Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Incredible Hulk Blu-ray Review

The Incredible Hulk smashes into OPC, as our Avengers Month continues!

When Marvel brought Hulk to the big screen in 2003, fans and critics panned it for being too tedious with a climax that was far too unbelievable to accept.  While some of the criticism might have been deserved, the real issue on my mind was how Edward Norton (Fight Club) might have handled the role.  Originally offered the gig, Norton turned it down at the last minute, leaving audiences and director Ang Lee (Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) wondering what might have been.  It wouldn't be until 2008 before we would see another Hulk movie, but this time with Norton assuming the role he was frankly meant to take.  However, audiences failed to pack theatres to see it, opting instead for the brilliant Iron Man and the even better The Dark Knight.  Too bad, as The Incredible Hulk outwitted and out-acted its predecessor, giving us plenty of smash with a great story.  The home release does the film proud with a great transfer and excellent supplements, making it a necessary addition to any super hero film collection.

The Movie - 4.5/5
Taking a different path than its predecessor, The Incredible Hulk opens with Banner and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, Lord of the Rings series) as they collaborate with future enemy General Ross (William Hurt, Altered States) to create a serum to protect people from harmful radiation.  Confident of the cure, Banner exposes himself to it, thus becoming The Hulk and summarily destroying the complex and injuring Betty and the General.  This begins a massive manhunt for Banner that begins in a favela in Rio de Janerio and ends in New York, with each location needing serious insurance claims adjusters afterwards.  Ross is obsessed with resurrecting Howard Stark's super soldier program, keeping his real intentions from Betty and Banner.  But Banner has his own plan to kill The Hulk by curing himself with the help of a scientist named code-named Mr. Blue, whose identity is hidden until the third act.  Blue is Doctor Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson, Oh Brother Where Art Thou), and he also has a plan to replicate Banner's research to cure every disease afflicting mankind.  As if that scheming wasn't enough, it also appears that Ross' top gun, Major Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Reservoir Dogs) wants the serum to return life to his tired military physique.  As Banner and Betty join forces with Sterns, the General summons a newly serum-enhanced Blonsky to take down Hulk at any cost.  But it's Blonsky who becomes the liability, as he forces Sterns to inject more serum into him, causing the creation of Abomination.  The serum is like a drug to Blonsky, and Roth plays off this desperation in convincing form.  Our heroes engage in a final act that's pretty spectacular, with big beast warfare as the order of the day.

Norton is Banner, and it feels good to see him assume the role he was meant to play.  He has good chemistry with Tyler, as the two reunite after a 5-year absence.  She's a more dolled-up version of Jennifer Connelly's incarnation, but it's hard not to admire her beauty and acting chops.  Both she and Connelly played Betty in convincing form, as the person torn between honoring either family or her love for Banner.  While Hurt is serviceable as General Ross, I much preferred the intensity of Sam Elliot's version.  It would have been nice to have seen him return to the role, but I suppose it might have confused audiences since the storylines between films are dissimilar.  Director Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans) keeps the story moving with the right amount of action, introducing us to Hulk by first playing with the shadows and steam of the bottling plant, then bursting him into the spotlight with all the rage a Hulk should play.  This is an intelligent story as well, and Leterrier allows our actors to discuss heavy scientific subjects without losing audiences with too much Treknobabble.  As with every Marvel film, there's a nice button at the end which references The Avengers, and it's nice to see them carry this line through in the Thor release.  If there's one issue I had with the story, it's the lack of connection after Blonsky loses his climatic battle with Hulk: does he enter one of SHIELD's specialized jail houses, only to escape in a later film?  On the Hollywood side of the disappointment scale, it's learning about all the ill-will Norton created on set and with Marvel with his demands to re-write lines and basically re-edit the film, a story whose validity is still debated to this day.  In the end, it looks like whatever happened ultimately affected his chances of showing up in The Avengers, which sounds like old Hollywood politics ruining good films.

The Video - 4.5/5
The Incredible Hulk is presented in a stunning 1080p MPEG-4/AVC transfer that is absolutely free of any grain, distortion, edge enhancement, or haloing.  Details are extremely sharp, showing off stitches in clothing, veins on Hulk's body, sweat on solider's faces, and the patchwork favelas of Rio.  Colors and shadows exist well together, giving each a chance to stand on its own without overpowering the other.  Day scenes are crisp, showing off clouds and sky, while night scenes mix with shadows and the bright lights of explosions very well.  It's an excellent transfer, given the film's original release date.

The Audio - 5/5
Prepare to be amazed at the superior DTS-HD 5.1 audio track which accompanies The Incredible Hulk.  Explosions and gunfire pop loudly but clear, car and helicopter sounds move from front to back speakers with ease, and the surround effect wraps the audience in a variety of city sounds, radio chatter, and factory noises.  The LFE allows Hulk's roars to resonate through the floor, giving audiences a great low-end experience. Dialogue is never treated as a second-class player, allowing the audience to enjoy it without playing The Remote Game during action scenes.  Craig Armstrong (In Time) creates a memorable love theme for Banner and Betty, and his action pieces help complete the tone established by the director.  Universal's efforts made it one of the best offerings of 2008, and it's still a joy to crank up this lossless track.

Supplements - 5/5
The supplements here are many, deep, and insightful, providing the viewer with a rich experience:
  • Alternate Opening (2:34, HD): One of the most intriguing aspects of this release, it sends a very different message about the tone Norton and Leterrier were considering.
  • Deleted Scenes (42:45, SD): None of these scenes were really necessary to the story, but it's fun watching Banner assemble pieces of his lab from broken bicycles and phonographs, or Ross's explanation of the super soldier program.
  • The Making of Incredible (29:54, HD): This featurette gives a 30,000 ft view of the production, highlighting the story, actors, locations, and shooting schedule.  It's a great little piece for those who don't want to view all the other features but still learn about the film.
  • Becoming the Hulk (9:22, HD): The various incarnations of the Hulk, from comics to the television and movies, are discussed.
  • Becoming the Abomination (10:16, HD): A neat feature showing how Marvel imagined the look and movement of Abomination.
  • Anatomy of a Hulk Out (27:50, HD): This feature takes us through the three major action pieces in the film - The Bottling Plant, On Campus, In Harlem.  These are very cool and insightful pieces which are definitely worth your time.
  • From Comic Book to Screen (6:30, HD): A nice motion comic depicting the Grotto scene.  It shows how some elements from the comic made their way into the final cut.
  • U-Control: For those of you with days available to watch the tons of extra content available through U-Control, I suggest you try it.  There are literally hours of content you can access as you watch the film.  Features like The Thunderbolt Files give you mission briefings and a series of location maps; and the Picture-in-Picture option, which displays how certain scenes were shot, helps the audience gain a greater appreciation for Leterrier's vision.
  • Commentary Track by Director Louis Leterrier and Actor Tim Roth: Again, if you have time to watch the film three times, the commentary track is certainly worth your time.
Marvel's had several versions of this release that first made their way to DVD.  Among the most unique were a steelbook from Mexico and an American Target Exclusive that's a keeper.  The original Blu-ray release was limited to a steelbooks of various sizes from several countries and green-colored Combo Pack for American audiences.  I reviewed the one-disc version which came with no art book or interior artwork. 

The Final Word - 4.5/5
The Incredible Hulk delivers the goods with an excellent transfer and a wide amount of supplements.  It sadly was lost among the releases of Iron Man and The Dark Knight, but that shouldn't keep you from checking it out or giving it another shot.  It's highly recommended.