INCREDIBLE HULK, THE - Blu-ray review

...one of the nicer Blu-ray titles yet released.

DeanWink

"The Incredible Hulk" makes its entry onto Blu-ray in the very first bright green jewel case that replaces the familiar blue. It comes with a cardboard slipcase that mirrors the uniquely colored packaging and has me remember back to the days when I had hoped the Xbox 360 game packaging would utilize the smaller cases that HD-DVD and Blu-ray embraced. The slipcase is a really nice holographic image that depicts the Hulk and the Abomination locked in combat and I must say that the ‘Limited Edition' 3D packaging is quite spiffy. I usually don't start off a review praising the packaging and it hasn't been since my early days at DVD File that I even cared much to discuss the packaging. However, the clever decision to go Hulk green put a smile on my face and makes this the absolute easiest disc to find on my disc shelf.

Moving away from the box and to the film itself, it goes like this. Eric Bana is a better Bruce Banner. "The Incredible Hulk" is a better Hulk film. Ang Lee's previous "Hulk" starred Bana as Banner, but his film was too heavy in plot and didn't quite connect with audiences. The latest cinematic incarnation is intended to tie into a brand new Marvel universe and while it is only a slightly better film, it flows far smoother and is far easier to sit through and enjoy. Unfortunately, I'm not sold on having the capable Edward Norton, Jr. cast as the iconic gamma ray infected doctor for a couple reasons and the decision to have the Hulk face off against the near mirror image Abomination felt tired and unoriginal as so many super heroes seem forced to square off against their evil doppelganger. "The Incredible Hulk" is a better film, but Hollywood has yet to produce a truly iconic film starring the big green guy.

The film begins with a clever animated sequence that tells the entire backstory of the Hulk character through comic book styled frames. Writer Zak Penn had originally penned this story as a sequel to the 2003 Ang Lee film and matured the film through multiple versions. Edward Norton stepped in after being cast as Bruce Banner and rewrote the work done by Zak Penn to present the story as a ‘reboot' of the franchise and treat this as an entirely new story that ignored what was presented in the Lee film. Norton is treated as a shadow writer and was not given credit for the work done on the film as he kept much of the essential plot of Penn's story, but changed the tone, characters and tweaked the plot to ignore the Lee movie. Norton argued that audiences didn't care to sit through the characters familiar origins again and "The Incredible Hulk" moves quickly into action.

Dr. Bruce Banner (Norton) has fled government capture by General Ross (William Hurt) after his involvement in a secret super soldier project leaves the scientist transformed into the Hulk (voiced by Lou Ferrigno) and Ross' daughter Betty (Liv Tyler) is injured during Banner's first angry transformation into the gamma infused beast. He finds employment as a handyman in a soda factory in Brazil where he does everything from clean floors to fixing faulty electrical work. Banner takes Judo classes to learn to control his anger and heartrate and works hard to find a cure for the gamma radiation that turns him into the Hulk. After an incident at the factory leads an innocent consumer (Stan Lee) to become infected with gamma sickness, Ross traces the whereabouts of Banner to Brazil and sends British military specialist Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to tranquilize Banner and capture him alive.

This first meeting between Blonsky and Banner results in Banner getting hungry angry and turning into the Hulk. Blonsky's men are easily defeated and the British soldier is amazed at what unfolded in front of his eyes. Both men return to the United States through their separate ways and Blonsky has General Ross inject him with a serum developed through Banner's work to turn him into a super soldier. He is given a control dose that will elevate his abilities, but not turn him into the monstrosity that Banner becomes. Banner, on the other hand, returns and has a run-in with Ross' daughter, his ex-girlfriend Betty. Their reunion is cut short when Ross' men and Blonsky discover their location and Banner is cornered and forced to transform into the Hulk. The empowered Blonsky and the Hulk fight in hand-to-hand combat and the over confident Blonsky is nearly killed by the Hulk.

Banners then searches out "Mr. Blue" who had been helping him find a cure to the gamma radiation. He visits Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) in the Big Apple. During their encounter Sterns makes it clear to Banner that he does not intend to cure Banner's condition, but produce a large number of evolutionary humans with some Hulk-like traits. This brings about a heated discussion between the two, but Blonsky appears with his soldiers and ends the discussion by capturing Betty, Banner and Sterns. This leads to Blonsky using the doctor's formula and becoming a Hulk-like monster known to Hulk fans as the Abomination. This leads to a major confrontation in New York City between the Hulk and the Abomination and another confrontation in the long line of super hero films where the villain is an evil doppelganger.

