Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Incredible Hulk S1 Ep1: Pilot

"It must be said that Bill Bixby was my first and only choice for the role" -Kenneth Johnson in SciFiNow on the casting of Bill Bixby as The Incredible Hulk's Dr. David Banner-

In a summer filled with superheroes, it seems fitting they should all be green with envy.

The 1970s was a heyday of great programming and splendid science fiction writing and adventure from Space:1999 and The Six Million Dollar Man to Buck Rogers In The 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica. Don't forget UFO, Land Of The Lost, Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman. Never mind terrific children's programming like Banana Splits featuring The New Adventures Of Huck Finn and Danger Island. The list goes on and on and in the midst of it all Marvel was just beginning to establish a foothold inside the world of live action film and television. The Incredible Hulk [1977-1982] was one of the first to make it big. This was a landmark moment in comic book entertainment. Just a few months earlier The Amazing Spider-Man [1977-1979] was introduced and ultimately delivered a fourteen episode failed attempt at a lengthy run with the well-cast Nicholas Hammond [The Sound Of Music, The Brady Bunch] at the helm. It just never gained traction with the executives. The series was fairly expensive and was the third in the network's [CBS] superhero run.

One thing is certain Bill Bixby and Kenneth Johnson were largely responsible for the success of The Incredible Hulk. These men were the face of a hit.

Until the arrival of Marvel's The Incredible Hulk, DC's Batman [1966-1968] and Superman [1952-1958] reigned supreme in the 1950s and 60s.

Since those arid years of superhero filmmaking, summers have become a haven for the super film. Heck, even The Incredible Hulk Pilot saw its way into theatres once upon a time. There were grand, near cinematic aspirations inside of this series and the high degree of quality spent on the series showed. 2011 alone featured Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger and Green Lantern. Speaking of amazing, these 70s programs arrived in an era when CGI simply didn't exist and miniature and model fans thank God for those small favors.

Let's turn to the more contemporary adaptations of the Hulk made for cinemagoers as prime examples in the radically different creative approaches taken toward the beloved character. One merely need look no further than director Ang Lee's bright green CGI monstrosity [2003] and director Louis Leterrier's equally disturbing, darker CGI beast [2008]. Try as they may have, these films never did justice to the Marvel hero. The greatest injustice was the CGI employed in those films to create the Hulk. Neither film is perfect, but the second picture may be the more expressive and successful of the two pictures.

For decades, fans of the green man grew up reading the serial comic book and all have their favorite runs from Herbe Trimpe's renderings to Sal Buschema's work. Peter David's stories accented by Todd McFarlane, Dale Keown or Adam Kubert further added to the grand Hulk mythology. Artist John Byrne even offered us a sprinkling of wonderful classics including the wedding of Bruce Banner. Yes, the legacy lives on. The history is long. The mythology is sprawling, but fans treasure these interpretations. When one of those heroes makes it to the big screen, we expect it to be big. Okay, maybe not as big as the Hulk, but delivering on such a major event cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, Lee and Leterrier simply didn't have what it takes to deliver on a legend despite some fine techniques and some good ideas.

Fans understand the Hulk and expect their writers too as well. The fans know the Hulk like one of their flesh and blood family with real emotions.... er, lots of emotion. The full-on CGI thing simply doesn't cut the mustard. It's just too damn fast and never deceives the human eye. It's one thing for the mind to imagine something like this sprung to life from the frames of a comic book, but to present a comic book representation of the beast to the human eye in a live action scenario simply can't get one over on the brain.

I remember walking out at the end of the first film thinking it was one of the worst films I'd seen in quite some time. I was so heavy with disappointment. It was like someone assaulted our childhood with little regard or respect for the source material. This often happens to some degree, but this was woefully inept. It just didn't work. When it comes to the Hulk, creators should be taking a page from Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy if a reboot ever comes to pass. The Hulk deserves better. Grab the green paint and grab Ron Perlman before it's too late. Ang Lee's comic-styled attempt at film had some nice ideas, but it was goofy in its execution and the story undermined the Hulk we knew and loved compounded by bad CGI. It's as if all involved never fully understood or respected the same hero we grew to love.

Further, as good as Edward Norton or Eric Bana are as actors [especially the smart choice of Norton], they simply don't hold a candle to the mature and sensitive performance by Bill Bixby over Five Seasons of The Incredible Hulk. Bixby was that damn good. I realize the depth of character explored on television is an unfair comparison to film. I do believe Norton serves up the more complex performance in the preferred second Hulk film.

It's not often when a television rendition of a superhero has managed to transcend its source material, but I do believe writer/ producer/ director Kenneth Johnson's imagining of The Incredible Hulk managed to do just that. Folks can scoff at the series as overtly serious. They can see it as psychologically-heavy versus a villain-of-the-week approach, but Johnson grounded his Hulk inside of reality and that's probably what gave the series a a genuine sense of believability, its chance to survive and its ultimate longevity.

In the end, The Incredible Hulk, as guided by Johnson and Bixby, retains a special place in pop culture, enough so that Leterrier would allow the influence of the original TV Series into his film. There were several moments in the second motion picture that were impacted by that classic series.

David Banner flips through the television channels, a clear influence on our formative vision of the Hulk, and we witness pure homage in small clip of Bill Bixby from The Courtship Of Eddie's Father [1969-1972] signaling the film's inspiration. It made me realize just how much I miss the actor.

It was almost as if his cameo and the ghost of Bill Bixby was looking over Leterrier's film as a guiding presence. The second film definitely more closely resembles elements from the original TV Series than the comic book origins. Here, Leterrier pays tribute once again through the inclusion of the series' haunting, original theme music.

Norton's character, on the run, works hard at controlling anger and finding a cure for the gamma cell poisoning, two of the core operating themes that drove the TV Series, with some sequences offering a real allusion to the classic program. The emotional subtext of the series is also in place in Leterrier's film capturing some of the melodramatic, sweet and beautiful moments that worked so well in the Bixby run. The film simply can't replicate the strength of Johnson's work, but Leterrier's film offers a glimpse of respect to our TV past.

Banner's love for Betty Ross drives him and the beauty and the beast component is in full play.

The movie version of Banner alludes to the classic line from the '70s series in a factory scene when he tells an adversary in a play on words, "Don't make me... hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm... hungry." Yes, all of these elements and suggestions in Leterrier's film are a reflection of the power and influence of Kenneth Johnson's series combined with elements of the comic book Hulk [violet purple stretchy pants and finally a "Hulk smash!"].

The Flash, a fairly strong DC adaptation, never pulled off the longevity of The Incredible Hulk series. Too expensive. The Tick resulted in a similar situation.

Incredibly, The Incredible Hulk was a phenomenal success story and in some ways propelled a desire for more Marvel creations to reach the small and big screens for decades to come.

Those who wanted to dismiss the tinkering of the origin story as not remaining true to the comic deliver a fair point. I, too, enjoy my hero stories to remain loyal to the source material. X-Men, like the Hulk films, didn't do it and neither have many others. Many have been disappointing on this level. But it's understandable why Johnson needed to make The Incredible Hulk, like others, for a more contemporary audience. Although, pulling off an atomic bomb test in the 1970s might have proved convincing and interesting if not viable financially. Nevertheless, I was willing to accept this alteration and move forward and to be honest the ride was worth it.

The Incredible Hulk leaped and leaped and leaped and landed on television screens for five seasons with some exceptional scripts. The success of the series can be attributed to Kenneth Johnson who lobbied for assurance that Bill Bixby would land the role of David Banner. Bill Bixby, in a tour de force performance, was supported capably by his rampaging alter ego in the form of Lou Ferrigno. Apart from geting easily caught up in the action, I've often overlooked Ferigno's animated, physical performance, but he does deliver genuine, monstrous believability. I'm not sure just anyone could have done it. After a time, he clearly embodied The Hulk. I grew to accept The Hulk and Ferrigno as one. This may explain to some degree my intense aversion or bias against CGI Hulk when Ferigno delivered a truly emotional, believable performance for so many years. I was spoiled by the flesh and blood nature of even The Hulk. As a result, the fans deserved better. The box office failures of the feature films do speak to the resistant nature of true comic book and Hulk fans to deliver a healthy return. I've wondered if Lou Ferrigno, who appears in the second film as a security guard, wasn't slightly mortified by the computer replacement of his role. Johnson told SciFiNow he once considered Arnold Schwarzenegger for the part, but wasn't taller than Ferrigno. Richard Kiel was also a consideration for the role. Another actor, Ted Cassidy, was retained for the exquisite narration he would lend to the opening and for the growls of The Hulk for the first two seasons before his passing.

