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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2008

Why is The Last Broadcast a better film than its unholy spawn, the insipid Blair Witch Project? How come it manages to be coherent, suspenseful, funny, and fresh while Witch remains loud, abrasive, confusing, and ultimately unsatisfying? It could have something to do with the overall approach. The Last Broadcast is a mock documentary, an attempt by an outsider to interpret and extrapolate on the “found footage” of some deadly events in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Witch is a wobbly “you are there” presentation of the actual material discovered during an investigation into the disappearance of a filmmaker and her friends. Both employ plenty of POV perspectives, although one substitutes swear words for actual conversations.


Yet in the end, Witch is a one-joke movie, a gimmick that once given away is not easily re-experienced and appreciated. In the case of Broadcast, filmmakers Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler have found a way to incorporate the same menacing mood and unexpected story twists without losing us in Gen-X jerkdom and pointless aural thrills. Besides, Witch only has one scene going for it—and it arrives right at the very end of the movie. Broadcast almost unravels when it shifts to showcase its finale. Yet between the two, this fake-fact film is more industrious and inventive, leaving the Burkittsville bunch wallowing in its wake.


As hosts of the popular cable access program Fact or Fiction, Steven “Johnny” Avkast and Locus Wheeler are used to the unusual. But when their tie-in Web site turns up a request to do a show on the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the so-called “Devil” that supposedly lives in them, the two hosts end up getting in way over their head. Hiring a technology expert named Rein Clackin, who claims to be able to pick up paranormal sounds with his recording equipment and bringing along a supposed psychic named Jim Suerd to “get in touch with the spirit world,” the duo proceed with their plan to broadcast live from the middle of this eerie remote location. They hope to put an end to the monster myths once and for all.


All preparations appear to run smoothly, but as they approach the campsite, Jim becomes disoriented, threatens Rein, and runs off. As the show starts, Jim sequesters himself nearby, chatting on the computer. The others proceed with the investigation. The next day, everyone’s dead—except for Jim. Naturally, the police think the ominous loner killed his comrades, but documentary filmmaker David Leigh believes otherwise. It is his goal to expose the truth about what happened that night deep in the New Jersey woods. He will figure out what happened during this Last Broadcast, hoping that the facts will clear Suerd and lead to the real killer—whoever or whatever it is.


Naturally, the next question is why The Last Broadcast isn’t as successful, or even more so, than its blockbuster brother. The answer is actually quite simple. When placed up against the ersatz realism of the adventures in disorientation of Heather, Josh, and Mike, Broadcast appears cold and distant. We never get to know Steven and Locus and more or less fail to find a reason to root for Jim Suerd, the fame-whoring pseudo-psychic who may or may not have murdered his fellow cable-access adventurers.


No, the real thrust of this far superior film’s force is in its clever and consistently creative storytelling. Witch went one way, and one way only—follow three people into the woods and watch what happens. Broadcast uses that same dynamic, then fleshes it out with backstory, humor, standard documentary interviews, and eccentric character twists to take us out of the actual moment, only to redirect our attention and place us right back in the middle of these murders. It’s a wonderfully inventive method of keeping the story fresh and free from the stagnancy that can come with such an approach. We get caught up in the mystery first, then find reasons to hang onto the individuals involved.


Once successfully removed from its copycat cousin (While there is no real proof of plagiarism, the Blair Witch gang does admit to seeing this movie before setting out to make their own), what you end up with is a wildly entertaining experience that uses subtle thrills and undeniable chills to tell an excellent story of arrogance unhinged and dangers undetected. The Last Broadcast believes in the effectiveness of its narrative and never once tries to pull any punches or fake any fear. When it wants to be goofy and gratuitous, it is. When it hopes to be strange and unexplainable, it is as well.


