The title is fairly ironic on this day given Lou Ferrigno celebrated his 60th birthday in 2011 yesterday as this affectionate coverage for a 1970s classic, The Incredible Hulk, continues.
In SciFiNow, Johnson knew The Hulk would need adversaries, but it was not his intention to generate doppelgangers often associated with the comic book. The Rhino and The Abomination come to mind. Johnson wanted to keep things grounded in reality. Thus, conflict arrived in the form of gun-toting baddies and wild bears. These are not wildly exciting opponents as The Hulk goes especially in terms of the kind of flashy cinema and budget-laden effects made available today.
Speaking to the imagination of Marvel, Stan Lee, who was offering advice and creative consultation to Johnson, thought the bear should be a robot bear. As a result, Johnson's The Incredible Hulk would be incredibly grounded. Thankfully, Johnson stuck to his creative instincts and steered clear of the robot bear concept. The Incredible Hulk [1977-1982], while not a perfect series, in retrospect, would have been particularly ludicrous had a robot bear made the cut.
Johnson gave Lee a logical explanation concerning his decision to keep the bear real. It exemplifies the leap from comics to film and why, once again, we accept the outlandish comic art and leaping Hulk-isms of the comic book versus its transference to film where the human eye processes images differently. It speaks directly to some who lack the ability to fully accept CGI, like myself, as a solution to the Hulk's creation. "Let me explain why it shouldn't be a robot bear. We're already asking the audience to buy that Bill Bixby transforms into Lou Ferrigno. That is a humongous buy for the audience. If you then ask them to believe that there are robot bears, you've lost the adult audience." That is an astute preliminary assessment and one, if not heeded, would have decimated any chance the series would move beyond a young audience and a single season of television.
Johnson was able to instill a vision that gave viewers pause and reason to suspend disbelief. His wise perspective delivered a powerhouse drama with periods of action for five seasons. After all, young fans back in the day, like myself, appreciated The Incredible Hulk as much for Bill Bixby's dramatic turn as they did for Ferrigno's action sequences. Kids were definitely not given the benefit of the doubt. There was little faith by some that children could break a series like The Incredible Hulk down within its emotional context. But as young people subject to divorce, loss and a host of other traumas somehow we understood the darker tones of the series' subject matter.
Space:1999 [1975-1978] is another fine example, during the same period, whereby young people connected to the sobering and sometimes grim tone of its weighty material. There was no need to dumb it down for Year Two. Earlier science fiction programs like Lost In Space never quite understood that youthful intelligence and transformed the rather solid science fiction roots of Season One into something far more camp and silly while certainly no less fun among other colorful strengths.
It was easy to connect with the warm face and heart of the late Bill Bixby. Young people, as much as adults, understood and even related to the lonely journey of Bill Bixby's David Banner. Bixby, as he did for kids in The Courtship Of Eddie's Father, gave comfort. Walking those lonely roads spoke to us and informed us that we were not alone on our own young little journies.
The second pilot film and second official episode was The Incredible Hulk, Season One, Episode 2, Death In The Family, and it was a mighty thrill in 1977. Executive producer Kenneth Johnson returned scripting once again with the sophomore effort. The series was threaded by its lead of Bill Bixby embodying the image of Dr. David Banner, the lonely man, hitchhiking his way across the country in search of a cure for that inner demon that would see Banner undergo metamorphosis into Lou Ferrigno's The Hulk.
Remember when hitchhiking was considered a semi-safe form of transportation? I'm not sure it was ever completely safe, but it was definitely a more acceptable part of the national pasttime and it always appeared that the road was a metaphor for true American freedom. This was of course my interpretation of the open road until my mother would frequently remind me that hitching a ride with a stranger could lead to an inevitably violent death by butcher knife into several tiny pieces. Needless to say, I've never been as brave as David when it comes to hitting that road.
The story opens with Banner sporting a five o'clock shadow shading slightly more toward eleven o'clock. Banner is making his way to the Everett Memorial Hospital in Everett, California in the hopes of working out his personal problem with their advanced radiological unit.
Never a good sign for anyone around David Banner. Trouble is about to go down. The search for that affliction, that thorn in his side that is The Hulk, would lead Banner on an epic journey as creators would immerse the lonely Banner character into a host of wonderful stories. Those stories would oscillate somewhere between behavior and emotion. The variety of relationships Banner would forge would be at the center of this long-running series. Banner's long road was the perfect device and symbol for the series and its exploration of the character.
The Incredible Hulk could have been just another man-into-monster episode-of-the-week, but Johnson and others ensured their character was handled with sensitivity and substance. This approach assured The Incredible Hulk's survival for five strong seasons, 82 episodes and three tele-films. It also confirmed a staunch committment to the role by Bixby.
