Having produced a series of box-office smashes that redefined their respective genres (“The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Armageddon,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”) has given Gale Ann Hurd considerable clout in Hollywood.
But even Hurd had to wait eight years before being able to make one of her dream projects - a live-action film adaptation of the Hulk, the iconic Marvel Comics superhero - a reality.
“It’s hard to imagine it now, but there was a time when comic-book movies were thought to have run their cycle,” Hurd said via telephone from Los Angeles. “Movies like ‘Batman and Robin’ and ‘Judge Dredd’ had fizzled. These films cost a lot of money and that affected all of the studios. The last thing they want to do is take on a genre that’s not firing on all cylinders.”
Another reason for the delay was the Hulk himself, a raging, nine-foot, muscle-bound monster whose feats couldn’t be convincingly replicated by any puny human actor. But after computer-generated special effects made it possible for filmmakers to bring the character to life, and the success of “Spider-Man” and “The X-Men” made superheroes - and especially Marvel Comics - a hot Hollywood commodity again, Hurd finally got the green-light to make her green-monster movie.
And no one liked it.
Released in the summer of 2003, “The Hulk” was directed by Ang Lee and starred Eric Bana as the tortured Dr. Bruce Banner, who turns into the rampaging monster when his anger gets out of control.
The movie pleased practically no one, with critics and audiences in agreement the film was too long, too talky and too angsty. “The Hulk” grossed $245 million worldwide, but it cost more than half of that to make, rendering it a disappointment for distributor Universal Pictures.
Still, ticket sales were strong enough to suggest there was tremendous interest in a Hulk movie - just not the one they had made. So Hurd decided to try again, buoyed by the enthusiasm of executives at Marvel Comics, who offered to finance the new film, with Universal distributing it.
To direct the new version, Hurd hired French filmmaker Louis Laterrier, who had proven his chops as an action director with the Jason Statham shoot-em-up “The Transporter” and the Jet Li vehicle “Unleashed” while still paying close attention to characterizations and casting.
“Louis’ strengths are not just the visuals and the camerawork, but also the performances and the casting,” Hurd said. “It was inspired, for example, to cast Morgan Freeman as Jet Li’s guardian in ‘Unleashed.’ That"s not the kind of choice you would expect for that film.”
A passionate Hulk fan, Laterrier said he initially passed on Hurd"s offer. “I personally didn’t want to do it because I thought it was a sequel to the first movie and I couldn’t do the same thing Ang had done, which was very artistic,” he said.
But the new Hulk, based on a screenplay by comic-book adaptation veteran Zak Penn (“X-Men 2,” “Elektra,” “Fantastic Four”), is not a continuation of Lee’s film. Instead, it simply pretends the first movie never happened.
That, along with the malleability of the Hulk himself, who has transformed countless times in the pages of comics since his debut in 1962, persuaded Laterrier to accept the project.
“Just in the 11 years Gale has been involved with this project, there have been so many reiterations of the Hulk,” Laterrier said. “He’s been green, gray, red - he’s even gone to outer space and had a child with an alien. So I realized it would be OK to make my own version of the character. I wanted to bring to it what I remembered from my childhood, which was the story of a fugitive with a twist - the twist being the Hulk. Bruce Banner is always on the run, always alone, and there was something heartfelt about that. That’s what was missing for me in Ang Lee’s” Hulk.”
“I also wanted tremendous action,” Laterrier adds with a chuckle. “The Incredible Hulk” certainly offers that, both on and behind the screen. During production, creative tussles between actor Ed Norton (who stars as Banner) and Laterrier over the film’s script and final edit resulted in negative Internet buzz, leading fans to wonder if the Hulk movie was simply cursed.
“That stuff really brought me down,” Laterrier said. “It felt like everyone suddenly wanted us to fail. We didn’t need that extra burden. And after the story ran on the news wires, Edward became gunshy of the media, which made things worse.”
So did the actor and director bump heads or not?
“This is the deal: Edward is the best Bruce Banner ever,” Laterrier said. “He’s an ideal choice. Yes, he’s intense when he works. But having Gale, Edward and me bouncing ideas off each other constantly was like a holy trinity ... We spent two years making this film, and if we had gone through all that time without a single argument, that would have been pretty boring.”
Hurd believes the negative buzz will die down after people start seeing the movie. After showing the film to critics, Hurd said, “the early bad buzz has been changing. It is now positive and building - and will hopefully peak this weekend.”
Marvel Comics fans everywhere are hoping the same thing. Following the astonishing success of “Iron Man” last month, the fate of a planned “Avengers” movie - tentatively scheduled for a summer 2011 release - now rests in the big green hands of the foul-tempered giant.