The Hulk is, among countless other things, a representation of the duality of man. From civilized genius one moment as Bruce Banner, to the savage beast with little regard to his surroundings the next, the green skinned gargantuan has seen varying changes throughout his nearly-fifty year history. From changes in his skin to his personality, the character possibly saw his greatest change in 2006, with the 'Planet Hulk' story line, in which the entire landscape changed. Goodbye Earth, hello Sakaar.
The Hulk (voiced by Rick Wasserman) has been deemed too great a danger to the planet Earth. Exiled on an unmanned space craft by Earth's heroes, destined for a land with no intelligent life, Hulk is having none of it. After causing his craft to lose control and crash on the planet Sakaar, the green skinned rage addict is immediately believed to be a man of prophecy, sent to free the world of its shackles. Forced into slavery, to compete as a gladiator for the amusement of the people, and the cruel Red King (Mark Hildreth), Hulk is revered by his co-gladiators, a mixture of alien races, as he stands up openly in rebellion to the king. Even victory doesn't guarantee safety, peace, or freedom for the Hulk, though, as the gauntlet that he is facing may not be his greatest threat on Sakaar.
Adapted from a short (but popular) run in the pages of 'Incredible Hulk' in 2006 with the same name, 'Planet Hulk' doesn't necessarily stay true to its source material. The most obvious changes, beyond the fact that many subplots and lines of dialogue had to be cut for coherency, are the addition and removal of characters. The entire opening jumps the entire set up that places Hulk in his shackles aboard the space ship in the first place, after the lies and betrayal of a group of heroes known as the Illuminati. Next, the gladiators themselves undergo a light tweak, as there is no Brood (an alien race made popular in X-Men comics) combatant. Most drastically, though, is the change of one of the story's key characters. The Silver Surfer (who appeared in the second 'Fantastic Four' film) has been wiped clean from the story, and replaced with a far lesser known Marvel character, a member of the Thor Corps named Beta Ray Bill. This change works, in my opinion, due to the extreme over-powering nature of the Surfer, while Beta Ray Bill, whose powers are identical to that of Thor's, is more a match for the green monster.
'Planet Hulk' may sound an awful lot like Ridley Scott's epic 'Gladiator,' but that's because it really, really is. This Hulk story doesn't hide the fact that it takes more than just a few themes from the Academy Award winner, and cranks up the violence (though it is in shorter segments, so it doesn't work as well). Blood and guts are found a plenty, with one particularly nasty head smashing that sends goo flying. The biggest difference, besides what happens outside the colosseum, between the films has to be the acting. Sure, cartoon characters can't really "act," but when the Hulk has more lines than he does steroid injections or hurtles through the air at a (soon to be dead) foe, things don't work as well. The Hulk is best silent, a growling, menacing beast, so caught up in his rage he cannot express himself beyond single syllables, if at all. Philosophical Hulk is best left with the grey split personality of the beast.
The story can meander a bit, and loses its steam in the third act, which is more like a sci-fi horror than anything else, as characters are transformed in a fashion very similar to a zombie outbreak. Another problem is the amount of time dedicated to background characters, as Hulk doesn't get enough time to grow, or increase in ferocity. The repeated flashbacks for gladiator origin stories got old fast, creating a few problematic moments.
More devout Marvel fans will find plenty to enjoy, with numerous familiar characters and species popping up, from Thor, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Black Bolt and Reed Richards all the way to skrulls, death's head guards, and some background characters similar to Infinity Watch era Gamora and other cosmic characters. These same fans will also surely enjoy the fact that 'Planet Hulk' has to be one of the best, if not the best, Marvel animations created to date, flawed as it may be.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Planet Hulk' is the seventh animated Marvel title to hit Blu-ray, after the two pack of the 'Ultimate Avengers Collection,' 'The Invincible Iron Man,' 'Doctor Strange,' 'Hulk Vs,' and 'The Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow.' Funnily enough, Hulk has been a key character in five of those seven flicks.
'Planet Hulk' is packaged in a two disc eco-case, and includes an embossed slipcover. The disc is a single layer BD25, and the packaging states the release is Region A locked, which would be a first for these animated Lionsgate titles.
'Planet Hulk' arrives on Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p in the natural 1.78:1 ratio. I have to wonder if all the extras, on top of the 7.1 audio, all jammed into a BD25 disc affected the video quality. The Lionsgate Marvel animated titles have not been visual stunners, but 'Planet Hulk' seems like a step backward instead of forward from their more recent releases.
The title sequence shows massive promise, due to the computer animation, with incredible minute detail and color depth, and any CG moments in the remainder of the film sparkles. Backgrounds have beautiful clarity and detail, and never macroblock. The problem is the character animation, and damn near every part of it. Banding is obvious early and often, particularly in the skin of Elloe and the Hulk himself. Character outlines have a hard time staying straight (not blocking or stepping), while colors find themselves exceeding their drawn boundaries, often awkwardly, especially in whites, which look much like color bleeding. Artifacting is visible in solid colors, giving the husk of the big green machine a wonderful artifact/banding combination. Some of the faster paced scenes suffer from blurring and blocking, as well. Colors are bold, backgrounds are fantastic, and aliasing is hardly an issue in this release. It just seems there are more FUBARs than anything else.
Presented by way of an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, 'Planet Hulk' sounds just like what it is: a direct-to-video cartoon, not too high on production values. Dialogue is always clear, though it sometimes struggles to get out from beneath the other elements, from action effects to score. Dynamic range is hardly on display, as the film lacks any distinct high range, but I did find myself enjoying the bass levels, with roars in the title sequence, aboard air crafts, and in colosseum fights to add tension. I also enjoyed the fact I could hear the crumbling of the Kronan species (the rock men) as they took a blow, with pebbles falling off them, despite the fact that the debris is rarely shown. Rears mostly get score bleed, though there were a few moments of crowd roars and some nice echoes filling the room (strangely, most of the crowd stays in the front channels). One distinct element of the mix can be heard on the transport ship, a high pitched squeal, which is massively distracting, but seems to be a part of the sound mix, as it is limited to that sequence.
All of the extras on this release can be found in the two disc edition of the DVD.
Comic fans will get what they've been asking for from the animated Marvel film series with 'Planet Hulk.' It may not totally follow the comic it's based on, but it provides the same themes and experiences regardless. The Blu-ray has average audio and video, and a solid pile of extras, most of which focus on other characters. An easy recommendation is earned based on story alone, but the technical aspects are troubling in their mediocrity.