Unlike a number of series from the 1960s and 1970s, Wonder Woman included, The Incredible Hulk is a stand out that holds up to scrutiny watching it decades after its arrival and after Bixby's passing.
Johnson's Banner is driven by a desire to help others, not just himself, especially those who can't always help themselves.
One of Johnson's great strengths as a writer is his ability to skillfully capture the simple human moments, which resonate and draw us into the characters.
Banner's arrival in Everett has him stumble upon a physically-disabled girl in an orchard. The girl, Julie, recounts her relationship with her late father also named David [meaning beloved]. She passes out in the citrus groves, which inevitably keeps David around a little longer than expected.
Gerald McRaney [Jericho] guests for the first of four series' installments.
Upon rescuing Julie and returning her home Banner discovers she is being administered a drug called Myostatin. The liquid is pink. Banner informs the attendant nurse that Myostatin is actually "a clear liquid."
Julie asks for David to stay. They offer him a job as a picker on the citrus plantation. He obliges and introduces himself as David Benton.
There's undeniably trouble in paradise and the honorable David Banner, a true hero and savior, appears intent on getting to the bottom of it.
Later, David discovers Julie's mother, Miss Griffith, is actually her step-mother [oh and this one is wicked]. It turns out Julie is an heiress to a fortune. Her healthy father was suspiciously killed in a freak boat explosion. A man rescued Julie from the flames. Banner understands the toll of losing a loved one.
Julie's improper medical care forces David to have a few words with the step-mother. As always Bill Bixby delivers his shining work.
Those Banner jeans look remarkably GAP fresh. Julie's physician is played by William Daniels [St. Elsewhere, Knight Rider]. Miss Griffith and the doctor have criminally designed a plan to kill Julie. Denny, played by McRaney, appears to be the heavy, but is protective of Julie led to believe Banner may be a problem. Denny is told an attraction by David to Julie frightens her.
A misguided Denny attempts to send Banner, masquerading as Benton, packing and things turn ugly as one might expect them to on The Incredible Hulk from time to time. Tempers flare. Anger ensues. The Hulk arrives. You know how this is going down.
Following the melee, Banner heads off into the night calming his fiery inner Hulk and sits down at a campfire with a bourbon-infused man who is a little uncertain about the creature that sits before him. Is it real or a figment of his inebriated imagination? Perhaps the demonic symbol of the bottle. The Hulk is given a leg of chicken and he eats it the whole chicken "bones and all."
Following a quick exit by The Hulk into the woods, Banner returns, in jeans. That's one thing we've never understood. Where are the tattered jeans? How does a size 36 waist appear to fit both Banner and The Hulk without a single tear? Oh, well. It's that leap of faith. If there's any homage to the world of comic books it would have to be in the unforgiving logic of those unalterable pants.
So Banner is taken in by a mountain hermit wearing a medal of valor. His name is Michael. Michael is no doubt the same mystery man who once saved Julie from the burning boat. He's a sympathetic soul with a great deal of internal pain.
Denny is hospitalized, as a result of The Hulk's actions, and Banner pays him a visit at the hospital. Unknown to Banner, upon exiting, reporter Jack McGee visits moments later.
Banner continues his masquerade as David Benchley visiting the radiological unit as a representative from Rowe Scientific, the makers of the new unit. Banner happens upon the office of John Bonifant, Julie's treating physician. He breaks into his office and pulls Julie's file. Banner hides in the office closet as Bonifant and Miss Griffith enter.
The beauty and the beast variable. Banner listens only to confirm his hunch. Griffith and Bonifant are doctoring x-rays and slowly killing Julie. These are truly disturbed, sick and evil people. Bonifant suspects two more doses and Julie should be pushing up daisies. It is also revealed that Bonifant and Griffith have been in cahoots since the "bungled" boat explosion. Julie should be dead. Bonifant's plan is to make Julie's death appear natural.
After their departure, Banner grabs Julie's file and runs. He is chased by Bonifant and steals his car heading off to get Julie. Banner attempts to save Julie, but she's hysterical with fear and angers Banner into his alter ego. He transforms into The Hulk. The Hulk smashes through the bedroom wall to the outside. This is a beautiful touch, because instead of simply smashing through the window, the creators have The Hulk literally smash through the wall. This is The Hulk after all and he can do anything and should indeed smash through walls.
The Hulk races into the swamps with Julie and her self-serving step-mother assures she won't get out alive. At rest The Hulk transitions back to Banner. At least his shirt remains ripped.
