Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Incredible Hulk S1 Ep7: 747

"The Hulk is a great psychological symbol.  The show is really saying, 'Take a look, folks, this is what anger can be'."
-Bill Bixby, The Hulk #10 magazine [August 1978]-

"I'm seeing a doctor." -David Banner-

"Oh I hope it's nothing serious." -Sweet little old lady with no idea-

RESEARCHER LINKS GAMMA RAYS WITH AGGRESSION.  A newspaper headline sees Bill Bixby's Dr. David Banner rush off to find another potential resolution to his anger issues.  Bixby takes flight in The Incredible Hulk, Season One, Episode 7, 747. The first season entry reunites old castmates Bill Bixby and the no-longer-quite-as-adorable Brandon Cruz.  Together once again, the two spent three seasons on the beloved The Courtship Of Eddie's Father (1969-1972).  Cruz was a young boy back then.  Here, he's all grown up.  Ah, yes the payphone complete with a dial no less.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic takes a much needed mental break from the grueling head games of Fringe and thrilling dramatic play of Falling Skies for another look back at those simple, far less demanding days of the effective seventies sci-fi classic The Incredible Hulk.

The latest entry also witnesses the arrival of writer Richard Christian Matheson, the son of the legendary science fiction scribe Richard Matheson.  Young Master Matheson would write for three installments of The Incredible Hulk including Like A Brother [Season Two] and The Snare [Season Three]. The question is can the offspring of the science fiction master possibly fill his shoes and is it fair to even expect that?

Most of the episode takes place entirely on an air flight.  Bixby, following the aforementioned italicized headline must take a flight to reach the research scientist on gamma radiation before he leaves the country for an extended period. What should be a fairly non-eventful flight is made worse by the plot of one of three pilots and a flight attendant to steal a King Tut exhibition worth millions.  This was also noted in the newspaper at the beginning of the episode. Yes, it's another 70s heist story.  Their plan is to drug the other two pilots.  Things don't go entirely as planned as an older passenger sitting next to a curious David Banner is inadvertently drugged himself after grabbing a cup of the tampered coffee prematurely when the attendant isn't looking.

A concerned Banner takes issue and demands to speak with the captain.  The pilot thanks Banner for his concern and leads him down below to the hold where Banner is locked in a storage box.

An effort by the pilot to cast David out of the plane and to his death results in Hulk transformation number one.  It's the perfect first transformation as none of the passengers witness it.  Breaking free, the Hulk falls outside of the plane and literally hangs on for dear life by one arm.  The Hulk hoists himself back into the plane where he is fired upon by the pilot.  The Hulk deflects the bullets with a box.  If this were the actual comic book the bullets would simply bounce off his chest.

A hydraulic line is shot and leaking and the pilot is then knocked unconscious.  As you might well imagine, the remainder of the episode will count entirely on Banner to save them all.

What a huge missed opportunity in the episode with the Hulk hanging outside the plane.  It seems like it might have been the perfect time to catch a glimpse of Brandon Cruz witnessing the monster outside the plane a la The Twilight Zone, Season Five, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (1963), directed by Richard Donner and penned by Matheson's very own father.  Any homage would have been splendid, but that was not to be I'm afraid.

The plane slowly descends losing elevation with the hydraulic fluid leaking. A cute scene witnesses a passenger feeling sick.  He spots the Hulk at the top of the stairs, but feeling a little queasy or green himself he doesn't quite believe it.  Of course, The Hulk heads back down below into the plane's hold to transform back into Banner.

With all three pilots unconscious there is no one left to land the plane and time is running out. 
The latest episode of The Incredible Hulk plays a little like Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds but with no International Rescue in sight. It's like The Incredible Hulk version of Trapped In The Sky.

Air traffic control discovers there are 153 passengers on board as well as the Egyptian King Tut exhibit.  You get the sense King Tut is more important than the passengers.

In the hopes of finding a qualified pilot, Banner extends an invitation to anyone who might be on in the cabin to pay the cockpit a visit for the latest in plane technology.  Only Brandon Cruz, studying flight science pays Banner a visit and unfortunately without Mrs. Livingston.  Like Cruz, she would have been six years older as of this filming.  I would have loved to see her in this episode.

Despite efforts to amp up the tension, 747 flies a little flat on autopilot.  Even the pressure that gets to Banner forcing his second transformation isn't enough to help excite viewers, but as a kid this was riveting stuff.

In the end, the hydraulic fluid is so low the plane is in trouble.  Banner transforms to apply the necessary pressure.  Little did the air traffic tower know they had the muscle of the incredible Hulk on board.