In fact, there are very few things that Broadcast is not. This is the rare movie that appears to achieve all of its goals instantly and honorably, never going for the cheap trick or the obvious element. It is so expertly constructed, so flawlessly built out of facets we recognize from all over the genre map, that when they finally come together toward the end, we never once doubt their effectiveness as a source of shivers. Because of its snuff film-like realism and its desire to tell its scary story honestly and realistically, Broadcast builds up a lot of gonzo goodwill—and it needs it. The conclusion takes a track that many won’t see coming, and even more may find it antithetical to what the movie was originally striving toward.


That would be a shortsighted interpretation of what occurs. If anything, The Last Broadcast is one of the few films to anticipate its imitators and offer up its own intriguing commentary on their overall modus operandi. When you realize that someone other than the Blair Witch crew is manipulating the events to create the on-camera “scares” we see, the brilliance of Avalos and Weiler’s ending becomes clear. Instead of going for a supernatural slant or a direct link to the obvious suspects, Broadcast takes on the notion of perception—why we follow certain stories and what we eventually get out of them. When the denouement is made (in a wonderfully effective montage sequence), we bristle at the brashness of such a reveal.


Then, as the wrap-up begins—both figuratively and literally—we get the opportunity to reflect on all that’s come before. It paints the entire story in a totally different light, one that suggests more than the movie ever sells, and illustrates how effective an approach like this can be. Since major cinematic elements (such as acting or production value) are not really necessary here, The Last Broadcast has to get by on the success of its storytelling alone. In that regard, it is masterful. It creates an impression far more lasting than some frightened fellow momentarily glimpsed in a basement corner.


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Sunday, Oct 19, 2008

Has another filmmaker had the same amazing meteoric rise from novice to name as Peter Jackson? A mere 21 years ago he was an unknown Kiwi geek who had spent four years making his own monster movie. A quick sale at Cannes and his alien cannibal comedy was a glorified cult smash. But consider where he was in 1999. With only six feature films under his belt, and limited commercial cache to show for it, New Line named him the guide for their all important Lord of the Rings franchise. Three epics, billions of dollars, and a trio of Oscars later, Jackson is now a monumental moviemaking figure, an example of talent trumping the standard studio thinking. Looking back at 1987’s Bad Taste now, it’s clear that this was a director worth watching. But it’s also clear that, within his limited budgetary purview, there was more ambition than ability. 


The entire town of Kaihoro, New Zealand is missing, and its up to the Astro Investigation and Defence Service to figure out why. While Derek determines the extent of the damage, Barry explores the deserted city. He is attacked by a zombie and barely escapes with his life. Frank and Ozzy phone in, explaining they will be delayed in providing backup. In the meantime, Derek watches over a captured creature, hoping to determine their extraterrestrial flesh eating motives. An accident puts the mission in jeopardy, and when a charitable collector named Giles comes to town, he is kidnapped by the fiends. Turns out, aliens have indeed landed, and they intend to use Earth for some nefarious culinary aims. It is up to our foursome to put a stop to the plot, to save Giles, and keep the rest of the universe from experiencing the Bad Taste of Crumb’s Crunchy (Human) Delights.



Revisiting this film after almost two decades reveals something very interesting - not only about what Jackson managed to accomplish, but with regards to that other rarified element, selective cinematic memory. Fans fondly remember Bad Taste as being an over the top splatter fest loaded with blood, bile, and body parts. In the windmills of one’s ever mottled mind, it was an action packed farce, denim clothed zombies carving up the community while oddball government agents pass ironic judgment on the entire proceedings. With a last act that loses sight of the sluice and a gonzo gross out sense of humor, it was the first real film dork delight…


…except, none of this is really true. Like most myths, the legend of Bad Taste has been expanded (and exploited) to fit the gore lovers revisionist nostalgic needs. Compared to Jackson’s brilliant Braindead (known to most as Dead Alive), this first film is relatively sedate. The arterial spray is evident, but slyly spaced out over the longish 90 minute running time. Similarly, the Kiwi genius has been funnier. Bad Taste is not as clever or cutting as Meet the Feebles, and lacks the consistency of his lauded later works. Finally, the film is not as frightening as one recalls. The final fifteen minutes is taken up with an extended gun battle which grows redundant after a while. Indeed, much of the movie plays exactly like what it is/was - a weekend workout among a bunch of schlock supporting fanatics.


