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schwern (1528)

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Journal of schwern (1528)

Thursday July 03, 2003
02:47 AM

ID4 Syndrome ("The Hulk" Review)

[ #13221 ]

Saw "The Hulk" tonite. Basicly good, not great though. It suffers from something I'm calling "The Independence Day Syndrome". Recall ID4. Specifically the advertising for ID4. What was the one thing they showed over and over and over and over again in the commercials, on the posters, billboards, everywhere? That's right, the White House getting blown up. Or the Empire State Building getting blown up. The general theme was "Aliens come down and blow up national monuments." They had it pretty well drilled into us what the movie was about before we ever stepped into the theater.

45 minutes into the movie, nothing's been blown up.

Instead we have to sit through: Why are we getting these wierd signals? What's this thing approaching in space? Are they aliens? What are they doing on Earth? Why have they parked themselves over every major city on the planet? Are they friendly? What's going to happen at the end of the countdown?


Yes folks, I'm talking about screenwriters being aware of audience anticipation. Everybody knows what's going to happen, so don't spend half the movie pretending the audience doesn't know. Get right into it and once that's out of the way we're in uncharted, and much more interesting, territory again. In the end, its all just exposition and plot scaffolding. Exposition is dull. Scaffolding does not a building make.

"The Hulk" falls afoul of the ID4 syndrome with 45 minutes of watching people injecting things and radiating things and blowing up frogs and looking at lots of pretty computer graphics about genes expecting the audience to be wondering what's going to happen. Of course we know what's going to happen, so just paint the guy green already and GET ON WITH THE MOVIE! All that unnecessary build up could have been replaced with much more interesting scenes: more development of Betty and Bruce's relationship, more of Bruce eluding the authorities, more about Bruce's father (the one big unknown element in the movie, plus Nick Nolte gives a great performance, more HULK SMASH which, after all, is the point of the movie, more development of Talbot's character and their pursuit of the Hulk, etc... or just plain make the movie shorter.

As a direct contrast, take "Spiderman". Act one, scene one, radioactive spider chows down on Peter Parker. There's just enough movie time devoted to sketching out why the bite leads to super powers without boring the audience or leading to an embarassing pile of pseudo-scientific apologetic explaination. This leaves lots more time for plenty of character development, lead up to becoming Spiderman for real and more web-slinging action (again, the point of the whole movie) without the audience getting bored waiting for the inevitable.

This is not to say one cannot make a movie where the audience knows how its going to turn out in advance, but to pull that off really requires that fact to be more central to the film. Simply bolstering up the first major plot point with a bunch of filler does not interesting watching make.

As long as I'm talking about the bad parts of "The Hulk", let's talk about the computer animation. Basically, we had Gumby with muscles. I'm really not a fan of obviously computer generated characters anymore than I'm a fan of obvious blue screen effects or any other really obvious special effect. If an effect is well done you shouldn't be thinking its an effect. It would have been much better had they instead used a computer augmented Lou Ferigno, who still looks great, BTW. Did you catch his cameo as the University security guard in the beginning?

My only other serious nit, and few care about this, is the misuse of military vehicles. The F-22 is an air superiority fighter which has no ground attack capability. The US Army doesn't fly AH1 Cobra attack helicopters anymore, only the Marines do. The RAH-66 Commanche has a 3 barrel gun, not the gatling gun they used in the movie. Hellfires don't require a direct hit to explode. etc... More annoying to a wider audience is the "stupid army guys" problem which plauges many monster movies. This essentially boils down to flying your helicopter/driving your tank within arm's reach of the monster and then sitting there waiting to be creatively slapped. A bit more intellegence and dynamic movement on the part of the army guys would produce a more thrilling fight scene rather than audience members thinking "After he saw the first three tanks get used for batting practice, you'd think he'd throw it into reverse or something".