Before breaking down my thoughts on the film and the story I'll discuss why I do not like the casting of Edward Norton, Jr. as Bruce Banner. At least the filmmakers didn't call the character David, but I felt that Norton just didn't quite fit the historical persona of Dr. Banner. Perhaps the dark hair of Bill Bixby and Eric Bana have me simply revolting against the brown haired Norton, but shouldn't the Hulk looked more like Norton after the transformation? Granted, this isn't the crazy green hair of Ferrigno during the television show, but I just couldn't buy into Banner turning into the film's version of the Hulk and Norton just doesn't pass as a good looking genius, but as an every-day man who should be drinking a beer and not trying to cure gamma radiation. I've also greatly respected Norton and didn't enjoy him taking part in a large blockbuster. The same could be said about Robert Downey, Jr., but this just felt like a miscast.

The story itself wasn't all that terribly bad and I found it to be a lot of fun at times. The relative ease in which Ross was able to locate and harass Bruce Banner was full of plot holes and the film never tried to delve too deeply into the humanity or character of either Banner or the Hulk, which caused the Ang Lee film to always feel heavy handed. This picture was meant to bring the character in line with Marvel's plan for a reboot of their franchises and intertwine the familiar heroes into one large universe. They are looking to make the Hulk a menacing mound of muscle and anger that is fun and exciting. This is a film that is far more accessible to a mass audience and generations brought up on Playstations, Xbox and MTV. It lacked the depth of "Iron Man" and "The Hulk," but it was certainly a faster-paced romp than what Ang Lee delivered and the depiction of a nine foot tall Hulk was easier to stomach than a fifteen foot beast. Thankfully, this film didn't take forever to get started like the last one.

While I found "Iron Man" to be far more enjoyable and didn't think "The Incredible Hulk" could lay a hand on "The Dark Knight," this is a good comic book adaptation that may very easily be the best live-action treatment ever given to the Hulk. It didn't have the silliness of the television show or many of the comic stories, but it was full of action and the Hulk smashing things. Of course, it didn't have Nick Nolte and I would have loved to have seen Eric Bana given another chance in this role. I'm interested to see what Marvel does with the rest of the Avengers. I know a Captain America film is in the works and they are already moving forward with a sequel to "Iron Man." The eventual Avengers film may very well be the next time we see the Hulk after somewhat disappointing box office returns, but this film was entertaining enough that I'll be looking forward to seeing that Bruce Banner does next in whatever installment follows.

Video:

I felt the DVD release of "The Incredible Hulk" looked absolutely phenomenal. In fact, the film looks about as good as I've seen on the standard definition format. The VC-1 mastered film looks very good on Blu-ray, but the 2.35:1 framed picture isn't quite as stunning when compared to the best that Blu-ray has to offer. Comparatively, the Blu-ray release doesn't look to be as huge a leap over the stunning DVD release as what is typical of high definition releases, but that is more a result of how amazing the DVD is and lesser of the technical deficiencies of the Blu-ray release. There are a few scenes in this film that are nearly reference and in particular the combat sequences between the Hulk and either the United States military or the Abomination look quite stunning.

"The Incredible Hulk" contains a very strong level of detail and coloring that seems to be lifted right from the frames of a comic. This CGI-based picture shows its digital pedigree with an incredibly clean transfer that shows no flaws from either mastering or the source print and the very minor amount of edge enhancement that I noticed on the nearly perfect DVD release is completely absent here. Explosions show off the films brilliant and warm coloring, while the film's darker scenes continue to look crisp and clear with strong black levels. The transfer is very clean and no dirt or other problems with the mix are present throughout the film and the source materials used were in perfect condition. Film grain is not very noticeable through the entire picture. While I wasn't as impressed with the Blu-ray release, this is still a very good looking title.

Audio:

When I had first watched the film, it was to review the DVD release. Upon booting up my Samsung standalone player for video and sound comparison, I had forgotten to set up the sound. Pressing two buttons resulted in a wall of sound that reminded me of the strength of the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack compared to the older Dolby Digital mix. "The Incredible Hulk" is a very good sounding title that is again just shy of being reference material. It is a very aggressive mix and the film pushes any good home theater rig. The film's many action sequences are quite enveloping and the .1 LFE channel thumps loudly throughout the film. Sound moves very cleanly from one channel to the next and the directional effects never feel forced. The Lou Ferigno voiced Hulk sounds deep and powerful and vocals from those not gamma radiated are equally strong. The musical score by Craig Armstrong exudes a strong presence throughout the film and sounds quite warm through the 5.1 mix. "The Incredible Hulk" is a very impressive sounding disc and while it can't topple reference quality titles and is a noticeable improvement over the solid sounding DVD release.