It’s a situation that stands repeating - Bad Taste is not a classic. It’s not even the best example of this kind of cracked carnage. Instead, like most first efforts, it’s the foundation for a filmic type, the natural extension of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead dementia filtered through a legitimate horror fan’s fancy. Jackson is a noted student of the scary, able to wax wonderfully about everything from early Universal frights to the most obscure foreign fear factors. Bad Taste relishes that referencing. Rumor has it that Jackson fashioned it as a tribute to Tom Savini and you can see other noted homages throughout. Again, this doesn’t make the movie a milestone, just a smart, sometimes special experience.



It’s fun to watch Jackson in the unusual mode of actor, and a clean shaven one at that. As Derek, the head of Astro Investigation and Defense Service, he is almost unrecognizable. Talking in a high pitched accent that gives his entire demeanor a wimpified gloss, he’s hilarious and hopeless at the same time. When he puts on the familiar facial hair to play tongue tied alien Robert, it’s back to the human hobbit we know and love. The rest of the cast, made up of mates, chums, and other local well wishers, offer nothing more than glorified line readings, if that. Only a couple went on to pursue a career in film after Bad Taste. So this is clearly a homemade effort, a combination of desire and unbridled gumption given over to frequent fits of brilliance and, sadly, boredom. Viewed within the confined of contemporary splatter, Jackson’s jaunt is almost inert.


In fact it’s hard to champion long sequences of walking and worrying, the amazing New Zealand landscape providing the only real interest. Even more frustrating is the lack of continuous action. We don’t expect a film from 1987 to be Shoot ‘Em Up, but the lack of unbroken energy does undermine things. Once we get into the alien stronghold, things pick up immensely, and there’s no denying the effectiveness of Jackson’s handcrafted F/X (he even baked his monster masks in this mother’s oven). But then the guns come out and Bad Taste shifts into creative cruise control. Watching extras flail wildly as they are riddled with squibs is one thing. Seeing it for several similar minutes feels like padding.


As a way of looking at Peter Jackson Version 1.0, the man who would later evolve into a myth, Bad Taste is a telling template. It offers up many of the things he would later explore in his creative canon, while suggesting that something happened along the way to significantly amplify his game. Watching any number of his recent films - from Heavenly Creatures to Return of the King - argues for Taste‘s treatment as a fluke. It’s as if Chris Seaver went from making Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker to The Dark Knight in the span of a decade. When legend slams head on into the truth, the pile up is never pretty. Luckily, Bad Taste is better than such a collision suggests. It’s also rather underwhelming.


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Sunday, Oct 19, 2008

Stuart Gordon’s career as one of the post-modern masters of the macabre happened quite by accident. As a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in the ‘60s, the self-described radical spearheaded controversial productions with his notorious company The Screw Theater (whose main objective was to stage shows that would force the audience to leave). He would later go on to form Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, and seemed content to pursue combustible live performance. In fact, when it was suggested that the H.P. Lovecraft tale “Herbert West, Re-Animator”, would be an interesting project to pursue, the lifelong fan originally thought about doing it live. When that idea was scrapped, a TV script found its way to an interested producer. Reimagined as a film, and the rest, as they say, is splatter comedy history.


Yet Gordon is more than just body parts and black comedy. While many of his films have stayed within the blood and gore genre, he’s dabbled in sensationally schlocky science fiction (Robot Jox, Space Truckers), fantasy (The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit), and intense urban drama (his adaptation of David Mamet’s Edmond). Horror is just one of the many caps this creator wears. Now comes the delightfully disgusting thriller Stuck (new to DVD from Image Entertainment). Based ‘loosely’ on an infamous real life case in which a young woman ran down a homeless man with her car and left him to die positioned in her windshield, Gordon finds yet another opportunity to take a typical genre and thwart its conventions. In this case, he takes a nail-biting thriller and turns it into a sly, substantive social commentary.


