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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Incredible Hulk
Original Movie Collection


Starring: Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £29.99
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 06 August 2018

Fabulous Films releases for the first time together the trilogy of The Incredible Hulk TV movies, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The Incredible Hulk: Original Movie Collection contains The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), The Trial of The Incredible Hulk (1989), and The Death of The Incredible Hulk (1990)...

In The Incredible Hulk Returns, Dr David Bannion has developed a machine called a Gamma Transponder, which will feasibly produce endless energy by removing Gamma Radiation from substances all around us (eh?). He shies away from public recognition – after all, he is really David ‘Bruce’ Banner, and is supposed to be dead. Of course, Banner has an ulterior motive: he has really designed the machine in the hope it will cure him of his anger affliction (and that’s an understatement!), which he is obliged to keep protected from the public. However, unscrupulous businessmen are after stealing the machine by kidnapping the woman Banner loves and blackmailing him into delivering it into their hands. In the meantime, Donald Blake, an ex-student of Banner’s seeks his help with a quite different problem. On a climbing expedition Blake found a body and a hammer, and becomes inextricably linked with Thor – the Norse God of Thunder. Blake can use the hammer to call forth or send back the warrior. Banner teaches Blake to come to terms with this unbreakable partnership, and in return Hulk and Thor go into glorious battle together to put things right.

Bill Bixby was a fine actor, and in turn Lou Ferrigno is perfect in the role of the Hulk – the first ever live-action version of the character. Around six years had passed since the popular TV series had come to an end. The series, whilst perhaps not satisfying the big budget Hulk of the recent Marvel Avengers films, had real heart. The problems were scaled-down, dealing with everyday businessmen villains, as opposed to cosmic power-hungry beings. The TV Movie carries on the trend as if it had never ended. Like the Hulk, the Thor character is lower-key. He doesn’t bring down lightning, but he does want to do the right thing by having a good fight. As you would expect, the modern world leaves him cold. When he asks for beer and food, Blake takes him to a biker’s bar where he fights, drinks a lot and wins a lot of unlikely friends. These scenes are well-handled, making Thor appear more grounded. The Hulk is as good as ever, terrifying people when all he does is a strongman pose, break a few guns and throw a few baddies across the room. He is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, so cannot be seen to do more. He is essentially a good guy, although Banner lives in fear of what the beast in him might do. As if he didn’t have enough of it during the series, reporter Jack McGee is back on his trail, repeatedly just missing out on seeing Banner.

This enjoyable family film is further complimented by a couple of good special features: Very entertaining separate interviews with Lou Ferrigno and Marvel demigod Stan Lee.

In The Trial of The Incredible Hulk, Banner heads to the big city under another pseudonym, and immediately becomes embroiled in trouble after a major jewellery robbery, masterminded by Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. On a train two of the criminals attempt to assault a woman passenger. When Banner intercedes he is roughed-up. Enter the Hulk. He escapes into the tunnels and reverts to Banner, but he is arrested by police when the woman victim reports he was the aggressor – as it turns out, under duress from the criminal fraternity. Blind lawyer Matt Murdock arrives to take on his case. He believes he is innocent but doesn’t know why. After a particularly ferocious nightmare involving his inner beast, Banner changes and breaks out of prison. A well-known vigilante called the Daredevil seeks him out, ensuring him of his trustworthiness by revealing his identity as Matt Murdock. When the woman witness is kidnapped by the Kingpin’s men, Daredevil goes off in pursuit. However, Banner learns that the vigilante is walking into a trap, and feels obliged to go to his aid.

Although this uses the same last quarter plot strand as the previous film, it’s still enjoyable. Nevertheless, there is no doubt it is a much darker script. The inclusion of Daredevil necessitates this. He is very single-minded about helping the innocent and driving out corruption in the city where he lived as a boy with his dad.