Banner insists those caring for her are trying to kill her. "You've got to trust me," Banner insists. "Trust you?! I'm scared to death of you!" proclaims Julie. "One minute you're a nice gentle man," the next a green raging beast, that as Banner points out, never hurt her.
Griffith, Bonifant and two handy men are all in on the planned murder of Julie. Banner makes efforts to get Julie to the authorities and finds Michael. Julie remembers Michael. Michael doesn't want to get involved, but sometimes we have no choice. He knows the truth and Julie pleads for it. Banner asks him to commit to bravery, find courage, but Michael turns in fear.
Meanwhile, McGee assures the local sheriff that this green thing killed Banner and the late Dr. Marks. Elsewhere, as Banner and Julie make their escape, he assures her that she can and will walk, but that she has been poisoned and coupled with brainwashing into believing she can't. He needs her to walk now more than ever. Michael finds them with his change of heart.
Banner recaps his story for Michael and Julie. Michael wishes he had that kind of strength. Banner insists, "Michael, you don't wish you were me, it's like having a demon inside of you." Banner tells Julie it's "psychological" and that she can do it. The trio wade into the water to move downstream.
There goes Smokey! Things get a little hairy literally as they run into a grizzly bear. Yes, Death In The Family is somehow remembered and associated with the great grizzly bear sequence. Banner gets into a tussle with the bear, which, if it wasn't apparently well-trained, would have devoured him. The violent tussle forces Banner's transformation into The Hulk. He goes under water with the bear and emerges The Hulk. There's a nice touch of imagination for the piece. The bear suffers a few bruising licks as well as some green spray paint and a terrible end. Oh well.
I know. It's amusing. I agree. But heck, this was 1970s adventure at its peak and what's a Hulk to do? That was no teddy bear when I was a young boy. That was most assuredly The Hulk dismantling a fully grown, growling grizzly. No animal was harmed in the making of this film. The bear even swims away A-Team style. You have to love how The Hulk tosses that bear like a rag doll though. Of course it was. Now that is true to comic book form. The beauty that is Julie soothes The Hulk's inner savage beast sending him back to puny human status. Banner takes Julie and leaves Michael, bitten by a rattle snake, behind unable to carry both.
Things never go easy as the escaping couple land themselves in quick sand. A good chase through the woods is never good enough without quick sand. How is it I've never come across quick sand in all my life? On television it's as common as a carton of milk. But in all of my wooded travels I've never seen quick sand.
Still some of the coolest eye effects and make-up ever created. Banner depends on Julie to stand and hand him a branch, but she can't and The Hulk returns one last time. Somehow Julie finds a way and pulls off a miracle saving The Hulk from a certain quick sand death. The Hulk is spotted and shots are fired on him. The Hulk loses two of the men to the quick sand. One final henchman is overhead in a chopper firing shots. Fortunately he's a bad shot. Still, The Hulk is mostly impervious. The Hulk pulls out a giant root and tosses it at the chopper sending it spinning into the water. The Hulk saves Julie. Ferrigno always does a splendid job of making the ever-lovin' green-eyed thing incredibly sympathetic.
The final minutes see Michael and Julie looking out for Banner at the hospital at night as he attempts to reverse the process with the radiology unit equipment. Whether or not the experiment worked, "God only knows." It's goodbye and it's David Banner back on the lonely road again, the lonely man.
If one thing is certain, The Incredible Hulk proves that extraordinary adversaries like those in the comic books weren't necessary when the face of evil was so frighteningly ordinary as depicted within us through a host of storylines. Based on just two 90 minute films it was evident there was great potential in the story of Dr. David Banner. In Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno and Kenneth Johnson there was magic in a great looking series that had others green with envy. Death In The Family: B-.
The Incredible Hulk benefits from the one hour format going forward. Stay tuned true believers for some of the best of The Incredible Hulk from its extraordinary five season run and some of the best moments. Excelsior!
Actor Footnote: Lou Ferrigno [1951-present]. American born. The partially hearing-impared actor is best known for his role as the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk. He also appeared in the Mr. Olympia documentary Pumping Iron  opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger. He placed second in the Mr. Olympia competition in 1974 and third in 1975 for the documentary. He also starred in a similar documentary Stand Tall . He co-starred in Trauma Center . He appeared in Ang Lee's The Hulk  and The Incredible Hulk  providing the voice. He provided the voice for The Hulk in Joss Whedon's The Avengers . Ferrigno appeared in The Fall Guy episode Trauma , and has often made appearances in television and film as himself, a body guard or security guard. Of course, Ferrigno is best known for his role as The Hulk on the TV series The Incredible Hulk [1978-1982]. Ferrigno and Bill Bixby remained friends. Ferrigno referred to the late Bixby as a "mentor" and "father figure."