Monday, March 16, 2015

Recap: "Hulk" Intro


A movie that stands in infamy for not necessarily being bad, but for being a bizarre mess of two ideas that stand in opposition to each other. Much like the Hulk himself, appropriately enough. This film stands as the punchline of many jokes and the unofficial answer as to why Mark Ruffalo hasn't gotten a solo Hulk movie yet. Released in 2003, this movie came out the same year as Daredevil and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen... and is still known as "the bad one."

Regular NewtCave readers know quite well by this point that I was very ill a couple weeks ago. Which is when I was actually watching this movie to write this Recap. Coincidence? Probably. But feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Brace yourselves, it's got a long and troubled history. Like Bruce Banner. Huh. Maybe this whole thing was a veiled metaphor instead of a straight adaptation? Ten outta ten!

Probably first time "ten outta ten" has been said in reference to this film.
Like Iron Man, the story of this film starts with the character's creation in the 1960's. Back then, Stan Lee was quite busy taking every random thought that popped into his head and making them into superheroes.

"What if a team of superheroes acted like a real family?"

Fantastic Four.

"Hey, look at that fly crawling on the wall!"


"Can you make a rich jerk of a character that the hippies will still want to read about?"

Iron Man.

But the Hulk was cobbled together from a lot of things that had been bouncing around Stan Lee's head for a bit.
  1. Readers really liked the Thing from the Fantastic Four comics.
  2. Stan Lee always had a bit of a soft spot for Frankenstein's monster.
  3. Though he used it repeatedly as a way to gain superpowers, radioactivity was a pretty scary thing in the 60's, when everyone wondered if the Cold War would turn hot.
  4. He read an article where a panicked mother lifted a car to save her child, an example of the power of adrenaline which people still bring up to this day.
By adding a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde and a dash of the Golem myth, the Hulk was created and given his own title in 1962. Stan named the main character Bruce Banner, then Bob Banner because Stan Lee forgot his name. (They later retconned the full name to "Robert Bruce Banner.")

And, of course, no hero would be complete without an origin. One day, Bruce was testing his latest invention for the military, a Gamma Bomb. Noticing teenager Rick Jones on the testing ground, Bruce selflessly ran out into the blast zone to save him, absorbing the lethal dose of Gamma rays. (Originally, the detonation was postponed until a Communist turned it back on to sabotage Bruce's work.) Because Bruce didn't have a fridge to hide in, he should have died. But instead, the Gamma radiation gave him the uncontrollable power to change into the grey-skinned monster known as the Hulk every sundown.

That's right, grey. Stan Lee wanted the character to have a recognizable color, and he knew that he'd have to choose carefully. There was no shortage of racism in the 60's, and Lee didn't want to look like he was making some kind of racist statement. A red monster could be seen as racist against Native Americans, orange could offend any dark-skinned ethnicity, yellow could offend Asian-Americans, etc. So he chose grey. Not the best choice, considering that grey was often used for portraying black people in comics (because the shade of brown most often used was often too dark to use with a black outline), but consistency issues with the color grey forced them to make the character green.

Fantasy as you like it! Which is actually science-fiction, apparently.
But it was all worth it, right? People instantly loved the Hulk as much as they loved Stan Lee's other creations, right? Well, no.

There were a few big fans, like a fraternity that chose the Hulk as their mascot, but the Hulk comic was canceled after six issues. Hulk would later cross over with the Fantastic Four, join the Avengers, leave the Avengers almost immediately, and go on to feature in Tales to Astonish, alternating with Ant-Man. From there, the character would enjoy decades of being paradoxically well-known but little read, no matter how much pseudo-psychological depth later writers tried to imbue the character with. He would also later get a subpar, lowest common denominator-pandering, headache of a cartoon, but that's neither here nor there.

But you know, there was one brief time when the Hulk was popular. That, of course, was when he had that live-action show, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. But such things can't last forever, and that's where this film's Frankensteinian journey begins.

