Universal // 1978 // 3799 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // November 10th, 2008
"Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm
-- David Banner
The premise behind The Incredible Hulk is simple: nebbish guy gets angry and turns into a big, green monster. This idea works great inside the pages of a comic book, but adapting it to a live action television series would be quite a feat. Prior to The Incredible Hulk, most comic book television shows were in the campy vein of Adam West's Batman. Producer Kenneth Johnson and Bill Bixby (who played David Banner) had a different idea. They created a series that was more about human drama than POWs and BAMs. It was a risk that paid off...and one could argue that Marvel owes much of its movie business today to the serious treatment of this late '70s adaptation.
On the same day that Universal released the fifth and final season of The Incredible Hulk, it also released The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Series, a massive box set collecting the show's entire run. If you're counting, that's 82 episodes on 20 discs. That's a lot of Hulk.
The series was essentially a rip-off of The Fugitive, with David Banner playing the part of Dr. Kimble. Banner has been turning into the Hulk (played by the awesome Lou Ferrigno) ever since he accidentally doused himself with a ridiculous amount of gamma radiation; now he searches for a cure. He's pursued relentlessly by a tabloid reporter named Jack McGee, who will stop at nothing to capture the beast. In each episode, Banner wanders into a town (assuming a variation on the name David B.), meets some folks, gets into trouble, runs into McGee, and runs away. It's a cookie-cutter concept, and the show rarely strays from it.
The tone of The Incredible Hulk seems to wander more than Banner himself. One episode is filled with goofy sound effects and magicians, and another has David mixed up with a New York mob (and don't get me started on that Bigfoot episode). The drama in the show runs the gamut from touching and believable to cheesy-retro garbage. After seeing the world through Banner's eyes, it's hard not to start asking some rather obvious questions: Why on Earth is David Banner working in a disco? Why does a man who isn't supposed to get angry constantly interject himself into union fights? What would possess Banner to room with a midget wrestler? Whatever the reason, it can only lead to ridiculous trouble. More often than not, Banner's own clumsiness is what turns him into the raging Hulk. If he would just calm down, and not bump into things, he wouldn't freak out half the time. Then the show would be boring. Kenneth Johnson explains that each episode needed to feature the Hulk twice, and it's timing is often so obvious that you can set your watch to it.
The "Hulk-outs," as they're called, are part of the show's charm. Slowly, Banner morphs into the green giant, with his shirt ripping and his muscles inflating, pretty much the same every time. He then proceeds to beat up everyone in slow motion, shredding styrofoam walls and bending rubber pipes. It's awesome, really. The best part is that people rarely put two-and-two together: Banner is thrown into a room by some muggers, they wait, and eventually The Hulk emerges to kick their butts. Afterwards, once The Hulk has run off and Banner returns, everyone accepts his lame story about being knocked out or something. I guess the series wouldn't have lasted as long if everyone knew it was him right away.
The Incredible Hulk does have its moments, though. There are some episodes in the set that are top notch. Depending on how attached you are to the show, I'd venture to say it's very possible to like one out of every four episodes. The series premiere is excellent, as is the Season Four two-parter "Prometheus." I may have found ironic and humorous enjoyment from many of the episodes -- again, the midget episode, "Half Nelson," comes to mind (see photo), but there were plenty that were honestly great. "The First," a two-parter, features the Hulk battling against another, evil Hulk (see photo). "Bring Me The Head Of The Hulk" features an insanely ambitious mercenary who creates an entire laboratory complex just to capture Banner and shoot the Hulk with a bazooka. And then there's my absolute favorite of all, "The Snare," which features a deranged hunter who lures Banner to his private island (you know, like that short story The Most Dangerous Game). It doesn't get much better than that.
Sadly, the show was cancelled just seven episodes into its fifth season. Bixby and Co. went on to create three TV movies (featuring folks like Thor and Daredevil), but they're oddly missing from this box set. I guess Universal could argue that they're not from the official run of the series, but everything in them, right down to "The Lonely Man" theme song, is the same. It's a gaping hole in the set, but if you're a true Hulk fan, you probably already have them.
The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Series is literally just a big box stuffed with all the previously released DVDs. Seriously, they're all still in their original slimline DVD cases from their individual box sets. One of the cases in my set even had a coupon to see The Incredible Hulk in theaters. That means that the decent commentaries and featurettes from the previously releases are all here, and that the video and audio quality are still kind of lacking. There's nothing new for fans who already bought the separate sets, and realistically, you're probably better off with the individual boxes. The discs, while in chronological order, aren't separated or easily accessible. So if you want Season Five Disc Two, you have to take out eight other cases just to get to it. The bubbly letters on the front of the box are kind of neat, though.
For the newcomer, there's a lot to enjoy and a lot to laugh at. The show has its great dramatic moments (helped mainly by the awesome acting of Bixby), but far too often veers in to that unintentional '70s camp. It was a trailblazing show as far as comic adaptations go, but not everything about it has aged well. I mean, how seriously are we supposed to take a guy that turns pastel green and occasionally sports a haircut like Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men?
If you have been waiting to pick up your favorite superhero series from the '70s, this is the easiest way to get it in one fail swoop. You'll probably save some money, and you'll have everything in one place. But if you bought at least one or two of the individual releases, you're probably better off getting the rest separately.
Guilty of shoving everything into a box and calling it a day.
Review content copyright © 2008 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 3799 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Introduction and episode commentaries by Kenneth Johnson
* "Remembering The Incredible Hulk An American Classic"
* "Creating an Iconic Character The Hulk"
* "Prometheus" Photo Album
* Behind-the-Scenes of The Incredible Hulk Film