Again, there are differences between the comic and television. There's a great irony in the fact the lead character, Bruce Banner, was given a slight change of name as Dr. David Banner. Afterall the series is indeed different from the comic book and the slight modify in name really speaks to the fact things would be different- and they were. But, more than a comic book, The Incredible Hulk was a far more adult affair with real issues [child abuse, illness]. Fortunately, Kenneth Johnson had the foresight to take the story in this direction with a limited budget rather than turn out a monster of the week or forgettably crafted versions of The Hulk's many comic book-based villains.

Johnson learned a great deal with five seasons of The Six Million Dollar Man and three seasons of The Bionic Woman under his belt. Johnson seems to seamlessly weave all those wonderful ideas and concepts into reality-based science fiction.

In a SciFiNow piece called Modern Classic, Kenneth Johnson spoke to what moved him as a filmmaker and what motivated his work. Character, of course, is central to his success and, like The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk was no exception. He had his concerns taking on the project intitially and was very reluctant at first. But working through his frustration with the concept he began to realize he could "turn it into an adult psychological piece that would belie its comic book origins." Johnson returned to his friend Frank Price, head of Universal at the time, and indicated he would do it, but under his terms with complete artistic control. This kind of creative control is what made The Incredible Hulk, well, a hulking success. While it could have been a failure, it was not, and Johnson's track record proved he had the chops to make it work.

To underscore Johnson's ongoing desire for a reality-based thread, he was even questioning the idea of Hulk as a green beast. He contacted Stan Lee. Lee said, "When they first started doing the comic book, he was grey." The printers began printing the Hulk green and Lee indicated the decision to make him green had nothing at all to do with "logic." This was precisely Johnson's conundrum, because he was a man concerned with logic. Johnson admitted, "I was indeed anxious to keep the story as logical and based in truth as possible. I did a lot of research into cellular biology so that I could include some of that in the pilot to make it sound like Dr. Banner would know what he was talking about." Johnson was looking for a definitively mature, adult audience and refused to dumb down the property.

Johnson had a powerful handle on the character of Dr. David Banner and The Incredible Hulk that he set the tone for the audience with the opening quote to the TV Series: "Within each of us ofttimes dwells a mighty and raging fury." Johnson recalls, "I wanted to immediately set the tone for a more adult drama, for a tragedy of sorts." You soon realize The Incredible Hulk, as a superhero character, was ripe for tragedy and Johnson understood this regarding the Banner character for his unique vision of the series. Yes, the Hulk figure is tragic in the comics, and Johnson captured the dramatic power of those circumstances for his production. He immediately identifies character as the tie that binds the series through his wonderful casting of Bill Bixby. Banner's alter-ego is treated in the series as a symbol and a psychological component of the Bixby character. Johnson utilized the creature "figuratively." It was a story of the monster within as the emphasis was squarely on the man that was David Banner.

The Incredible Hulk Pilot is where it all began. An opening montage speaks to the kind of man David Banner is, a loyal and devoted husband. Scenes are intercut highlighting a long standing love affair with his wife Laura. A dramatic accident closes out the sequence when a tire blows out and the car rolls tossing David Banner from his vehicle. His wife, locked inside the now burning vehicle, cannot be freed as a weak and helpless Banner tries fruitlessly to free her from the flames. Banner awakens from the nightmare. He is a man alone, lost without the comfort and love of his late wife. He is clearly unable to break free from the haunting memories of those final moments where he simply could not save her. Banner feels responsible for the fate of Laura as a result of his shortcomings that fateful day.