Like many Marvel films, this particular story starts in the 90's, when Marvel first started trying to get the ball rolling on making movies. In 1990, at least several television screens around the country were showing The Death of the Incredible Hulk, the final made-for-TV movie of the long running live-action Hulk show. Producers Avi Arad and Gale Ann Hurd took this as the cue to finally do a live-action Hulk movie, and they made a deal with Universal to start the project in 1992. In 1994, they met with Stan Lee himself and screenwriter Michael France to discuss the project. France wound up leaving the project after disliking Universal's ideas for the script they wanted him to write.

So it took two years to get around to starting the project, another two to get the creative talent involved, and someone left almost immediately. Get used to this happening.

John Turman was soon brought in, and he ended up writing a whopping ten drafts that all used many classic Hulk elements, like the Gamma Bomb origin, Rick Jones, the Leader, and a couple plot elements that, unlike the first three, were actually kept in the eventual film.

Cut to 1997.

Pre-production isn't even close to being done. Universal brings in Jonathan Hensleigh to fix the script and Joe Johnston to direct after their mutual success with Jumanji. Johnston left to work on October Sky, and Hensleigh convinced Universal to let him direct. Turman came back to do another draft of the script, which was then completely rewritten by Zak Penn. (This version of the script would later be amalgamated into Penn's later work, The Incredible Hulk.) Then Hensleigh started once again from scratch, creating a script where the Hulk fights insect-men. And this lackluster-sounding setup was the script that got production started for a planned 1997 shoot. Go figure.

The shoot was pushed back a few months as more rewrites were done (what a shock), courtesy of some additional writers like J.J. Abrams. Yes, the one who got to reboot Star Trek and Star Wars.

In March 1998, Universal started getting worried about this first-time director having a $100,000,000 dollar budget ($20,000,000 of which had already gone into developing the CGI and prosthetics), so the film was put on hiatus as Hensleigh began rewriting the script yet again to make it cheaper to film. Having finally had enough, Hensleigh left production. Eight months later, Michael France finally convinced Universal to let him back on the project. France rewrote the script yet again, this time adding a machine called a "Gammasphere" to create the Hulk, the tragic romance between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross, and a few other elements that ended up in the final film.

At the same time, the higher ups at Universal apparently had doubts about making a superhero film (what with a then-recent box-office bomb or two) and apparently tried to get more comedy in the script. Allegedly, names like Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey were being tossed around as France turned in his final draft in January, 2000.

The script was then rewritten for what seems like the millionth time by Michael Holtin, an award-winning screenwriter, and David Hayter, writer of X-Men, X2, and voice of Solid Snake. As amazingly weird as that sounds, it's absolutely tame compared to who approached the project next.

Ang Lee.

Not Stan Lee's Asian cousin, but the acclaimed director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. Sometime between those films, he decided to make his filmography even more eclectic. He was so intent on doing this project that he turned down the offer to direct Terminator 3.

Lee and his writing partner, James Schamus, rewrote the script yet again. This time, instead of looking to the comics for inspiration, Ang Lee drew from Faust, Beauty and the Beast, Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, King Kong, and even classical Greek tragedy. As the Screen Writers Guild tried to figure out who to credit for this cobbled patchwork of a script, shooting finally began for realsies in 2002.

While Johnny Depp was favored for the role in the 1990's, Billy Crudup was Ang Lee's first choice to play Bruce Banner, but he turned the role down. After the usual names like Steve Buscemi, David Duchovny, Tom Cruise, and Jeff Goldblum were thrown around, Eric Bana was cast in the role. To prepare him for the role, Ang Lee took him to a bare-knuckles fight. No word on whether or not it was organized by Ed Norton.

According to the eventually-cast Eric Bana, the entire shoot was serious and silent. Ang reportedly told his actors that they were here to film a Greek tragedy. The special effects guys would make the superhero movie on their computers. And you know what? It shows. The resulting movie is a disjointed mess of art house angst and B-movie cheese. Though it opened very well at the box-office before going down in history as the largest opener to not earn $150 million. Hulk also holds the record for largest second weekend box office drop for a movie that opened at #1, with a drop of about 69.7%.

To make a long story short...

Quiet, you.
A box-office bomb starring a renowned actor as a well-known superhero directed by a critically-acclaimed visionary? It's like the anti-Iron Man.

"I guess not everyone's as much of a fan of the big green rage monster as I am."
Now let's begin.

Coming up in Part 1, science, art, and a Gamma Bomb... of emotion.

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