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FLASHBACKS: 8/2/2003: My review of "HULK"

In early August 2003, I saw a screening of Ang Lee's HULK at the Bagdad Theatre here in SE Portland. (I walked all the way home from the theatre that night, some 50 blocks. I was, heh, kind of wobbly by the time I got home. That also was the time when Mars was especially bright in the eastern sky; I remember that vividly.) Anyway, I thought about the film, and e-mailed a friend about it; now, three-and-a-half years later, I recalled that review, and I dug it out, so...you can read it! Here are review-y thoughts, with new comments here and there, plus a bit at the start about the call center job I was still working at the time...

Now I relax from an entertaining week at work. The numbness of the numb-nuts I too often get on the phone has not infected me. You'd nod recognition-ish-ly if you heard how some of my calls went, where people don't listen to you and answer questions you haven't asked and get huffy over you doing your job... But, thank everything, I had a lot of smart and happy and funny customers this week. (I was even able to joke with some. One guy wanted me to confirm if I had said something. I replied, "Yes, I did... but I could have said 'Hey! Zucchini people are attacking!'")...

I sometimes gotta think like a reviewer, and when I saw a film last night that you were curious about, I thought, "Why not? Send thoughts her way!" And it's The Hulk, a film that has gotten, I think, every response a film can get, from "This is incredible" to "This is real f'ing boring."

My response? The Hulk is a mess. But it's an enjoyable mess. And my serious side must praise the film for having a serious side of its own. I mean, it's a story about rage. Either you take it seriously, or you make it into an Adam Sandler movie. You can't have Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk because of, I dunno, a paper cut. So it's not at all a joke-y movie; very few wisecracks happen. I find that refreshing. (Plus I find Jennifer Connelly refreshing... But you probably figured that. ;-)

Ahhhhhh (he said in a refreshed way)... we still can have Mad Scientists in our stories. There's at least one in this film, who's responsible not only for the superhero but also a, shall we say, supervillain... Yes, the film has one! But the film bends over backwards to keep the creation of these creatures from being cliched. There's a "force of nature" feel to the supercreatures, which makes sense. It's like King Kong in that way. (2007 note: Actually, I later decided that the film honestly tried too hard to reconceptualize the creation of superheroes and supervillains, to the point where I was thinking "They've made it so complicated for a superhero to be created, how the hell are they going to manage the same trick in a sequel?")

The one story element that falls into the "goofy" category is, um, well, the, uh, the stuff with the dogs. I shouldn't say more, but it felt wrong, and somehow "off." It makes the film temporarily a little too strange, as it detours from a lot of surprisingly weighty stuff about how we relate to people (to risk sounding touchy-feely about it). Hulk director Ang Lee makes films about less-than-ideal relationships: remember, he directed the version of Sense and Sensibility that starred Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant. He gravitates towards those stories. And that quality -- showing people in less-than-perfect relating -- is what makes this film work at its best.

All I'll say about the special effects -- which are utterly necessary in making the Hulk look 15 feet tall and capable of leaping miles at a time -- is that I can't let less-than-perfect effects get in the way of my enjoyment of a film. Computer-generated creatures look a certain way, just as miniature models look a certain way and matte paintings look a certain way. People have whined about how the Hulk looks unreal. No duh. It's called "suspension of disbelief," y'all! And it can be perfect: the film version of Gollum is still closest to that perfection.

The ending is really rambling and overstuffed. I remember once saying that a movie had enough story in it that the film seemed "to include its own sequel," and that also happens here. I wondered if the film knew when, to, stop. It just grows more deranged, and evermore deranged, and then even more deranged... That's when it gets exhausting. You feel pummeled by the missiles and bombs and (oh! I shouldn't say more!) that get flung at the Hulk.

I think Hulk the movie worked best with people who already had a fondness for the big green guy (and at times, in the comics, a grey guy as well, but the film doesn't get into that). And I have a magnet with the cover of "Incredible Hulk #1" proudly stuck to my fridge, so, yeah, I'm fond. But as for comic book films, I still prefer (let's see) the X-Men movies and Superman II (the one with the clad-in-black Kryptonian supervillians demolishing both Metropolis and Mount Rushmore) and the first third of Spider-Man, which was, in my opinion, perfect and not to be improved upon. The Rocketeer? Cute with fun music. (2007 note: Yeah, leonardpart6, I do like a lot of James Horner's work!) Batman? It's a big reason I'm a film music fan and a HUGE reason I'm an Elfman fan. (Speaking of, he did a pretty successfully nutszoid score for Hulk, one that made me grin derangedly.)

And by the way, they did use "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." But it's not used in a way you'd expect. Or that I expected.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 13th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
So what was this other film that seemed to include its own sequel?

Yeah, that sums up a good deal of my reaction to that film as I recall, except I don't recall it doing much to "reconceptualize" the creation of superheroes beyond making the tone grimmer, and I don't recall a sense of an overstuffed ending. I might stand to see it again, just to see how it's aged for me, though I don't think I'll ever like that whole "comic panels on screen" gimmick.
Mar. 13th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
So what wasthis other film that seemed to include its own sequel?

You're going to laugh: it was that bad film version of Lost In Space. Now that had a lot to do with it being sloppily written -- though to the horror of some critic acquaintances of mine, I don't automatically think Akiva Goldsman's a bad writer, but he wrote plenty of stuff I don't think he should have bothered with. (Maybe he's a better rewriter: I've heard Russell Crowe brings Goldsman uncredited onto projects, like the Master and Commander film.)

"reconceptualize" the creation of superheroes

The only super-powered characters in the film are that way 'cause of getting those genetic modifications and those tiny machines in their bloodstream and then getting lots of power thrown into them (like the power beam and gamma rays Eric Bana gets in the lab, or Nick Nolte biting the power cable). Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did it much more simply (for, of course, a less sophisticated era), and they also could better imply that there was more than one way to become superpowered. (Dear yodeling Christ, I actually think about this stuff...)

The "overstuffed" ending for me was how the film handled Hulk Versus Absorbing Dad (to borrow Peter David's description), with them seemingly leaping from cloud to cloud (I know, the father just jumped really really far, but it looks like leaping) and fighting alongside that computer-generated lake that starts to foam up like a giant bubble. A lot of that was last-minute rewrite, by the way; it's presented differently in Peter David's novelization, based on an earlier draft.

But Jennifer Connelly still looks ridiculously hot in it.
Mar. 13th, 2008 11:17 pm (UTC)
See, for me as I recall, the dad becoming a supervillain and having a showdown w/ the hulk seemed like the natural climax... It was just rather poorly handled.

As to the bad Lost in Space...Yeah, now that you mention it... *indeed laughs*

I'd be interested in reading the novelization now... I just earlier today pointed out to Cait how the author of a novelization has as much claim on it as their own vision as a director on the finished film of said script... Arguably more so in many cases, now that I think about it.
Mar. 13th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
It was just really poorly handled.

Exactly. "This is STILL going on?" I thought.

It's a decent novelization; of course, I'm a fan of Peter David (and I'm getting to know his wife Kathleen O'Shea David on-line; she's puppetmaker40), and I like the approach he took; nicely psychological, and he didn't have to be as straightforward as some novelizers have to be. And as David wrote 12 years' worth of Hulk stories in the comics, he knows the big green guy.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )