:22) covers the character design through behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the visual effects people. In this feature, we learn about everything from character models to hair styles to establishing a sense of height that’s more realistic than the Ang Lee film (the Hulk’s nine feet tall in this film). What’s most interesting about this feature, though, is its illustration of just how good the Hulk looks. You don’t necessarily realize it while watching the movie, but this feature shows side-by-side shots of the CGI Hulk characters from the first movie and this one, and it’s amazing how much the technology has evolved. The feature also goes into detail about some new motion-capture technology they used for this film that allowed them to use (and manipulate) Norton’s own expressions on the Hulk, making it more organic. Seeing the expressions come to life in this feature gives you a new appreciation for the detail in the film.
Becoming the Abomination (10:16) takes a different look at creature creation, as it focuses more on choreography and motion capture than it does facial animations and hairstyle discussions. Part of this is because there was simply so much motion capture with the Abomination character, but you can’t help but get the feeling that this feature runs about twice as long as it should have. They do mention and show some of the facial-capture makeup technology, but it seems like they do so more out of formality’s sake than a sincere desire to talk about it with this character.
Anatomy of a Hulk-Out (27:50) is a breakdown of three scenes that shows exactly how they created the transformation of Banner and the resulting destruction. There’s also some discussion of filmmaking technique, as the director talks about why he made his decisions to film certain scenes a specific way. These scenes are far from simple CG porn fests; they’ve got a lot of pneumatics, lighting, CG and stuntman information. It’s a must-watch for making-of junkies.
From Comic Book to Screen (6:33) is an innovative animated comic/storyboard sequence that shows the scene in which Hulk nurses Betty back to health in the rain-soaked cave. This storyboard is really well done, both from an animation and audio standpoint, and it’s a fun, albeit different, take on the scene from the film.
The final two bonus features are a Feature-Length Commentary with Director Louis Leterrier and Tim Roth and BD-Live features. The most noticeable BD-Live feature is “My Chat,” which is less of a feature, per se, than a playback mode. My Chat lets you watch the movie while talking with other My Chat users, which you can do if you’ve already signed up for a My Chat account. For anonymous users, the only BD-Live options available consist of four previews, two for Universal Blu-ray Discs and two for Universal theatrical or TV releases: Hellboy II, Heroes Season 1 & 2, Role Models and Heroes Season 3.
Although it’s tempting to dismiss The Incredible Hulk as a me-too superhero film, it’s actually got more character depth and honest-to-God “acting” than we ever expected. Couple this pleasant surprise with an exquisite video and audio presentation and a wealth of bonus features, and you’ve got a Blu-ray Disc that’s definitely worth adding to your collection.
Buy Incredible Hulk on Blu-ray from Amazon.com
- Score: 9
- More depth than expected and some of the highest-quality video this side of Transformers. Good audio and bonus features are simply icing on the cake.
— Jonas Allen