Extras:

"The Incredible Hulk" arrives on Blu-ray as a two disc special edition. I'm not sure what will change besides the 3D slipcase after the ‘Limited' window closes, but this Blu-ray set contains the film and bonus features on one platter and a DVD Digital Copy Disc. in a paper sleeve. This disc contains no supplemental material and allows for the portable playback of the film on iPod or Zune devices or through a PC or Mac computer. I do like the concept of providing a digital version of the film on permanent media and enjoy that Blu-ray releases provide alternate means to watch the film. It still doesn't rival the DVD Combo releases from the defunct HD-DVD format, but I feel we are getting somewhere closer to world media peace. The disc touts My Chat BD Live functionality, but I was unable to figure out how to make it work on my Playstation 3 at this time.

The Blu-ray disc contains most of the features from the 3-Disc DVD release, but moves beyond the DVD format with the familiar U-Control functionality. Five different items are available in what may be the best example of U-Control yet. Thunderbolt Files are spread across all twenty chapters and provides interactive information that is scene dependent as you watch the film. This includes some very nice background information on locations and the characters as you watch the film. The Scene Explorer is active only during chapters 10, 11, 17 and 18. This feature allows you to watch the scenes through their development from Storyboards, VFX Plate, VFX Stage 1 and VFX Stage 2 through either thumbnails or full screen imagery. Chapters 10, 16, 17 and 18 have the Comic Book Gallery. This pops up comic book frames as you watch the film and is quite sparse. The Animated Comic is active only during the eleventh chapter and should have been a standalone feature instead of in U-Control. It is nice to watch though and looks great in high definition.

The Picture-in-Picture functionality provides an excellent array of information and is active in all chapters but 7, 13, 15, 19 and 20. There is a lot of making-of information and background material covered here. The Blu-ray disc provides more than the extensive U-Control features to aid in the enjoyment of watching the film. The Feature Commentary with Director Louis Leterrier and Tim Roth is a pretty good listen if you do not feel like engaging the interactive content, but doesn't cover near as much material. The two recorded the track together and their thick British and French accents make for a difficult listen at times, but this is an energetic and informative track that is enjoyable. Tim Roth is a person who is just fun to listen to and that fun is evident here and while I feel the U-Control is a little more enjoyable, this commentary is a must listen to for fans.

The disc presents the same stand-alone materials from the three disc set and I must say I'm amazed at how much material was put on a BD-50 platter. I am not overly impressed with the Alternate Opening (2:34). What exactly is the point of it? The Deleted Scenes (42:45) were presented separately on the DVD 3-disc set, but they are combined for a very lengthy viewing experience. Some of these scenes are extended material, while others scenes were completely removed. While some of these scenes deserved to be left on the cutting room floor, I found some of them to be very enjoyable and my favorite scene in particular was the pizza delivery scene. The Making of the Incredible (29:52) is brought to you by Volkswagen. It is a decent making-of featurette that combines the polish and talking heads interviews that are so familiar to these types of documentaries and covers everything from Ang Lee's film to the effects used in this second film.

Four shorter featurettes are also contained on the Blu-ray disc. The Becoming the Hulk (9:23) has Edward Norton, Jr. and the filmmakers talking about Norton's involvement in the film and the new direction taken with this new Incredible Hulk. They show many designs and give good background on the choices made for this film. Of course, the villain needs his own feature and Becoming the Abomination (10:16) is a discussion on the Hulk's slightly larger nemesis. I still don't like the Abomination character. Anatomy of a Hulk-Out (27:50) is a collection of three featurettes that look at the CGI work involved to transform Norton into the green giant. Finally, From Comic Book to Screen (6:33) looks at a comic book subplot that became a scene in the film, which was the scene where Hulk took Betty to safety after the campus attack.

Closing:

Just a few years after Ang Lee tried his hand at producing an Incredible Hulk film, Universal and Marvel studios bring the character back for a film titled "The Incredible Hulk." This is an action-centric picture that reboots the character and lessen the plot heavy details for more explosions and fast-paced action. I felt the cast of Ang Lee's film was superior with Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte, but this movie was just a little more fun. The 3-Disc DVD set was quite solid and the Blu-ray release is a solid improvement with a very strong set of next generation materials that includes Profile 1.1 and 2.0 features. The sound is very strong, but the disc doesn't improve upon the picture quality by much and that is largely due to how good looking the DVD release was. This is the best way for Marvel fans to enjoy "The Incredible Hulk" and one of the nicer Blu-ray titles yet released.

Ratings

Video
9
Audio
9
Extras
9
Film Value
7