Monday, December 15, 2003


Nothing so terrorises film critics than when an auteur director makes a popular, or shall we more accurately say populist, picture. When the auteur sticks religiously to the idea of Cinema-with-a-Capital-C the critical fraternity are at one; another triumph of thoughtful cinema filled with arresting images from one of the major talents of our day, irrespective of how mind-numbingly dull and unspeakably boring the film may be. When the auteur makes a movie though, a movie that people will hand over hard-earned gelt to see, the Emperor has no clothes defence will no longer wash. The pretence that the critic has a greater sensibility to the masses falls when the masses are addressed by the picture, and thus we understand how critics scattered for cover this summer when Ang Lee’s Hulk was released.

There were no reviews lauding Hulk, nor were there any condemning the film. It was just there, impossible to ignore, rather like the protagonist’s own green self. I believe it performed adequately at the box office, in that it wasn’t an unmitigated stinker like the Charlie’s Angels or Matrix sequels, but neither was it a runaway success like Independence Day was all those years ago. It was just there.

An Spailpín finally caught up with Hulk courtesy of his local video library, and has come to this conclusion: Hulk is a very fine comic book film indeed, and is a worthy addition to the pantheon of comic book adaptations, up their with the great ones like Tim Burton’s Batman and the first X-Men movie, and well away from the basement, such as Joel Schumacher’s Batman and the second X-Men movie.

In choosing his source material, Ang Lee looked past the seventies TV series and to the original Incredible Hulk comics themselves. This was a brave move to begin with, as it was through the TV series that most people came to know the Hulk in the first place. Instead, Lee instructed his CGI designers to make the Hulk look more like his comic self, and less like Lou Ferrengo.

The comic’s influence is manifest throughout the picture, most marvellously in the cuts from scene to scene. Lee uses split screens and all the tricks of his trade to replicate the look of a comic strip in the movie, and it works tremendously well. The casting is good also – even a giant of the method such as Hoffman or Day Lewis would be hard to put to replicate a situation where the hero grows to twenty feet tall and turns green whenever he’s in a bit of a snit; as such, the best thing to do is to go with caricatures and take it from there. All Eric Bana has to do is look troubled, and this he does with aplomb, not least in the marvellous line, “what worries me most is, when the rage comes on me, I like it.” A great line for this movie. Jennifer Connolly must simply look equally concerned and beautiful, which is no hardship to her, and the great and legendary Sam Elliot is unable to put a foot wrong on any occasion, even in a role as thankless as his in We Were Warriors, with Mel Gibson. Even Nick Nolte hams it up like a man that comes from the Planet Egg.

The CGI graphics are very well done, sufficiently arresting of belief to stop us from asking the age old question: if the Hulk gets so massive, how come all his clothes are shredded par those necessary to preserve modesty? Far better than in Sam Rami’s Spiderman, for instance, where the CGI business was the only disappointment in an otherwise admirable adaptation.

Finally, the debt the movie owes to Bill Bixby and the original TV series is not entirely forgotten – there is one line in the movie that will have devotees grinning with the happiness one enjoys when one meets an old friend, and where’s the harm in spreading the joy?