One year later. Physician, scientist David Banner arrives to work. Since the loss of his wife, his motions are robotic and routine living life without really living.

As I watched the Pilot film, written and directed by Kenneth Johnson, it was clear from some of the close-ups of Bixby and other dramatizations that Johnson clearly had an eye for something bigger and cinematic. The transfers to DVD are also notably strong. Images are fairly sharp and clear, with some grain, but solid for a series over three decades old.

At the research facility where Banner works, an interview is performed on a mother and child. The mother shares the events of her fateful day when she rescued her son from a burning vehicle miraculously. The events are nearly identical to that of Banner's trauma, but somehow this mother was able to tap into an energy reseroir to free her son. This is at the core of their research being attempted to identify how the human body can release and utilize untapped strength. A moved Banner walks away from the proceedings. Banner converses with his colleague in private, begging the question how a 110 pound woman could move a half-ton vehicle. Where does that kind of strength come from? The bigger question for Banner that torments him in night sweats is, why he couldn't save his wife. Banner's friend and colleague, Dr. Elaina Marks wonders if he's too close to the project, but they continue to unlock the mysteries of the human body. Interview after interview displays events of people somehow inexplicably tapping into a reserve of strength that saved them or someone close to them, but it is a profound mystery to Banner who feels entirely inadequate over his failure. People in desperate scenarios seem to be doing the impossible.

Outside the facility Banner is visited by newspaper reporter Jack McGee. Banner stops McGee and assures him he is not interested in being interviewed in a paper that is solely interested in "murder, rape, horoscopes, UFOs and Farah Fawcett." It's a great line that places Banner within a reality-based existence.

Banner and Dr. Marks begin looking into the question of strength at a cellular level by analyzing mitochondria. Their investigation turns up an abnormal Adenine and Thymine content. As it turns out, Banner's levels are abnormal too, yet he was unable to unleash the needed strength to save his wife. A conversation with a fellow doctor regarding gamma radiation forces Banner to reconsider external factors or variables that may have inhibited him the day his wife died. Banner deduces gamma rays are the culprit affecting the strength of regular folks.

Once again, Kenneth Johnson took artistic license with the origin story moving away from the atomic testing mishap as portrayed in the comic book. That sensationalism was supplanted by a more reasonable, logical explanation whereby Banner would commence self-testing to understand his "puny human" ways.

Banner sets the controls for gamma ray testing on himself when the mishap occurs. The eerie score emphasizes the unsettling nature of the experiment. The experiment is also relative to the issues of testing that were growing and degree and potential in the 1970s. It all goes wrong when the wave of gamma radiation exposure goes well beyond his requested dose. This segment really speaks voumes to the power of such an event. The viewer is waiting for a physical reaction by Banner. Perhaps, we wait for him to wretch in pain, but Johnson stays true to the reality of such an exposure. The event is silent because radiation is a silent killer. It affects living tissue without the individual knowning their being affected like basking in the sun on a summer's day. Well, the reaction of eerie silence is so overwhelming in its delivery it is even more chilling and effective than the expected physical reaction the audience expects. Johnson plays it for logic, because that is what Johnson does. There is no dramatic license or sell here. This is frighteningly real and effective.

The results of Banner's experiment aren't obvious at first glance. Expectations aren't what they seem. In due time, Dr. David Banner will find his strength experiments worked too well. Frustrated, Banner drives off into the rain-soaked night.

Banner is literally maddened by his inability to discover what made these people strong and the fact his wife had to die. There are no spiritual or Christian overtures here. The answer lies strictly within science for Banner and his shortcomings are his own that he alone must face. The anxiety of the moment rises with some splendid music scored by Joe Harnell. Something is happening within Banner, something silent on a cellular level, growing with the quickening of his pulse and the rise of his blood pressure. With a flat tire, Banner is drenched adding to his heightened sense of frustration and growing anger. Lightning lights the skies around him elevating the mounting tension as he changes the tire.

The pacing and the build of the story is strong and a rare thing in television. As Banner works feverishly to fix the tire a spark of pain ignites the raging creature within. Here is that classic moment highlighting the transformation. Do note the wonderful use of music and the simple effects that create a significant impact visually.