Brandi Boski is a collection of contradictions. As a nurse’s assistant in an old folks home, she loves her patients and cares for them with a sincerity and devotion. It doesn’t go unnoticed by her stickler boss. But when the working day is done, this girl just wants to have fun - ecstasy-fueled, rap music-inspired, club and bed hopping fun. With her African American drug dealer boyfriend Rashid by her side, it’s a headlong hop into full blown hedonism. On the day she learns she may be up for a big promotion, Brandi really ties one on. That night, her DUI driving meets Thomas Bardo, a recently evicted, at the end of his rope ex-professional. He flies into her windshield, getting stuck in the process. Instead of dying, however, he is badly, badly injured. In a blind panic, Brandi simply drives home and puts her damaged car in the garage. She can’t let a little thing like a mangled human ruin her chance at career advancement - or personal gratification.


Stuck is the kind of film you’d expect from Stuart Gordon. It defies convention as it finds unusual ways to make its many captivating and insightful points. For those familiar with his blood and guts grandstanding only, there is ample accident-based arterial spray, and there is a darkly humorous cloud covering everything that Brandi, her beau Rashid, and a desperate Bardo does. Sure, the first fifteen minutes of the film finds actor Stephen Rea putting on a nerdy drawl as his life systematically crumbles around him. The upwardly mobile Brandi meeting the downwardly spiraling Bardo is the perfect cinematic set-up. It provides both players with a reason to react, and a motivation for their eventual actions. Where Gordon decides to take everything next is why he’s considered one of the medium’s most outside and outrageous thinkers.


At first, the symbolism in Stuck is rather sketchy. Mena Suvari, her hair braided in some dated ‘wigger’ cornrows, plays Brandi like a beat-happy culture-robbing lightweight. She just wants a paycheck, a partner, and to party. Bardo is a typical post-modern white male - unimportant, powerless, and disposable. Rashid is the balance between the two - successful but for sketchy reasons, a bad-ass who turns tail whenever trouble rears its lifestyle stealing head. As a threesome, we see contemporary populism captured in all its pale perfection. Our heroine turns out to be cutthroat and ruthless, wanting nothing to interfere with or steal her status. In her mind, it’s all Bardo’s fault. Her man talks a good game, but literally can’t deliver the death blow. And caught between the two is the victim, the former paternalistic heart of our once structured society, now left to rot in the windshield of a vehicle like so much meaningless road kill.


But Gordon doesn’t stop there. While Bardo is trying to make an escape, there are neighbors who discover (or almost redirect) his predicament. One is a self-absorbed homosexual who is so concerned about the blood on his shirt (thanks to his pet Pomeranian who accidentally discovered the garage crime scene) that he ignores the more obvious question - where did such grue come from? The other is an immigrant family who, after discovering Bardo’s dilemma, fails to act because of their own illegal status. The iconography is obvious - here is the white man, once powerful, now unable to escape the grips of women and the strong minority men who now intrigue them. He’s figuratively fractured her well placed glass ceiling, and she responds like a serial killer. Sadly, the only fringe elements that could or would help have their own majority made issues that keep them distant and insular.


It would be nice to hear if Gordon purposely sought this approach, or if it was an organic result of the careful casting. Sadly, Image’s DVD offers little in the way of added context. Aside from a standard trailer, there’s nothing else. For a movie like Stuck, it seems a commentary would be mandatory. Gordon does a good job with these full length feature narratives, and one imagines he would fill in the blanks that some of the script purposefully leaves out. Granted, a lot of what he wants to say here is fairly self-evident. Suvari’s hairstyle, Rea’s unrealistic voice, the opening sequence where Brandi must clean up after a soiled and filthy old man (a WHITE man), and the constant hammering of the decency along the fringes (Bardo is initially befriended by a fellow homeless man in the park, much to his surprise), makes Stuck more than suspense.


