The Uncredible Hulk By Mike Thompson. Comic book movies, in general, suck. The movie is either too stupid or doesn’t follow the character’s history enough...
Comic book movies, in general, suck. The movie is either too stupid or doesn’t follow the character’s history enough. There are exceptions, of course (Spiderman, Batman, Superman). But, all too often, the result is a bunch of guys dressed up like idiots stuck in a moronic plot (Batman and Robin, Supergirl).
Currently on the fast track to the big screen is The Incredible Hulk. After a successful TV series, it only seems reasonable to put the big green Goliath on film. On the surface, the Hulk seems like a simple character: guy gets mad, guy turns big and green, guy breaks stuff. However, the original Marvel comic book character was always more than that. It was about a man struggling with his own demons in a world that rejects him as man or “monster.”
As a television show, “The Incredible Hulk” kept things as formulaic as possible. Every week “David” Bruce Banner would travel to a new locale where he’d stop some sort of wrongdoing as The Hulk. Along the line he’d often say, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Meanwhile, the comic book went to far greater lengths to examine the Hulk’s psyche, making him a more interesting and complex character.
During his initial run with the Hulk, creator Stan Lee ran out of ideas after only a few issues. Luckily, other writers have stepped in and found new ways to keep Hulk interesting and dynamic. Peter David brought the Hulk character to a new level over his twelve-year run. No longer was it just Bruce Banner and his alter ego; David explored the idea that Banner had multiple personalities that came out in one form of the Hulk. Soon there was a green rampaging Hulk, a green “smart” Hulk, nicknamed “The Professor,” and even a return to the original gray Hulk, who became a powerful gangster, Joe Fixit.
David showed readers that the Hulk was more than what they saw on the TV show. Not every problem was going to be solved by Banner finally getting pissed off enough so that he could let his superego give into his id, tear out of yet another set of clothes, and kick everybody’s asses.
The question then becomes how much of those ideas are going to make it into the script. Most of David’s concepts are too complex for a two-hour movie, but that doesn’t mean that the whole internal struggle of good versus evil has to be jettisoned. Of the two drafts I’ve read, one strives for a genuine comic book movie, while the other seems to be interested in special effects and poor characterization.
Jonathon Hensleigh has been responsible for such epics as Armageddon, Jumanji, and Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Sometimes he hits the mark and other times he screws up so badly it hurts for days after watching the movie. Hensleigh came on board the Hulk with the intention of not only writing, but also directing the project. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
Hensleigh’s draft begins with three death row prisoners gaining the chance to participate in a radical medical experiment instead of going right to the chair. Of course, the three cons (Hector, Deacon and Novack) accept. They’re taken to a secret facility where Doctor Bruce Banner is working on a way to colonize Mars. Banner’s idea is that he can manipulate human genes and DNA so a person can survive on the red planet’s harsh surface. These altered humans will begin the necessary steps to terraform Mars so it will be fit for regular humans to live there.
Soon Banner and his crew are working on the three convicts. Deacon has the DNA of a carpenter ant spliced into his genes to give him increased strength. Novack has pigeon (!) DNA injected to increase his temperature so he’ll survive the harsh Mars winter. And finally, Hector has hummingbird DNA (yes, hummingbird) mixed in to give him a high metabolism and eliminate the need to sleep.
All of the fillings are removed from the convicts’ mouths before they can be irradiated by gamma rays as part of the experiment. If any metal is present during this step, it will cause an explosion. Seizing the opportunity for escape, Novack slips an aluminum gum wrapper into the gamma chamber with him. When the dust settles we find that Novack and his felonious compatriots have miraculously (and moronically) survived. Meanwhile, the destruction of the gamma chamber irradiates Dr. Banner, making him into the Hulk.
From here, Hensleigh’s script becomes a meaningless chase with Banner trying to capture the three convicts and periodically changing into Hulk. These moments carry little dramatic weight as only Banner’s appearance alters. This Hulk is neither mindless nor raging, just the familiar doctor in a bigger, greener body.
As the story progresses, the three convicts metamorphose as well. Novack’s temperature is so high that he leaves melted footprints in the ground (yet his clothes remain unharmed). Deacon slowly turns into a carpenter ant. And, embarrassingly, Hector’s “arms fluttering at an inhuman rate...like a hummingbird’s.” Later, Hensleigh seems to realize that maybe a hummingbird isn’t threatening enough, but he won’t let the idea go: “Hector is becoming a hummingbird, but he’s real strong and real mean...and-” That’s not a typo, that’s where the sentence and scene end.
The script continues to spiral into a sillier mess as it progresses. Hensleigh hints briefly at Banner’s incompetence when dealing with women, but it’s a far cry from the bookish weakling from the comic book. And, in the middle of it all, Hensleigh has the balls to introduce a kid. While serving no real purpose in the story, the kid, Ralph, does provide what might be one of the worst moments of dialogue...ever.
As Banner is about to leave to battle Deacon (who is now even more like a carpenter ant), Ralph offers this brilliant advice: “Hey Bruce. Better take this... (holds up a can of RAID) Just kidding.” Never before have I been so dumbfounded by bad dialogue. The first line is horrible, but the addition of “Just kidding,” is like a swift kick to the balls after you’ve just thrown up. A line like this is more than just awful; it’s humiliating.
