HULK – Blu-ray review

I had so much anticipation for Ang Lee’s big screen adaptation of Marvel’s “Hulk.” The film starred Eric Bana, an actor I had been telling my friends would be one of the next great ones. I had watched “Chopper” and just been in awe of his performance. Of course, Ang Lee directed the wonderful “Sense and Sensibility” and a little Hong Kong classic “Wo hu cang long” which was released to us English speaking folk as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” With so much respected talent, it seemed like “Hulk” would be a slam dunk summer blockbuster and erase memories of “Godzilla.” “Spider-Man” became a big screen sensation with Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi. “Hulk” seemed like the next best thing.

Oh how my hopes were squashed. “Hulk” didn’t turn out to be a complete disappointment, but it was no “Spider-Man” and it certainly was no “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The team of Bana and Ang Lee did no justice to Stan Lee’s “Hulk” and I left theaters feeling cheated. After all, with a supporting cast of the beautiful Jennifer Connelly, the always captivating Sam Elliot and everybody’s favorite scruffy veteran Nick Nolte, how could this film have went so wrong? Even Stan Lee and Lo Ferrigno stopped by for cameo roles as security guards. “Hulk” should have been the start of something wonderful. It should have catapulted Eric Bana into the stratosphere. It should have put Ang Lee far above Michael Bay and not into the same bucket as Paul Weasel S. Anderson.

Time has passed and I’m still a little disappointed, but have come to appreciate the film some. I certainly welcome “Hulk” more onto my screen than I do Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.” Eric Bana has been in a few good movies, but is not the megastar I expected him to be. The film is still too heavy on exposition, too light on action and too visually weak to tackle the amazing “Spider-Man,” but it is far superior to “Aliens vs. Predator,” another heartache for me. The HD-DVD packaging says “The larger-than-life Marvel Super Hero The Hulk explodes onto the big screen!” Well, he is now on my not-so-big screen and still doesn’t explode, but I can now sit down and enjoy the movie with a bit of a smile and though I still think Nick Nolte’s really bad hair is the best part of the film, I’m starting to appreciate the attempt to make the big green guy a Hollywood tent pole.

Eric Bana is Bruce Banner, a scientist who has a slight mishap with some gamma rays. His coworker and romantic interest Betty Ross witnesses the accident and doesn’t understand how he isn’t dead, but in perfect health. Banner may not have died, but the gamma radiation altered his DNA and put within him a beast that explodes into a gigantic green Hulk that loves to smash things. Nick Nolte is Banner’s proclaimed ‘father’ and has been subjected to gamma rays with a rather different effect. Banner gets upset and beats up Talbot (Josh Lucas) and becomes a menace to society that is tracked down by the military with planes, tanks and helicopters. Sam Elliot is General Ross, the father of Betty and a man who tells Bruce to stay the hell away from his daughter (if Sam Elliot told me such a thing, I personally would listen). Betty discovers that Bruce is the big green beast and becomes the caring heroine.

The problem with “Hulk” lies in its story and to some degree its visual effects, but mostly – story. Anything from dogs to ‘father’ are gamma created villains for Hulk to smash. When Banner becomes Hulk, he becomes a brainless beast who is misunderstood and constantly chased by the military. Ang Lee and his team of writers decided that everything Hulk battled had to be just as big and ugly. Banner’s eventual capture and captivity makes little sense. The suicidal transformation of Nick Nolte’s character and eventual conflict is quite comical, but not in a comic book way. Ang Lee does make an attempt to bring heart to Bruce Banner and understanding to Hulk, but by doing so, “Hulk” becomes so overburdened with exposition and background information that the primary reason for such a film is lost – the Hulk is supposed to smash things and beat up bad guys. Never once does Bruce Banner say “You won’t like me when I’m angry” or does Hulk yell “HULK SMASH!” The film tries to take itself way too seriously and it tries to add to much weight to a comic book character. Perhaps a darker toned Hulk with a defined villain would have been better. The film did not succeed and about the only chance for a sequel is if Paul Weasel S. Anderson decides to make “Hulk vs. Godzilla.”

Video:

I pointed out that visual effects were a problem in the main body of this review, but never gave a full explanation. Here it is – the digital effects of “Hulk” border on cartoonish at times. The transformation of “Hulk” is digital, but barely better than what was seen in “An American Werewolf in London.” The look of the blue shorts on the Hulk looks painted on far too computery (if that is a word). The effects never approach the real-world believability of those seen in “Spider-Man” and perhaps that is an unfair comparison, but my opinion remains that “Hulk” could have looked far better and the fight scenes, which occurred mostly in the desert or at night did not appear grand. Hulk smashes tank. Hulk smashes helicopter. Hulk smashes large gamma radiation-poisoned dog. Nothing every looked spectacular and even “Godzilla” was more impressive visually.