Finally, Talbot aka "The Evil Guy" is just a one-dimensional walking plot point. His sole purpose is to bungle his experiments on Bruce to allow him to escape the complex. He should have either been thrown out, finding another escape excuse, or fleshed out perhaps adding more strain to Betty and Bruce's relationship or manipulating General Ross. At the very least he could have been a bit less obviously the Short-Sighted Bad Guy Who Screws Everything Up Because Of His Greed.

Otherwise, it was a pretty solid movie. I just like to complain.

The use of split-screens, creative wipes, multiple, simultaneous points-of-view, scenes blending into other scenes, etc... all gave it a very, very comic book feel which surprisingly didn't get tiresome to watch. After all, Ang Lee is a very good director and it shows through in this. Every scene was interesting purely for the wipes and blends. Besides, I'm always a fan of wipes and split-screens, they're so underused these days.

Nick Nolte plays "old, slightly deranged, obscessed guy who's life was ruined and really doesn't care too much if he lives or dies anymore" to the hilt. Just over the top enough. He must have had a ball playing the part. His is really the only element totally unknown to the audience and as such adds real mystery and tension to the movie.

Jennifer Connelly, well I could watch her clip her toenails for 90 minutes and be fascinated. I'm not going to attempt to review her performance as it would be slightly biased.

Eric Bana plays a surprsingly good, yet somewhat flat, Bruce Banner. From the previews I thought he was too Hollywood Hunky to play a milquetoast scientist with a suppressed rage that Bill Bixby did so well, but he pulls it off. He reminds me of a grown up Corey Feldman. Unfortunately, his rage is perhaps too surpressed not letting through the conflict and regret of being the Hulk and his quivering attempts to hold back the change seemed overdone and hammy.

Sam Elliot does a pretty good job playing The Army Guy, showing more conflict and regret over being forced to destroy the Hulk than most monster movies allow. Though I did find myself distracted thinking he must have gotten a mustache reduction for the role.

PS Did ya notice all the Macs? Most of the computers were running OS X.

In the end, not quite worth full price.

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  • I'm convinced that the reason there are so many Macs in movies is that is the only computer that movie folks use. I suppose I could be mean and say that is the only computer they know how to use, but considering that current state of Macs that's unfair to the Macs. :-)
    • I just figured they were more picturesque, really. I've never been into popular aesthetics, and popular aesthetics has never been into me, so I could be very wrong.

      You are what you think.
    • Back in the days when Guy Kawasaki was running the evangelist list, I think there was some sort of tacit marketing budget to get Macs on screen. Coulda been free hardware or something. But I think Apple had an active role in getting the Mac on film/video.

      Perhaps they still do.

  • I definitely see your point about the ID4 syndrome. I think that the syndrome may taint the Star Wars prequels as well...

    Hmmmm, I wonder if Annakin is going to be able to resist the dark side of the force. I wonder if that Senator guy is really bad.

    I guess the prequels are saved somewhat by the fact that they are explaining how things came to be the way they are; but with such knowledge of the future the plot just loses its edge somehow. Life must be hard being if you are Harry Seldon [] or Muad'dib [].

  • I didn't notice Lou Ferrigno, but I did notice that his counterpart coming out of the building with him was Stan "The Man" Lee.


  • The ID4 Syndrome is pretty bad. But the opposite syndrome -- Batman and Robin Syndrome -- is worse.

    Start with a miserable excuse for a plot where everyone already knows the characters. Spend 5 minutes (or less) setting up the plot for this movie (or introducing new characters), and cue the action. Why bother with plot? Why not just throw two hours of CGI and FX footage into Summer Action Porn (tm)?

    When a studio puts out a film that's not as engaging as Battlefield Earth you know something is wrong..

    • I picked up Battlefield Earth at Blockbuster a year or so ago. I noted on the back of the box that it was rated PG-13 for "extreme scifi action".

      I'm used to seeing things like "adult themes", "partial nudity", "drug usage", etc. That's the first and only time I've ever come across that particular explanation.