Ferrigno really delivers us the monster. He's not just a man painted green, but a raging brute of a creature. Banner clearly won't have trouble lifting those cars now.

With the rain over, a calming Hulk happens upon a girl fishing. Intrigued, the creature smiles and extends his hand while the little girls screams in panic and paddles away on the nearby lake. Her father rushes to her side complete with a rifle. The girl flails about falling into the water and out of the boat. Hulk, complete with Ted Cassidy grunts and growls, moves to save the girl by extending a tree to her. Her father aims and fires upon Hulk. He bleeds and is moved to anger again. This is not the impervious Hulk of the comics or the big budget CGI pictures. Johnson's Hulk feels pain. He rushes to the man and literally grabs him by the nuts and throws him into the lake after snapping his rifle like a twig. Yes, we know this Hulk from the comics to be sure. Where a twinkie when you need one?

Wounded, Hulk leaves the vicinity. Calm he slowly morphs back into David Banner. It is handled with a nice, gradual touch as the Hulk reaches into water creating a ripple effect slowly blurring his image to reveal the transformation back to David Banner.

Banner, hurt, goes to Dr. Marks' home. Marks wonders why anyone would want to shoot Banner. The bullet wound reveals a healing process much faster than most as scar tissue has already formed. Banner explains to Marks that he linked gamma actvity from sun spots to the recipient's DNA giving people extraordinary strength. Drinking voraciously he explains he took a 300,000 unit gamma injection. He recalls changing a flat tire, but then waking in his current state. "I remember feeling incredibly strong... My eyes were white." Marks and Banner head to a southwest laboratory that is more remote.

Marks informs Banner that one of their colleagues modified the radiological unit in excess of 300,000 units. They suspect Banner took a does 2 million units strong. David sits inside of a metallic testing facility for observation. Marks hopes to reverse the process. Banner wants to observe the process to control the variables. Marks feels there are too many unknowns, but Banner wants to test, not reverse the process. They argue with differing opinions. The container was built to withstand pressure 1,000 feet below the ocean's surface and made of chromium steele with six inch glass.

The two researchers reconstruct events as they happened for Banner. Darkness, rain and lightning are all cleverly recreated in a controlled environment. The missing element: anger, emotion. Banner begins to get frustrated, but ultimately fails. Later, Banner thanks Marks through the glass as their hands touch on each side of the glass. It is the first time we hear the piano driven ballad by Composer Joe Harnell called The Lonely Man. This is a beautiful composition and variations on the theme would populate the series emotional core.

In due time, Banner sleeps and the readings on the graph begin to grow as a result of REM sleep. Reliving the final moments of his wife's death, Banner begins to wake and change into the Hulk. Transformed he wreaks havoc inside the cylinder. Marks calms the beast easing the Hulk to sit back as she watches him change back to David Banner. The simple use of a green light and fades between shots is effective, if a bit outdated, but that isn't the strength of the Hulk series. It was always character, but it still looks good in capturing the beauty and beast element.

Banner suspects it is anger that creates the transformation. Fury is the emotional committment that causes Banner to metamorphosize. Banner realizes if the transformation can occur in his sleep than he has no control over the monster inside of him. Marks believes the creature won't kill because David Banner won't kill.

The police arrive to speak with Banner- CHiPs to be exact [California Highway Patrol]. The police inform him of his vehicle being found destroyed. Banner plays it cool, but indicates he never reported it missing. McGee also shows up with a cast imprint of the Hulk's foot. The officer leaves, but McGee stays and continues his probe indicating he ran into a hunter and his little girl who encountered the "jolly green giant" by the lake. McGee informs them no one was hurt, to the relief of Banner. McGee proves he will be a dogged pursuer. Marks tries to assure Banner that he won't kill.

"I want to be Dr. Banner not Dr. Jeckyll." This is a very pointed reference to the origins of The Incredible Hulk as intended by Stan Lee. Stan Lee wanted to make a creation like Frankenstein melded with the concept of Jeckyll and Hyde where transformation occurs. Whether intended or not, this is clearly a reference to the work of Stan Lee.