Oddly enough, the dread ends up being the least important element in the entire film. We get the typical cat and mouse, Bardo finding ways to improve his lot (a cell phone, random tool-based weaponry) while Brandi and Rasheed plot and argue. We never feel the film will do something completely unexpected and fail to wrap things up in an action packed denouement. It’s just a matter of who will win and who will pay for what they’ve done to the other. If you’re coming to Stuck hoping for another dizzying dose of Stuart Gordon splatter, gore mixed with a goofball sense of humor, you may be disappointed. This is not From Beyond retrofitted to a modern suburban setting. Instead, this maverick moviemaker has decided to discuss the current state of society circa the new millennium, and in that regard, Stuck is very special indeed. If you get the message, you’ll respect the movie. Even if you don’t, you still have to admire the man. Stuart Gordon will always be an enigma. Something like Stuck suggests he’ll never change. 


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Saturday, Oct 18, 2008

Just like other fine arts - of conversation, of letter writing, of human compassion - debate has been downplayed and demonized by modern society. We don’t like dissent. Instead, we enforce compromise, or even worse, claim that disagreement is something unfair or “Un-American”. Even our political candidates shun the once important intellectual exercise, instead opting for prepared questions and talking point laden speech/statements. Television, the great wasteland of McLuhan fame, has become the last bastion of anything remotely resembling discourse, and even then, it’s usually reduced to punditry vs. perturbing on the idea scale. Lewis Black’s newest TV venue, Comedy Central’s Root of All Evil, wants to advance the cause of discourse, and within its limited purview, it definitely does.


Using a mock trial format, Black introduces two famed ‘advocates’ (read: noted comics from the world of stand-up) who argue over which is worse - Oprah or the Catholic Church, Beer or Weed, for example. Like extended onstage riffs, the talent takes their position, and using quips, jabs, and other humor-based briefs, they try to convince the judge (the host) and the jury (a studio audience) of their position. Black asks questions to trip up the speakers, and something called “The Ripple of Evil” is also discussed. The attending crowd is asked to vote, Black reads their opinion, renders his verdict, and sentences the loser. Among the already mentioned conflicts featured on this Season 1 DVD (from Paramount Home Video) are YouTube vs. Porn, Donald Trump vs. Viagra, Las Vegas vs. The Human Body, Kim Jong-IL vs. Tila Tequila, American Idol vs. High School, and Paris Hilton vs. Dick Cheney. 


For a long time now, Comedy Central has tried to come up with a successful comedian clash format. The most interesting was Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, a proposed companion piece of sorts to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. During its run, four stand-ups would battle it out over current issues of the day. Quite contentious - and entertaining - the show didn’t last long, mostly because of problems with production and topicality. Now we get Root of All Evil, and in some ways, it’s even less successful. Not that the show isn’t funny, engaging, irreverent, or controversial. In fact, it’s one of the best examples of the format. But with the focus on popular culture, and some clear interference from the network, Black and company are missing a golden opportunity to become the McLaughlin Group of mirth.


Frankly, for all his current stature, Black should be bigger. Outside of his Comedy Central co-star Stewart, and his slightly less exacerbated twin Bill Maher (whose Real Time has a hand in Evil‘s production) he’s one of the rare voices on the meaningful issues of the world. He’s like Mort Sahl stricken with Tourettes, a clever political satirist who never seems to get the respect he deserves. Granted, his attacks sound more like rants than reasoned arguments, but when you cut out all the curse words and sideways references, he’s right on target. If anything, Root of All Evil gives him a half hour platform to magnify his popularity. But when the company paying your bills nixes certain ideas (Comedy Central rejected a first season showdown between Scientology vs. Disney), your ability for an individual showcase is limited.


Still, the show is very good at taking down its intended marks. Highlights include Patton Oswalt’s flawless deconstruction of Dick Cheney (“He’s the leader of the free world, and the world has never been less free.”), Andy Kindler’s vivisection of American Idol (“calling it a ‘guilty pleasure’ is just another way of saying ‘I’m dead inside…’”) and Oswalt, again, on YouTube (”…and while we were all laughing (at online videos), we invaded Iran!”). Sometimes, the takes are rather obvious (beer = bad judgment) or overdone (“At least when you hang out with cokeheads, they only have one theory…what if we could get some more coke.”). Yet within the context of the show, almost all of it works. And you’ll be surprised at how serious the comedians take their charge.


