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Latest `Hulk' adaptation is simply ... incredible.

Byline: Jim Keogh

COLUMN: FILM CLIPS

Some scattered thoughts on "The Incredible Hulk":

Ang who? With this newest version of the Hulk saga, we're essentially being asked to forget Ang Lee's 2003 adaptation of the comic book, which was derided as too sluggish, too talky and simply not Marvel-ous enough.

Consider it forgotten.

This "Hulk" buries its predecessor in just about every facet. Edward Norton brings a quiet intelligence, and a dose of flat-out charisma, to the role of scientist Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, that Eric Bana lacked in the original. The movie is also aided by superior special effects, especially the depiction of the Hulk himself, who in the Lee adaptation never seemed to exist in any real physical space. He was an animated construct who literally bounced from location to location like something from a Super Mario Bros. video game.

The new Hulk is a far more convincing creature; his mass is palpable, his movements fluid. We can believe he is flesh, bone and muscle. What could be more important when your main character is conceived and executed on a computer?

Loved the little odes to "The Incredible Hulk" TV series, including a shot of a young Bill Bixby on a television screen in a rerun of "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," Lou Ferrigno as a security guard (at 56 the guy still looks like he should be painted green and busting through brick walls), and Edward Norton delivering a fumbling Portuguese translation of the show's signature line - "Don't get me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." I even detected a snippet of the Hulk's sad walking-away music that played at the end of every episode, when Bixby, his latest adventure ended, would turn away from the camera and continue his lifelong mission of wandering lonely roads in bell-bottom pants and a Members Only jacket.

Fans of "Saturday Night Live" might remember a long-ago skit involving a house party attended by a collection of superheroes, with John Belushi playing the Hulk. At one point, Hulk emerges from the bathroom, and the accompanying groans of disgust from the other partygoers may help explain why he's such an outcast.

In one scene, Hulk and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) sit at the mouth of a cave, looking out at a thunderstorm. The sequence is shot from behind, with the monster's massive muscled back looking even more outrageously oversized next to Betty's slender frame. The tableau was one of the movie's rare sweet moments, and its design reminded me of the famous Norman Rockwell painting of a broad-shouldered police officer conversing with a young boy at a diner counter.

The climactic battle between Hulk and his demonic foe, the Abomination, on the streets of New York is accompanied by some unintentional humor. As the beasts toss around cars like Nerf footballs, rip up sidewalks and hurl their gigantic bodies at each other, screaming people inexplicably run to and fro rather than take cover inside. The satirical "Vice Squad" TV show used to poke fun at the same odd strain of human behavior. Whenever a gun fight broke out, suddenly a shrieking crowd would begin darting in the path of the gunfire. Folks, when two colossuses collide, give them some space.

Speaking of the Big Apple: There are a lot of great cities in the world, but when it comes to staging Armageddon, nobody does it like New York. Godzilla had his Tokyo moment, T-Rex from "The Lost World" terrorized San Diego, and lava flowed through downtown Los Angeles in "Volcano." But New York - Times Square in particular - is familiar to audiences on a global scale, so if you're going to make a movie in which famous landmarks are endangered in a superhuman brawl, you take Manhattan every time. Besides, if Indianapolis took a beating, would anybody care?

Hulk continues to follow the Purple Pants Rule, which states that no matter what kind of trousers Bruce Banner is wearing when he undergoes the transformation, the Hulk will always emerge wearing stretchy purple pants. Then when Banner returns to human form, he awakens wearing his original pants (usually jeans), which are in tatters. The movie is smart enough to acknowledge the discrepancy with a sly joke, as if to say, hey, it's a comic-book movie, forget about the pants already.

While I was an avid comic book reader as a kid, The Hulk was never one of my favorites. In fact, he always confounded me because I could never understand his purpose. He's not a superhero in any conventional sense, and in the old comic books never seemed to fit in with the other do-gooders in costume (I mean, really, if Captain America wants to engage in a discussion about U.S. foreign policy, would he ever turn to the Hulk?). Here was a raging green behemoth with no clear mission other than to wreak havoc, yet he somehow instinctively knew who the bad guys and the good guys were. I suppose he will always be Marvel's answer to King Kong, a misunderstood misfit forever swatting away airplanes to protect the woman he loves.

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Title Annotation:ETC.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 22, 2008
Words:855
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