McGee watches the research facility from a hillside perch. After they exit, he makes efforts to break into the facility. From a window he spots the destruction inside.

Banner and Marks return to the original facility to see if they can reverse the process. Banner isn't seeing results and is fairly annoyed. Marks retorts, "Do us both a favor, don't get mad." Banner's mind races as he suspects he may be a menace to society and may need to find a more remote, isolated location.

Returning to the southwest location, McGee is hidden inside. McGee hears some parts of their conversation, but it's murky enough that he doesn't obtain the full picture.

Banner discovers McGee. Some chemicals are knocked over in the process. As McGee probes Marks and Banner for information, a chemical reaction is happening in the room next door. Banner exits McGee out of the building in one of the series most iconic moments. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Once again, someone close to Banner, someone whom he loves, has grown to love, falls into harm's way engulfed by the fire. If that isn't tragic I don't know what is. Banner changes showcasing his great power. In the end, Marks dies. The events for Banner parallel his wife's death. The lesson tells us that even with all of this amazing, raw power, there are things outside of our control. The Incredible Hulk is all about aspects of control. The Pilot shows us that even with all of the access and abilities in the world sometimes we simply can't change fate or control destiny. Some things are completely beyond it much like The Hulk is for Banner. With all of his desire to find strength and unlock untapped human potential, when it mattered most, Banner still couldn't save the first woman he loved since the death of his wife.

McGee sees the Hulk escape with Marks in his arms. He cries out for Banner as the building ignites and explodes. Outside in the woods, Marks is held in Hulk's arms where she tells him she has loved him for so long. As the flame within her goes out, the Hulk howls with rage and yet he will not remember the words she shared with him before her passing. The raging beast calms and shows real emotion in her loss.

Days later, at the cemetary, amidst headlines of "HULK KILLS 2," Banner visits the site of Marks' grave and his own marked "David Bruce Banner." He, too, is believed dead in the explosion. Banner chooses to keep it that way. It closes with Banner's sentiment to Elaina, "I love you Elaina. I think you loved me too although you never said it." The credits roll to the theme of Joe Harnell's The Lonely Man and Banner's lonely journey begins. The theme highlights the tragic reality of the figure that is David Banner always walking away alone. This version of the Hulk has been called an "American classic." I think that is a great assessment of what the folks involved with this series, aimed for adapting from a comic book. It's the perfect American tragedy.

This was a strong start to the possibilties ahead. As a character study Johnson gets the dark tone, but I can imagine there were suits in the room that were uncomfortable with a story centered on a tragic figure. The Incredible Hulk was clearly intended to be a big green doozy of a series. It's one of the first comic book characters to move beyond conventions and present something much bigger and do so successfully.


le0pard13 said...

Excellent homage to the classic TV series and Bill Bixby's finest role, ever. There's a lot of good to be said with what producers and actor accomplished with pennies on the dollar compared to the impressive budgets of today's superhero films. Man, I still hate Ang Lee's HULK, and I thought Louis Leterrier's update superior. But, you're right. Too much CGI is too much.

Lately, we're getting more animation because of it in live action films. Good call on Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy treatment. We need more like that instead of just sending the work out to computer rendering. Fine and observant post, SFF. Thanks.

John Kenneth Muir said...


Bravo! The mother of all Incredible Hulk retrospectives. It's wonderful to see you turn your critical and appreciative eye to this excellent Kenneth Johnson series, which, as you note, showcased a level of maturity and emotional honesty not often seen on television (and not often seen in superhero programming either).

Bill Bixby truly was excellent as Banner, and for me Ferrigno is still the best incarnation of the Hulk. The movies (and CGI) might be able to sell the character as a monster, but never as one that I found myself identifying with, or relating to. I never got the sense of the Hulk in either film as a real, living entity, with emotions and psychology. I felt both films, actually, were pretty terrible.

Thank you for this wonderful look back at a great series. I'm a big fan (especially of the episode "Married" and this "Pilot.") I recently bought a few season discs and I'm looking forward to catching up on more episodes.