The HD-DVD release looked absolutely splendid and thankfully, the encode is identical on Blu-ray and the 2.35:1 VC-1/1080p transfer is again top notch and this is one of the better looking releases on the Blu-ray format and while the film may not be as good as its visuals, it does make watching “Hulk” a little more enjoyable. Ang Lee wanted this film to be a comic book come to life and the colors are what really stands out for “Hulk” and I can’t think of too many films that handle colors as well as this film does. Detail is exceptionally strong and provides an image that ‘pops’ off the screen. Black levels hold up exceptionally well and the overly dark fight scene between our hero and the big bad puppy dogs looks wonderful with good shadow detail. While this film won’t win over anybody with content, the visuals are worth checking out.

Sound:

I am again impressed with how “Hulk” sounds in high definition and the Blu-ray release is easily the best “Hulk” has ever sounded. The HD-DVD release was snubbed of a TrueHD mix, but the English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack is stunning. It is loud and it is aggressive and I’m under the impression that the previous “Hulk” film sounds better than the “Incredible Hulk” starring Edward Norton, Jr. Listening to the Hulk smash things is very entertaining and from scene to scene, “Hulk” is one of the best discs I’ve yet to pay witness to. Bass response of the .1 LFE channel is very strong and equally matched by razor sharp high frequencies. All six speakers were busy when the soundtrack got as aggressive as the gamma radiated freak. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, even when somebody is simply screaming to get away from the angry green one. My favorite movie music man, Danny Elfman contributed the score and it sounded incredible.

Extras:

The Blu-ray release of “Hulk” starts off prompting the viewer to select one of seventeen languages to start the menus. Thankfully, English was on the top and not the bottom as the Universal menus aren’t the fastest scrolling menus in the world. The Blu-ray has had its featured ‘upgraded’ a slight bit as the previously named “Hulk Cam” is now simply a Picture-in-Picturefunction of U-Control that appears in fifteen of the film’s thirty two chapters. Requiring Profile 1.1, the PiP feature includes some very nice snippets about the making of the film and is intertwined with a few good interview segments, but only about forty five minutes of footage is contained in this video supplement and most of the film is left silent.

The rest of the features on the Blu-ray release are aligned identically to how they appeared on the HD-DVD release. First and foremost is the Feature Commentary with Director Ang Lee. Ang Lee may not be the best English speaking director from Hong Kong, but he does an admirable job. Lee is very optimistic and pleased with his effort and this is painfully obvious in the commentary. Due to the age of the commentary, it does not recognize the film’s failures and after listening to the track for the first time in a few years I still find this an engaging commentary from a man who doesn’t have the strongest grasp on English, but the film was hardly the success Lee expected it to be while recording this commentary track.

Deleted Scenes (5:51) are mastered in 4:3 and does not fill a widescreen television. They contain further development between Betty Ross and Bruce Banner and include an additional scene with the Hulk from my childhood, Lou Ferrigno. Evolution of the Hulk(16:17) features a chat with character creator Stan Lee and gives a very nice background on the big green hero. This is a very good supplement and should perhaps have been watched by Ang Lee. The Incredible Ang Lee (14:28) is a tribute of sorts to the director. The Dogfight Scene (10:09) looks at the fight in great detail between the big bad Hulk and the not quite as big doggies. It is nicely done. The Making of the Hulk (23:43) is actually quite good and provides a lot of information on the production of “Hulk.” Finally, The Unique Style of Editing the Hulk (5:34) looks at how the film tried to mimic the comic book. This short feature points out some things that were perhaps missed by viewers.

Closing Comments:

This film will always disappoint me as I was so hopeful that Eric Bana would become a huge star after “Hulk” and has only been tarnished by his inclusion in the Ang Lee film. There was so much talent attached to the film that I am still shocked it is as disappointing as it truly is. The film and its effects looked wonky and the oversized Hulk just wasn’t as powerful a presence as he appeared on screen. It didn’t help that it took nearly half the film’s length before he appeared. The sight and sound of this Blu-ray release are awesome and the reformatted special features are a slight improvement over the HD-DVD release, as long as you own a Profile 1.1 capable player. I still can’t recommend this film on the movie itself, but it is reference quality in presentation. It is impressive to see and hear Hulk smash! But you just don’t care what he smashes.

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