Films genres transform and are altered not only in response to the times but all too often in accordance to what is successful at the moment with other films. Now is the time of the comic book based film. Fortunately, my favorite comics as a youth are now coming to life on the screen. The Marvel stable of super powered people includes such luminaries as the X-Men, Spiderman and now the Hulk. What made Marvel characters stand out above the other comics was the pathos and humanity of their characters, the way their story lines depended more on the real life problems than their super human abilities. Ang Lee’s Hulk picks up this challenge. Since there have been incarnations of the Hulk on television, both with live actors and animation, most know the basic story. Meek but brilliant scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Banna) is bombarded with gamma rays which affects the mutated genes he inherited from his father. When he is angered he transforms into a huge, exceptionally strong green monster. While most super powers are gifts in the Marvel universe they are all too often just as much as curse. What is added in this variation of the Hulk mythos is the underlying theme of the affects of overbearing parents on their children. Banner’s father (Nick Nolte) was also a scientist, whose hubris leads him to experimenting on his own genome, passing those modified genes to his son. Banner is involved with the beautiful Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). Her father is General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (Sam Elliot), a demanding, rigid and obsessive personality. What drives this film even more than the notable special effects is the way these demanding fathers affect their now adult children. The monster is a supporting character to the story of two young people trying to cope with the expectations of their fathers. Of course a villain is required and finds substance with the character of Talbot (Josh Lucas), a man of great ambitions to create a highly marketable race of Hulk like soldiers. While there are effects enough for the younger crowd, and the young person in the adults, it is the story of confused, young people trying to be their own persons while living in the dark shadows of their fathers. Like the comics that inspired this film the Hulk is not so much someone to fear as it is the object of our pity. There is also a certain amount of satisfaction that we all have when Banner transforms into the Hulk to release his rage. How many times have we all wished secretly for such ability? While enjoyable as an action Sci-Fi it also works on the deeper emotional level.
I have been impressed with the roles of Jennifer Connelly for a long time now. She brings something fresh to each performance. Here, she offers a little variation on her Oscar winning role in Beautiful Mind. She is a young woman in love with a man who does not fit into society, a man deeply troubled and emotionally distant. She helps to drive the required empathy the audience needs for the monster by helping us to remember the man that becomes the Hulk. Banna was very much like the Banner in the comics, brilliant yet deeply disturbed. Rather than playing the role along the obvious lines of Jekyll/Hyde he instead takes the role of Banner to a more human level. He is scared more by the fact that he enjoys the transformation than the transformation itself. While this is at the heart of the Jekyll/Hyde saga here the focus is less on the contrast of good and evil within all men and delves into the repercussions. Nolte and Elliot give a nice contrast between two determined men. While Ross is driven to the heights of his profession, the older Banner is laid low, working as a janitor. Banner sees his ruined life through his son’s abilities as Ross wanted a warrior son but got an intelligent daughter instead. These actors are on opposite ends of the acting spectrum. Notle drifts through his role while Elliot almost risks overacting in his presentation of Ross. What matters is but is appropriate in this case.
Ang Lee is one of those rare directors that refuse to be put in a box, restricted by a favorite genre. He thrilled us with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", played out heart strings in "Sense and Sensibility" and previewed his look at the generation gap with "The Ice Storm". Lee brought to this story more than most directors could have dreamed about. The visual style of the film included a lot of split screens. Although this technique is often used it is rarely employed as effectively as it is here. Lee splits the screen in a fashion that reminds us about the comic book panels where the characters where created. At the same time it provides a visual reinforcement to the divisions that keep the characters emotionally apart. According to the extras Lee literally threw himself into this film. He often donned the special outfit required to capture human motion into the computer so in a real sense he was the Hulk. Building on themes he explored in the Ice Storm, Lee demonstrates that the conflicts between generations in a family do not disappear when the children grow to adulthood. While the CGI effects where the best possible I did feel that the Hulk was a bit contrived. There was an almost unnatural aspect to some of the motions. It was better than painting a stunt man green but lacked some of the inner humanity. Sure the computer can do wonders, it can change the face of the graphic to exhibit emotion but here it reverted back a bit too much to the comic book.
This special edition is really special. This is how a DVD like this should be presented. The Dolby 5.1 audio roars from the speakers, crisp and clean. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is brilliant and without defect. The extras are on the money with featurettes detailing every aspect of the computer graphics integration into the film, how the character has changed since the comic, and a commentary by Ang Lee and deleted scenes. This just touches the surface of the additional material. There is so much here that you will have something to watch long after the film ends. For fans of Ang Lee, comics and a good story line this is a disc to own and enjoy.