All my best,
John Kenneth Muir

SFF said...

Good morning gents.

Thanks L13! Great point. The busgets and buckets of money spent on CGI and Hollywood blockbusters sometimes delivers very little in result.

To reiterate your point and John's, I hated, hated Ang Lee's Hulk.

I had gone to see that film at a theatre with a friend and her son. Surprisingly The One To Be Pitied didn't mind. Anyway, we went to see the film because we both were excited about seeing a Hulk movie, because of our strong connection to the TV series and the comic book.

We went into the cinema excited. We came out deflated. We all felt like we had been punched in the gut it was THAT disappointing to us. A truly terrible adaptation of the Hulk.

I liked Leterrier's film much more, but it still wasn't perfect. Like John said, you simply cannot connect on an emotional level to an animated beast. Ferrigno gave us a creature to root for and care about. Those emotions are missing in these films. That's why we care about and love Hellboy. Ron Perlman brings that character to believable, flawed life.

I like Leterrier's film I suppose more than John, but my expectations were really low and I'm still waiting for the perfect Hulk film.

Thanks my friend for sparking additional conversation here.



Thanks for the high praise. Boy, it really is a debut of epic proportions worthy of the great Hulk himself. I wanted to do it justice I'm glad it was received that way. Thank you.

I agree with all of your insights and especially your point of identifying with the Ferrigno character. Like Bixby, he's a big reason, and one that is probably downplayed or underrated, why this series worked! Excellent points about Ferrigno.

I can't wait to watch more Hulk too!

Thanks and Happy 4th to both of you!

Unknown said...

Simply amazing retrospective look back at the Hulk in films and TV. Wow. I love the TV show as well and have fond memories of watching it growing up. One of the things that makes it work so well is the fusing of elements taken from the comic book with a similar format akin to THE FUGITIVE TV series. And with Bixby you have an equally sympathetic protagonist as you did with Kimble in THE FUGITIVE. You were rooting for him every week and hoping he'd continue to evade the authorities/media.

As you so rightly point out, the TV show was considerably more mature than the comic book and I also think that this is why it works and continues to do so and why it is vastly superior to the film, which dumb things down even moreso than anything in the comic books. I think that is quite honestly the worst offense of both films - insulting our intelligence in favor of pure spectacle and visceral action. Sure, you should have some of that (this is the HULK after all) the films lean too far to one side. Ang Lee's HULK was almost an art film with TOO much angst and symbolism and the Edward Norton incarnation swings the pendulum the other way with almost too much action and not enough substance. Somewhere there has to be a happy medium. I am in total agreement with you on the Del Toro approach: PROSTHETICS! Let's bring Rob Bottin out of self-imposed retirement/exile and let him have it. I can only imagine the cool stuff he'd dream up/create.

SFF said...

Thanks J.D! Big Kudos from the minds of three of the web's great sites.

I love your comparisons of Bixby's character to the Kimble character. Absolutely correct. You just root for this character every step of the way.

Case in point given your suggestion, I never felt myself rooting for Bana's Banner and even Norton's Banner didn't draw me in the way Bixby did.

Yes, Bring Bottin back for a HULK reboot!

Well, your comments are excellent regarding why I loved the series and why it appealed beyond a comic book base. So right. But even the comic book had emotional moments far superior than those captured on film so far. LEterrier definitely did the better of the two, but no one has found the middle ground of excellence as you put it.

Thanks so much J.D.!

You make me want to pull out my old Hulk comics! Happy 4th!

Unknown said...

Re: the comic book. Somewhere in a bookcase I've got the Hulk/Wolverine battle ish signed by Todd McFarlane - one of my prized possessions! I kinda like when they returned Hulk to his grey state and I really enjoyed it when John Byrne took over drawing duties but there is something classic about the Buscema era - I still have an ish he did where Hulk takes on an entire army and wipes 'em out. Ah, good times.

SFF said...

Thanks for sharing J.D.

Yes, that's a classic. I agree with you too. I love the grey Hulk issues. I also love the Byrne stuff myself. Hard to beat classic Sal though.