Indeed, one of the show’s more compelling elements is the adherence to the format and the desire to be persuasive. Sure, this is really nothing more than well-prepared comedy bits strung out over a legal theme, but there are times when you can tell that the performers have forgotten about being funny and are really trying to make a salient point. Black sets the tone, opening the show with a patented screed and statement, and throughout the proceedings he drops in little bilious bon mots. It helps that his first season cast is so capable. Along with Kindler, and Oswalt, Greg Giraldo, Paul F. Thompkins, Andrew Daly (the series’ unsung hero) and Kathleen Madigan manage to make the most of their time. Still, there is an inherent flaw in the overall presentation. Sometimes, a subject is so ripe for ridicule that we, the home audience, can come up with equally clever insights. When the comics don’t completely deliver, Root of All Evil appears to underachieve.


Still, for what it manages to accomplish in the name of entertainment, Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil is an intriguing, often insightful offering. It dares to challenge conventional wisdoms while dragging spurious social topics through the satirically-slung mud. It may not be the best situation to platform the talent involved, and the areas of interest tend to stay within the easily recognizable. Yet with real debate a dead proficiency, and the media’s desire to make everything a clash - of cultures, of concerns, of commerce - there is something quite satisfying about Black and his buddies. While they may not be able to resurrect the artform, they always make us laugh. And in today’s troubled times, that might be what matters most.


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Saturday, Oct 18, 2008

The verdict is in and the decision is, to say the least, confusing. When Ang Lee’s interpretation of the classic green-skinned Marvel character arrived in 2003, it was considered a massive failure, not only commercially but critically. Fans of the anger-inspired behemoth were not pleased with all the psychological mumbo jumbo, and the father/son issues explored seemed to take a back seat to any kind of recognizable action or spectacle. A mere $140 million at the box office and a marginal 61% “freshness” rating at Rotten Tomatoes remains its unfairly marginalized legacy.


So when it was announced that the comic book company itself was “reimagining” the potential franchise, righting the graphic novel geek wrongs attempted by Lee, the fanbase celebrated. After all, anything had to be better than an excessively dramatic take on the radioactive rage-aholic Dr. Bruce Banner and his oversized inner demon, right? Well, not exactly. With a very similar sounding $140 million in revenue and a 67% “freshness” assessment at RT, it looks like once a Hulk, always a Hulk. Of course, we might have had a monster movie version of The Dark Knight had star Edward Norton and director Louis Leterrier had their way. On the recent DVD release of the summer smash from Universal, the filmmaker discusses the ambitious version of the narrative that was shot down by a studio that wanted more bang and less brooding.


It’s been several years since Bruce Banner accidentally overdosed on gamma radiation, changing the entire genetic make-up of his body. Now, whenever he gets too excited, or angry, he turns into a monstrous behemoth, a creature capable of unbelievable strength and unconscionable violence. Just when he thinks he’s stumbled upon a possible cure, Army General Thaddeus Ross reenters his life. The man in charge of Banner’s initial experiments, he lost more than a potential weapon the day his subject went haywire. His daughter, the dedicated scientist Betty Ross, refuses to forgive him for what happened, and she’s now disowned him. When a Russian/English mercenary named Emil Blonsky decides to undergo a similar procedure, he doesn’t become the “ultimate solider”. Instead, he becomes an ‘abomination” that the ‘hulk’ must battle. 