Daredevil is probably the closest superhero in style and theme to Batman. A character in this movie actually borrows from the DC Comics Commissioner Jim Gordon. Gordon is the only member of the police force he can totally rely on, so there is somewhat of an ‘understanding.’ Similarly, in this one there is a high-ranking police officer who openly admits corruption in the ranks.

Again, Daredevil is toned-down for this first live-action appearance. In a family show he cannot be shown exchanging heavy blows with the villains. Although the costume in the comics was dark red, it was changed to black for this outing. It was a choice Stan Lee openly opposed. The comics briefly altered the costume colour to black, before reverting to their original colour. So I’m certain Lee felt vindicated.

Stan Lee has a cameo role in this, a move that was to become more than familiar in the later movies. He plays a juror in a Hulk frenzy set-piece. This could well be Ferrigno’s most lavish scene in the role. It is the nightmare wherein Banner is put on trial and cross-examined to the point he changes into the Hulk and goes on a rampage, throwing people around and famously lifting up the box containing all the jurors (who, I have to say, look back expressionless at him, as if this sort of this was normal!).

The rich voice of John Rhys-Davies makes his portrayal of the Kingpin more convincing, when we are used to substantially bigger actors playing the role. A sad note is that Jack Colvin, who played reporter Jack McGee, suffered a stroke after filming Return, and so was unable to appear in this or the subsequent movie.

In the final film of this collection, Dr Ronald Pratt has a laboratory in a high security building. He is working on a way to quickly heal human injuries, and a ghost is helping him. Every night someone is managing to get around the security, enter the lab and aid his research. The last person he would suspect is the mentally challenged cleaner, David. That is until he lies in wait one night. Dr Pratt chooses not to reveal this breach to officials, and the two work together to aid Banner’s plight. The process is almost certain to rid him of his inner beast, but it is interrupted when a beautiful spy gets in and tries to steal Dr Pratt’s discoveries. Pratt is badly injured in an accident, and the Hulk has to intervene. However, the spy is working under duress, believing her sister is being held hostage – when really she is the leader of the organisation and wants her dead. When Dr Pratt and his wife are kidnapped from the hospital for their knowledge, Banner and the former spy team-up and (forced to put their new emotional attachment to one side) go into action against the bad guys. But it doesn’t end well for our reluctant hero.

With the appearance of Thor in the first film and Daredevil in the second, it was intended to introduce Iron Man into this one, but the idea was abandoned at a late stage. So this film gets to concentrate more on the Banner/Hulk character. Banner finds a new family with Donald Pratt and his wife, he almost gets cured, finds love (and rumpy-pumpy!), and talks of a new life far away. However, nefarious and unscrupulous villains invariably get in the way of these things. The death scene itself isn’t a momentous occasion to feel he has sacrificed himself to the greater good. When the aircraft being flown by the villains Hulk is attempting to stop explodes in mid-air, the Hulk falls in slow motion to the ground. I like the fact that the ground breaks-up when he hits the runway, but the plane hadn’t even reached the clouds. It wasn’t that high, meaning the Hulk should have survived the fall. I suspect the intention here was to give him a good send-off in this format – and Banner a final peace.

There were plans for another follow-up movie, in which the central character is returned to life. It wasn’t to be, however, as shortly after the third movie Bill Bixby (who ably directed all three) fell ill and died. Bixby managed to create a different mood/feel for each of these films, and that is no mean achievement. No matter what modern audiences might think about lack of money, resources, special effects, stunt work and make-up, the films – and indeed the series – were fun, emotional and at times thought-provoking. The bottom line is they had heart. All the money in Hollywood can’t necessarily magic that into a production. I’m sure the first two films could have been cleaned-up a little, as they are slightly grainy. The two extra features on the first disc are great, but the others contain nothing. Is there no existing behind-the-scenes footage or film of Lou Ferrigno being made-up? Perhaps then a TV historian waxing lyrical about the show and showering us with fascinating facts. But don’t let this turn you off. I watched the series as a kid and enjoyed it very much. These films maintain that same style, and I still enjoy watching it today.


Ty Power

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