It's a strange Hollywood phenomenon that a film can open with $60 million (and go on to make over $250 million worldwide) and still be called a disappointment, but that's what happened to 'Hulk.' The big green guy was supposed to be the summer blockbuster of 2003 -- an exciting, action-filled comic book extravaganza, and Universal's answer to Warner's 'Batman' and Sony's 'Spider-Man' franchises. Then Ang Lee's $150-plus million adaptation came out, suffered acidic reviews and turned off audiences with its gloomy, doomy mood and lack of action. All it took was about three days for the Big Green Hope to morph into the Big Green Bummer.
The plot is more or less faithful to the original comic origins. Eric Bana stars as Bruce Banner, a research scientist who gives new meaning to the word "morose." Why is he so sad? Seems pop (Nick Nolte) is a bit of a mad doctor type, and used to experiment on the poor kid, exposing him to genetic mutant monster experiments. Bruce is also depressed because he still has the hots for his former girlfriend and fellow scientist, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). She is also, like, really sad -- if only because Connelly is even more beautiful when she pouts. Then, after 45 minutes of boring exposition, all hell breaks loose. Soon, just about everybody -- Nolte, Connelly, the government, CNN -- is out to capture the not-so-jolly green giant before he causes more carnage than Godzilla with PMS. Guess no one thought to slip ol' Hulk some Zoloft?
I kid, but only because I love. Okay, maybe not love. But really, 'Hulk' isn't that bad. It has a nice comic book look, the cast is mighty fine, and if Lee was perhaps not the perfect director for the material, at least he attempts to bring some gravity and weight to what could have been an absolutely silly disaster flick. Lee just neglected to include much action, and when he finally does give it to us, the film's climax is a letdown.
Clearly, Universal was hoping for another 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' only Marvel-style. In that modern classic, Lee was able to craft an exciting, visually stunning adventure that was also emotional, weighty, and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, 'Hulk' doesn't reach those same heights, but it's also not the catastrophe many would have us believe. All the elements are in place for high drama -- or at least high comic melodrama -- and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Hollywood spectacle as good-looking as this one. Admittedly though, Lee's "panel pastiche" visual style, leaden pace and all-CGI Hulk action doesn't totally mesh.
Most of the criticism leveled against 'Hulk' stemmed from Lee's decision to make the monster an entirely digital creation -- sure, it worked for Gollum, but on the opposite side of the CGI spectrum, there are lesser successes like Jar-Jar. Lee's Hulk falls somewhere in between. We've come a long way from Lou Ferrigno in tights, but most of the CGI still looks pretty phony. It also doesn't help poor Bana, who must have found it hard to craft a three-dimensional portrayal when half of his performance was replaced with clip art. When the big green bugger finally does go bouncing across the screen, destroying tall buildings in a single bound, he seems to defy the laws of physics. Close-ups reveal a range and emotion that surmounts the digital trickery, but in long shots, Hulky rarely feels like a flesh-and-blood character -- instead he more resembles Sonic the Green Hedhog. And you know you've lost your suspension of disbelief in a Hulk movie when you start questioning why all of Banner's clothes rip off, except for that one strategically-placed pair of purple shorts. Shouldn't the Hulk be anatomically correct? Guess we'll have to wait for the Unrated Extended Director's Special Edition Cut for that one.
In my original review of 'Hulk' on HD DVD, I commended the transfer for looking fantastic. I thought it was one of the best catalog releases I'd seen on that format at the time. Watching it again on Blu-ray, it left me feeling pretty much the same -- this is a pretty wonderful presentation.
Again 'Hulk' receives the 1080p/VC-1 treatment (at 1.85:1 widescreen, though it is mislabeled 2.35:1 on the back packaging). Though re-encoded, the bitrate is not substantially greater than the previous HD DVD (despite this being a BD-50 dual-layer presentation). The source material is pristine, as apparently Universal has been keeping 'Hulk's HD master in some sort of Fort Knox vault on the studio lot. Blacks and contrast are first-rate, giving a comic book pop to the image but also retaining a naturalness so often lacking from modern, tweaked-out transfers. The color palette is wonderfully smooth and clean, but not over- or under-saturated.
Depth, detail and sharpness are also excellent -- this is the kind of thoroughly three-dimensional high-def transfer that you expect from high-def. Universal has also done a fine job re-encoding, as the transfer suffers from no noticeable compression artifacts or intrusive edge enhancement. Once again, I can't really find anything to complain about with the image quality of 'Hulk.'
He lives! He breathes! He smashes things! And now, he's in full high-res English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit). The soundtrack is bolstered by excellent, highly-immersive sound design. Unfortunately, in making the move from the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround track found in the previous DVD, the upgrade is not as huge as I expected, but 'Hulk' still sounds pretty great.
Most impressive is the 360-degree soundfield that is sustained consistently throughout the film. Discrete effects ping-pong all over the place, especially during the Hulk's third-act rampage. Imaging is seamless, with depth and clarity of tone in the rears excellent. Dynamic range is expansive, though the increased depth I expected from a DTS-MA upgrade is not quite as obvious as I've heard on other re-encodes. Still, low bass is incredibly deep and forceful. Even the underwhelming Danny Elfman score booms to life, with excellent deployment across the entire soundfield.
Remaining a problem, however, is the fact that this dialogue-driven movie suffers from poor balance. The center channel is so pronounced it sometimes comes off as a bit too loud for the mix, though this problem is not as acute as on the HD DVD. Otherwise, there are no issues with this mix. 'Hulk' certainly impresses.
Universal has carried over all of the supplements found on the previous HD DVD release of 'Hulk,' with one exception. Originally, the standard DVD contained a seamless branching version of the film dubbed "Hulk-Cam," which provided behind-the-scenes vignettes and interviews. That feature was dropped for the HD DVD, with all of the same material instead presented as a stand-alone supplement. For this Blu-ray, Universal has reinstated "Hulk-Cam," only repurposing it for next-gen as a picture-in-picture track (see the HD Exclusives section below).
The remaining supplements are identical, with all video materials presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video with English and Spanish subtitles.)
'Hulk' was a box office disappointment, but the film is nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests. No, it doesn't totally work, but I appreciated Ang Lee's respect for the material and the fine cast, especially Eric Bana as the tortured Bruce Banner. This Blu-ray release not only equals the previous HD DVD but trumps it. The video is a wash, the high-res audio superior (if not monumentally) and we even get an exclusive picture-in-picture track. Love it or hate it, 'Hulk' is easy to recommend on Blu-ray.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.