The most interesting psychological component of the episode arrives in the final minutes. The air traffic instructor is informing Banner to "control" the plane..  Banner, likewise, is not only trying to control his descent, but also control his transformation retaining his logical, intellectual, reasonable self while gaining enough of the Hulk's strength to land the plane. The transformation takes minutes. Banner manages to retain the transformation phase long enough to land the plane safely. This is bit of a new development in Banner's ability to control his anger or anxiety even if but for a few minutes.  "Keep fighting it David.  Stay in control.  Don't lose control David" urges the controller. While these words refer to the plane landing, they also speak directly to Banner's efforts to control his understanding of the gravity of the situation and what is required to survive and save the passengers before flying into a potentially uncontrollable rage.  While the plane is descending quickly, should Banner descend himself into anger and rage it could spell certain doom for all.  Banner heroically manages to walk the line, a real tightrope, and he sells the scene quite believably.  Only in the final seconds does the Hulk appear as the wheels hit the pavement, yet it is through dumb luck at the heart of the beast that is the Hulk along with a little guidance from Cruz  that the Hulk hits those breaks. Anxiety gives way to releif.

But eventhough the Hulk often seemed to have good intentions in these things it wouldn't be fun without seeing the Hulk run down the pasenger aisles of the plane to give everyone a good scare and another heart attack following an already harrowing landing.  Madness I say. Cruz, too, was a lot more fun in The Courtship Of Eddie's Father and not given much of a role here.

Banner's efforts to reach the doctor before his departure to Europe for a three month stay fall short and Banner is on a kind of forced layover once again meandering off to the theme of The Lonely Man by Joe Harnell.

747 joins a long list of science fiction television classics that enjoy a story with aspects of its tale centered around an ill-fated or potentially ill-fated flight.  Some of those include: Thunderbirds, Series One, Trapped In The Sky (Episode 1) and Operation Crash-Dive (Episode 8), Fringe Pilot and The Transformation, Lost Pilot, Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, The Galileo Seven (Episode 16), Space:1999, Year One, The Last Sunset (Episode 11), UFO Sub-Smash (Episode 17), Battlestar Galactica's Gun On ice Planet Zero, Battlestar Galactica (new), Season One, You Can't Go Home Again.  You get the idea.

Dear readers, this is your Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic speaking.  Sadly, I hate to report over the cabin loudspeaker that Matheson, based on the script here, would have a long way to go to reach the heights of his father's work when it comes to material.  Sadly, that's not entirely fair and it must be incredibly difficult to walk in the footsteps of a man like Richard Matheson.  They share the same name but the caliber of the writing is quite different.  This isn't based entirely on this one script.  Richard Christian Matheson simply doesn't have the same storytelling skills.  Still, he did pen a reasonably clever comedy called Three O'Clock High (1987) and wrote for Knight Rider, Three's Company and The A-Team.  His credentials speak for themselves, but 747 unfortunately feels like flying - on autopilot and feeling as though you're going nowhere fast.  There have been far superior stories centered on doomed flights or flights in jeopardy. And speaking earlier of missed opportunities, I would have much preferred to see The Incredible Hulk give a little more thought to a character-centric story revolving around Bill Bixby and Brandon Cruz.  How many chances do you get like this?  What a disappointment on that level.  My hope was for something so much more.  That perceived story opportunity would only have ben elevated with the addition of Miyoshi Umeki, Mrs. Livingston herself.  Seeing that trio of characters together in some kind of tender tale would have been sheer genius.  Too bad really.

Writer: Thomas E. Szollosi, Richard Christian Matheson.
Director: Sigmund Neufeld, Jr.

Next Blog Issue: The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas. Stay frosty pilgrims!


Maurice Mitchell said...

I can't think of anything scarier than the Hulk flying a plane. Too bad the show didn't live up the idea.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Right on exactly Maurice. And that's exactly the problem with many of the episodes for The Hulk. They just weren't given the license to pursue the psychologically complex ideas and really run with them. It was never intended to go that deep in the 1970s.

This series as imagined by Kenneth Johnson has such, well, an incredible framework and foundation, it could be truly something much more complex for today's pop culture.

But, as bare bones as these adventures are they are mostly delightfully good with universally good performances. Some of the stronger episodes will be worth covering here at the site down the road so I plan to stay with it.

Cheers Maurice and you got me talking on that one not that that's a challenge.

Anonymous said...

747 was a great episode of the Hulk, and it had some classic moments in it. Banner fighting for control at the end of the episode, but really needing the power of the Hulk to save everyone, is what is so great about the series. The duality of the two sides of Banner fighting for control, the intellectual side, and the angry, powerful, uncontrollable Hulk side.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Fair enough Anonymous.

As I noted too the component of this episode that is the most compelling and the most interesting is indeed the struggle between Banner and the Hulk. i couldn't agree more.

If you've been reading here you know how much I love Bixby and the series. I do think this aspect of the episode is the best part.

Though two additional points. One, you make me realize that I sometimes look at the series from the 1970s through the prism of today's television. That a writing hazard. I definitely do that to Lost In Space and here with the Hulk. That's not entirely fair and I need to keep that in mind.

Second, 747 is a terrific looking episode. The shots of the Hulk hanging from the plane are incredibly well-staged and certainly create the illusion of a plane in the sky. These visual components are very impressive to say the least.

Again, uniformly good performances anchored by the always amazing Bill Bixby. Your comment will have me keeping my analysis in perspective.