Again, it has to be said that one of the most “incredible” things about this so-called reinvention of the Hulk is how close it is to Ang Lee’s vision. Those who claim it far surpasses the 2003 original are merely applying their own form of aesthetic selective memory. Though Louis Leterrier has a limited pedigree as the creator of big time blockbuster fare, at least his time taking the Transporter franchise through the action genre motions means this version of the Marvel monster can really kick some butt. Sure, our French filmmaker is still enamored with a chaotic, quick cut style of cinema that renders carefully choreographed battles a blur, but there are moments in this movie where his constantly moving lens add authenticity to the otherwise fantastical elements. There is one sequence in particular where Hulk battles the military among the trees and grounds of a college campus. Here, Leterrier’s style clearly complements the ballistics.


The Incredible Hulk also gets an upgrade when it comes to casting. Norton may not be everyone’s idea of a solid superhero, but he brings the right amount of humanity to the role. He manages to enrich even the most routine lines, and he’s a clear step above the rather sedate Eric Bana. Similarly, Liv Tyler trumps the zombie like zero that was Jennifer Connelly in Lee’s version. Sure, Betty is still reduced to emotional eye candy, standing by her shapeshifting man through thick…and thicker. But Tyler retains her dignity. Tim Roth’s arrival as the main villain, Emil Blonsky is okay, if nothing truly spectacular. After an opening sequence where he slaughters anything that moves, we never really experience his true evil. It’s just a given, considering the lengths he will go through to get to the Hulk. With William Hurt hilarious in a wry, smirk supporting moustache and Tim Blake Nelson as a helpful scientist with a secret agenda, this is a capable company of performers.


Still, there are parts of the script that can’t help but get in the way. If Banner says it once, he says the “weapons” line about 20 times. It’s as if Norton loved the idea of playing on the “military industrial complex” nature of the character and went overboard. Also, there’s no real backstory built in. The opening credits feature a recreated montage of material straight out of the old TV intro, but we never discover why Banner is in exile, how he has battled the armed forces to maintain his privacy, why Betty would be against his attempts at curing/helping his affliction, and how our hero could continue his research in what looks like one of the more squalid slums in Brazil. Between the initial encounter/take down with the factory worker bullies to the eventual arrival of superbeast Abomination, there’s a lot of interpersonal padding, material that seems mandated by Norton’s desire to tread as close to Ang territory without pissing off that other important Lee - Stan.


Of course, this was not always the case. As we learn countless times during the DVD presentation, there was almost an hour of material cut from the original Incredible Hulk release. Per distributor mandate - and over the fiery objections of Leterrier and Norton - the character complexity and darker nature of the narrative was undermined so there would be an emphasis on popcorn pyrotechnics and the usual Summer season bombast. Prior to the films opening, the filmmaker had hinted at a Special Edition release of his longer, more involved “director’s cut”. Sadly, as of now, this is not included as part of any Incredible Hulk digital package. The one disc set has a small selection of deleted scene. Multi-DVD collections have some more (including a sneak peek at Captain America), but nothing else.


All of which begs the question of intent. If Marvel took back the control of its characters to make sure another Ang Lee experiment wouldn’t occur, why did they allow Universal to destroy that conceit? Why make a new Hulk if you were simply going to improve the cast and yet walk down the same mental/emotional path? Norton does give things more gravitas, and when he turns into the title creature, the CGI is smoother and more striking, but that’s about all. Unfortunately, no one is comfortable enough with the technology to allow for that all important full blown head on transformation money shot. There is an “almost” moment when Banner is undergoing the experimental treatment that may cure him, but Leterrier’s cutting countermands any awe. In fact, there is so much down to editorial earth control over the context that the cautiousness grows aggravating.


There are those who have likened The Incredible Hulk to Marvel’s other Summer stunner, Iron Man and argued for the company’s retention of creative control. Granted, the comic company made many of the right decisions, especially when it came to allowing real actors and capable directors to helm their efforts. Yet before the accolades get too bulky, one thing is certain - this reimagining of the big green beast with unfathomable brute strength is not the success of his metal suited brethren. Historically, both Hulk and The Incredible Hulk will be viewed as decent, dependable hits, with the latter satisfying the all important nerd contingent. In that regard and that regard alone, it was a success. All other aspects demand a draw.


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