Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- The Incredible Hulk

Today we have the 1978 TV series The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.

The plot centers around physicist David Banner (Bixby), a man still grieving over the death of his beloved, who died when Banner's car had a blowout, flipped over, and burst into flames. Banner, along with his colleague and friend Elaina Marks (Susan Sullivan), are researching people who performed amazing feats of strength under life-threatening circumstances. Why were they able to do what Banner could not? The research eventually leads him to gamma radiation. Each of those people experienced heightened bursts of the mysterious energy during their ordeals. On a whim, he decides to expose himself to large quantities of gamma radiation. As anyone even remotely familiar with the comics, TV show or movies knows, this results in him transforming into an angry green bruiser (Ferrigno) in times of stress. And if that wasn't bad enough, nosy reporter McGee (Jack Colvin) get wind of the Hulk (as he names him) and comes snooping around. McGee accidentally causes an explosion which kills Elaina. Thinking the Hulk did it, he publishes the story, and soon Banner's alter ego is wanted for Elaina's murder. Unable to prove he didn't do it, Banner goes on the lamb. He wanders the country, fighting bad guys, helping out innocent civilians, with McGee never far behind. Can our hero ever be cured of the Hulk and return to a normal life?

The TV series differs significantly from the comics. The main character is named David Banner instead of Bruce Banner; the Hulk is largely mute, rarely letting more than a growl escape his lips; he doesn't fight aliens or any of the colorful villains from the comics (the series is a bit more grounded in reality). Still, both the comics and TV show feature Banner as a wandering hero cursed with his own dark side.

The show ran for five seasons and spawned three subsequent movies, The Death of the Incredible Hulk, The Incredible Hulk Returns, and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Today the series can be laughed at for how poorly it has aged, audio-visually. The special effects are cheesy, and the Hulk isn't nearly as large as he is in the comics, but the creators were limited with what they could do back then. I happen to think the series is still pretty entertaining, and I appreciate the touching moments between Banner and Elaina in the pilot. Bill Bixby was a talented actor, and I tip my hat to him. Jack Colvin was also good as Bixby's foil, following the protagonist from city to city, trying to get the scoop on the Hulk. And, of course, I can't forget to mention the classic piano theme which tugs at your heart strings.

So in conclusion: The Incredible Hulk TV series is a cult favorite, and for good reason. Just don't go into it expecting today's amazing special effects and cerebral stories.

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