It's funny, but there aren't many comics that are of interest to me anymore. I have my classics and that's it really.

It all started changing in the early 1990s for me overall. I don't collect much any more.

Oh, I did get my letter published in Spider-Man #6 back when Todd McFarlane took on that series. He actually wrote a comment back to me so that was pretty cool. I still have that issue too.

But, love those Hulk books you mentioned. All the best my friend.

Anonymous said...

Great review! I've been a huge fan of the Hulk my whole life. I was lucky enough to be a youngster when this show was on air and enjoyed it very much, but it wasn't until I grew older and watched some episodes on Sci-Fi Channel that I realised How brilliant the show really was, especially the pilot episode. In my opinion, and some people may think I'm nuts, but as a MOVIE, not a show, I put "The Incredible Hulk" pilot #1 on my all-time superhero movie list, with "Superman" at #2 and "The Dark Knight" #3. For me, the series spoiled me on the Hulk. I love the realistic nature of the origin Kenneth Johnson created, more human and as a married adult now, more emotional. I feel for Banner now watching the pilot, thinking of how I would feel if I was going through what he went through. Fantastic stuff, my friend.

Thanks for the great review on my favorite superhero movie and just an excellent flick overall. We miss you, Bill Bixby....

SFF said...


Thank you. You're not crazy in the least. Thank you for adding another perspective and one clearly with the advantage of years of wisdom now.

The Pilot was shown in a number of different countries as a big screen film, clearly you and I aren't the only ones who saw its potential.

Johnson spent time on crafting and writing a story that stands the test of time. It still holds up today as a believable cautioonary tale and the classic story of Banner.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this one. I echo your sentiments. I miss Bixby and one day I'd really love to see The Courtship Of Eddie's Father make it to DVD. Blu-Ray might be hoping for too much. But to enjoy his work on that wonderful series would be a treat. Until then we have the Hulk. More on Bixby's Hulk to come. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The Banana Splits was a 1960s show, not 70s.

SFF said...

You're absolutely correct. That was my mind experiencing the show in syndication during the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

Like Superman - The Movie a year later, The Incredible Hulk was a realistic approach to the comic book superhero. Very dramatic, powerful, and emotionally gutwrenching on some levels.

The pilot episode and various others like Mystery Man, Homecoming, The Bride Of The Incredible Hulk(you got to have a heart of stone not to be moved by that classic two-parter), Prometheus, and the two-part episode where the Hulk fought another Hulk are fine examples of how well this series was written, acted, and filmed.

One wishes that David Banner had found a cure in the end. In a sense he did, but it was at the cost of his own life in the last reunion film.

The late Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, the late Jack Colvin, and Kenneth Johnson are to be commended and thanked for bringing a comic book legend to life and making it as realistic as they did. With that form of verisimilitude(?), you know you have a winning result in the end.

SFF said...

Gosh, really well said and you know it inspires me to hammer that point home in a future entry.

The Incredible Hulk was perhaps one of the earliest representations of the superhero as human, tortured, conflicted on so many levels. It was far less the comic book approach and of course this winning approach has influenced Marvel films for decades. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You noted in your article how the TV series was so influential that it was referenced in the awful CGI hulk films. As you described the plot of the pilot, you missed out on a clever moment where Kenneth Johnson paid homage to an earlier influence. The scene where the Hulk encounters the girl by the lake the morning after the first transformation was strongly ironic of the scene in the 1931 Frankenstein film where the creature meets a young girl, also sitting by a lake.

Although afraid at first, the girl accepts Frankenstein and plays games with him. After they threw all the petals from a flower into the lake, he looks around for something else to throw in. Shockingly, he picks the girl up and throws her in. Until recently, the actual toss was cut from versions of the movie. Fortunately, the Hulk pilot's meeting with the girl was not so shocking, although the girl and her father panicking as they did wasn't a great deal better.

SFF said...

Anonymous. Very sorry for spotting your wonderful comment so late. Thank you for that input. I absolutely see the homage by Johnson now that you mention it. Brilliant. Thanks for enlightening us here with that subtext. all the best