Review: The Incredible Hulk – The Complete Collection
Blu-ray: The Incredible Hulk – The Complete Collection (1978 – 1982)
“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry“. 2 lines of dialogue that are as synonymous with the character that spoke them as “Go ahead. Make my day“, and “I’ll be back“. If Dr David Banner said that to you, then you’d better heed his words before his inner beast was released.
Based on the Marvel comic book character created by Stan Lee in 1962, The Incredible Hulk was brought to life on television screens by American broadcast television network CBS. Written, produced and directed by Kenneth Johnson (whose previous producer credits included the fantastic television series The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman), it went on to become the longest running television series based on a comic book character, before being cancelled in its 5th series.
The story begins by setting up the loving relationship between Dr David Banner (changed from Bruce Banner in the comics and played very sympathetically by the late, great Bill Bixby) and his wife Laura. When a fatal car accident finds David unable to move the car and rescue his wife from the wreckage, his research leads him to find that gamma radiation from sunspots are responsible for the seemingly inhuman bouts of strength that people can summon in extreme situations. Subjecting himself to a dose of gamma rays, which unknowingly to him is far more than he originally anticipated, he attempts to see if his strength has improved. Helped by Dr Elaina Marks (who secretly loves him) they go through a series of tests, which culminates in ‘The Hulk’ being released from inside of him.
Strong, angry and almost uncontrollable, the Hulks rampage culminates in the destruction of the laboratory building and the death of Elaina, and the presumed death of David Banner. It is through the persistence of reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) that the quest for answers to this catastrophe continues and as to how a so called ‘Incredible Hulk’ could be on the loose.
This sets up the foundations for an anthology series that can literally go anywhere. Not tied to one specific building, town or set of characters (bar the main 3 of David Banner, the Hulk and Jack McGee), the stories are set free to cover a multitude of people and places.
I was a big fan of The Incredible Hulk as a kid, and like most my age eagerly awaited the two transformations from David Banner into the Hulk which would inevitably occur during each episode. It is through watching it again as an adult that I appreciate far more the nuances of performance in the series, specifically from Bill Bixby as David Banner. Where once I saw him as simply a conduit for the Hulk to appear twice a show, I now see how incredible he was in the role. Eliciting a sense of pathos that the audience is drawn too, Bixby brings gravitas to the scene, despite whatever seemingly unbelievable set of circumstances may be occurring. Far from being a story about ‘a monster’ creating destruction and seeking revenge against that episodes antagonist, it is a story about love, loss, longing and hope. Bill excels in projecting those emotions through the screen, and when the episode invariably culminates in him having to walk away to another town and assume yet another identity, you can’t help but feel a tug on the heartstrings for the situation that he is in.
The flip side to Banner’s psyche is of course the title character of the Hulk. Originally cast into the role was Richard Kiel, who at 7ft 2 inches certainly had the height to appear intimidating, but didn’t posses the physical bulk to go with it. Despite beginning filming the pilot episode, Kiel would be replaced by Lou Ferrigno, who was known for his body building career and appearance in the documentary Pumping Iron alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. Standing 6ft 4 inches and with 26 inch biceps, Lou certainly encapsulated the phrase ‘incredible hulk’. Despite being hampered by deafness which was brought on by an ear infection during infancy, he threw himself (both figuratively and literally) into the role and gave 110% to it (a little wink there to anyone else that enjoyed his appearance on The Apprentice). His acting chops are given more scope in the episode ‘King of the Beach’, where he plays, surprise…a deaf body builder. This was specifically written so that his pronunciation of the dialogue wouldn’t be too jarring to the viewer, and…well, he’s bloody huge, so why not make him a body builder!? It is also to his credit that he too portrays some empathy, despite being a 6ft 4 inch green hulk. In the moments when his anger is subsiding and before the physical and mental change back into David Banner occurs, Lou shows a side to the Hulk that is far from the destructive giant that most view him as and projects a gentle, almost innocent, side of his persona that hints at a fragility hidden deep inside of his green hulking mass.
Jack Colvin is superb as the reporter Jack McGee. Never one to let the authorities get in his way of finding a conclusion to this ongoing series of story breadcrumbs left by an increasingly veiled adversary, he follows Banner like a hunting dog on the trail of its prey. Again, this is a character whom I now view differently upon watching the series as a grown adult. He no longer is just ‘the bad guy’ that I booed and hoped either Banner would finally lose from his trail, or even better; if the Hulk got his hands on him and stopped him for good. I now see how McGee has more compassion for Banner than I originally picked up on, especially as the series progresses and the characters become more fleshed out and their back story and motivations revealed. Here is a man, much like Banner, who is committed to his work and, despite what consequences may occur, continues through until there has been resolution.
Marvel has undergone a renaissance since this series was originally screened and now dominates the cinema box offices with each and every ‘superhero’ movie it releases, including various appearances by the Hulk in both his own movies and part of The Avengers. However, it will ALWAYS be this television series which encapsulates the Hulk for me. Over the 5 series you get to see a man who does not have a ‘super power’, but a man who is afflicted by a curse and is doing all he can to be rid of it. Yes, there will always be the question of “why didn’t his trousers rip and fall off“, and the transformation effects are nothing like the CGI that television studios have access to now, but it is the empathy and compassion for its characters that is the beating heart of this series, and something that can fully be appreciated in this wonderful box set from the aptly named Fabulous Films.
Accompanying the entire 5 series are 2 feature-length films and some incredible (see what I did there?) special features. Producer, writer, director Kenneth Johnson is an absolute gold mine of information through the commentary tracks he provides during certain episodes and through interviews in some of the featurettes. I’ll give non of his stories away, but if left to Kenneth, the Hulk would be red and not green…and wait until you hear the story about how the Hulk was blue and yellow in the desert!
This box set is superb and an essential purchase if you are a fan of the Hulk from back in the 1970’s or have just come to appreciate the big green bugger via the latest Marvel movies. It rewards repeat viewings and is a show that the whole family can enjoy.
Now go and buy this box set ASAP and share this review online so that everyone can read how great this release is. If you don’t, I’ll get angry…and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
- Creating an iconic character: The Hulk
- Remembering The Incredible Hulk: An American Classic
- Behind the success: The story of The Incredible Hulk
- Gag Reel
- Lou Ferrigno intro
- Introduction with Kenneth Johnson
- Audio commentary with Kenneth Johnson on the pilot ’The Incredible Hulk’, ‘Married’ and ‘Promethus’
- Inside an episode: Promethus photo gallery.
Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from discs kindly supplied by Fabulous Films.