Fortunately, Hensleigh’s draft was rejected. The script is so bad that it begs the question of whether or not he wrote it that way on purpose. Maybe Hensleigh really thought this story was good, or maybe he thought comic books were so sophomoric that a movie based on one should be the same way. It’s bad enough that Hensleigh disrespected the original story and concept of the Hulk so much that he changed the character’s origin. But, it’s even worse that he left all the character, joy, and pain of the comic by the wayside as well.
For as much as Hensleigh tried to throw out the elements of the comic book, John Turman crams as many elements as he can into his draft. Turman manages to make room for Bruce Banner, Betty Ross, Rick Jones, General “Thunderbolt” Ross, The Leader, and even Doc Samson and Marlo (currently Rick Jones’s ex-wife in the comic, but just the girl he desperately wants in the script). All of these characters are straight from the original comic, most of them present from the first issue.
Turman’s draft begins with the Gamma Bomb project losing its funding. Bruce Banner, here presented as a meek genius, is on the verge of perfecting the bomb when a lack of results causes the Government to cut him off. Banner’s assistant, Leder, is a wannabe genius, currently wrapped up in a shady deal with two criminals to sell them Gamadium 282-the element that makes the gamma bomb possible.
As the bomb’s set to be dismantled, Leder arms the weapon, making it look like Banner did it in a desperate act to prove that he really was worth the funding. Just as it went in the comic, Rick Jones turns up on ground zero and Banner races to help him. The bomb goes off and Rick Jones is safe inside an old bunker while Banner is belted by gamma rays. While all of this is happening, Leder is trying to steal the Gamadium-282. Of course Leder has an accident and becomes smeared with the Gamadium. It’s only a matter of time before the effects take their toll on both Banner and Leder.
We don’t get to see Banner change into the Hulk until after page 40 and even that is kept mostly in the dark. Turman is smart to create a slow build before eventually revealing the Hulk in all his raging glory. He also cleverly cuts back and forth between Banner and Leder experiencing, analyzing, and sometimes even enjoying their very different transformations. Banner gets dumber when he changes into the Hulk while Leder gets smarter as he gradually turns into The Leader. The Leader is one of Hulk’s more interesting nemeses in that he’s a genius, the perfect counterpoint to Hulk’s (usual) mindless rage.
Turman works hard to keep all the elements and characters intact, relevant and, for the most part, he pulls it off. He even gets the love story aspect right, with Banner and Betty Ross slowly realizing that they have always been in love. In the comic, Betty Ross is the one true love of Banner’s life. Their relationship was always complicated by the fact that her father, General Thunderbolt Ross, is determined to kill the Hulk. Turman keeps the father daughter relationship and then adds in the further complication that Betty is a FBI agent whose investigation isn’t always in line with her father’s wishes.
The action in Turman’s draft is always at a reasonable level. It’s never absent for too long, but it’s never allowed to become the focus of the story.
That’s not to say that Turman’s draft isn’t without problems. For all the character balancing Turman does, there are times when it almost feels like the Leader is the main character instead of Banner/Hulk. Also, the inclusion of Rick Jones, while faithful to the comic, is sometimes painfully annoying. Jones’s dialogue ranges from the dopey (“I saw a shortcut on the map and figured I’d do a Jim Morrison, you know, camp under the stars”) to the downright lame (“Uh oh. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to r-r-r-u-umble...”).
Even with its flaws, Turman’s draft of the Hulk is pumped full of pure respect and love of the characters and original stories. Turman even contrives a way to show Doc Samson changed from his normal human self to the gamma irradiated, green-haired superhero all the comic fans know. At another point, Turman gives his opinion of the current state of comics (mind you, this was 1994), with the description: “CAMERA PICKS UP THE TV IN THE B.G. A DRAWING OF The Hulk. A really crappy, overmuscled artist’s rendering of the Hulk by Rob Liefeld or one of the guys at Image.” A little nod like that would probably go over a studio head’s head, but for a comic book geek, it’s pure truth.
Turman drives the script to a surprising conclusion, choosing to focus more on Banner’s character flaws then straightforward action. “All my life I was afraid to care about anything...or anyone. If I didn’t care, it couldn’t be taken away from me...” In disarming the Leader’s new gamma bomb, Banner is turned into the Hulkpermanently. The ending is so non-mainstream that it’s not surprising that the studio passed on this draft.
It’s too bad that Turman’s draft has been rejected. His love of the character is apparent on every page. He even goes so far as to use a different font for the Hulk’s dialogue. With a little work and someone to punch up the dialogue, this script really could capture the appeal of Hulk.
The Future of the Hulk
With both Hensleigh’s and Turman’s drafts rejected, current hot screenwriter David Hayter (credited with writing The X-Men) has just reworked a draft of Hulk that appealed enough for Ang Lee to sign on. Lee’s already shown us he can do an action movie that doesn’t neglect the internal struggle of several characters, not to mention handle necessary special effects. Watching Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh leap over rooftops and across lily pads, it’s not difficult to imagine Hulk bounding across the screen. Definitely an odd choice, Lee may be the best person to present the pain and conflict within the Hulk while presenting us with an exciting action packed story.
Back to Issue 13