Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The Hulk: Hulk Has Heft (綠巨人浩克: 重量級人物)

The Hulk: Hulk Has Heft (綠巨人浩克: 重量級人物)

Hulk Has Heft

Ang Lee's "The Hulk" [is] a "superhero flick" ...ready-made for the cineplex at your local mall. But it's also a thoughtful, deeply introspective and rather talky film about bad fathers and damaged children. I'd venture to say that Lee's take on the Marvel Comics creation is less action-packed than conversational. It has long stretches in which its characters simply share their thoughts and feelings, looking for someone with whom to connect. By all rights, "The Hulk" should be playing in tandem at art houses, where it would attract a different audience, and at multiplexes for its target audience.

The movie turns into a comic book only when the Hulk is on screen. Otherwise, it is played with all the seriousness of a straight, sobering drama. Except for the scenes in which Banner morphs into the Hulk -- scenes that don't arrive until about an hour into the plot -- there is nothing pulpy about Lee's (Ang, not Stan) take on this character. Unlike other adaptations of Marvel Comics, there is practically no humor here, no relief from the depressing image of a wounded child trying, however disastrously, to heal. Lee has called his version of the material "a psychodrama," and that's exactly how it plays, with a few horror-fantasy sequences tucked in.

This movie is every bit as spiritual and arty as Lee's last film, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), just as dark as that film but a good deal less buoyant. And, once again, Lee is in no rush to tell his story. He makes us wait for the Hulk's grand entrance, giving us half a movie of exposition explaining how Banner became the person he is. Nolte has a curious scene toward the end of the film, in which he rages at his son, that's been staged by Lee as if it were something from a two-character play. This film is like "A Beautiful Mind," with a cartoon character occasionally superimposed over everything. Whether it works or not is up to you. It's relative. It's an experiment that can be considered either silly or daring.

Editor's Comments:

Sometime between the 50s and Y2K, perhaps during the 70s, Hollywood movies underwent a radical transformation. The tempo of the average Hollywood movie accelerated dramatically. To understand what I'm referring to one need only visit your local video rental outfit and check out any action/adventure movie made prior to this watershed transition. Chances are it will feel as if it is moving slower than molasses in January, particularly to Gen-Y audiences accustomed to the breathless, non-stop, rollercoaster pace of Speed (1994, directed by Jan deBont, written by Graham Yost, starring Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock) or Air Force One (1997, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, written by Andrew W. Marlowe, starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close).

This explains the reaction of one IMDb user to The Guns of Navarone (1961, directed by J. Lee Thompson, book by Alistair MacLean, screenplay by Carl Foreman, starring Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn) In a review penned in 1999, he gripes "Why do people say that it's "action-packed"? [The movie is an] unjustly famous WWII adventure. There are some interesting character conflicts and moral dilemmas, but most of the action sequences (especially the climbing one, near the beginning) are tedious. The film also runs way too long. After it's over, you feel that you've been watching for at least five hours."

This modern reaction, particularly to the climbing sequence, is perfectly understandable. The increasing technical virtuosity on the part of movie makers is matched by a corresponding technical sophistication on the part of movie goers. I am old enough to have seen The Guns of Navarone first run in 1961. Rest assured everyone in the theater back then experienced the movie as "action-packed." Yet when I caught the movie recently on cable, I was shocked at how crude the once thrilling 1961 action sequences seemed in 2003.

Recent action/adventure films such as Vertical Limit (2000, directed by Martin Campbell, written by Robert King and Terry Hayes, starring Chris O'Donnell, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn) have raised the technical bar on mountain climbing sequences to new heights. Modern audiences are thoroughly jaded. The naive action sequences of a more innocent era no longer pass muster. Not only that, modern audiences are increasingly literate in the language of film. They are familiar with all the plotlines and can tell you in advance how the story will end. Modern movie audiences have been there, done that.

That however, is only half the story. Much of this sophistication is superficial. Technical sophistication must not be naively equated with depth of understanding. Slickly produced films by modern movie makers are not necessarily going to leave modern movie goers one iota wiser about The Human Condition. That is why The Matrix was such a watershed achievement. The Matrix writing and directing team of Larry and Andy Wachowski displayed more than mere technical virtuosity. They demonstrated a surprising mastery of Daoist and Zen Buddhist metaphysics, sufficient to insinuate an esoteric, mind-bending, alternative worldview into "mere" popular entertainment.

As of this writing, I have yet to see Hulk. The film will not open in Taipei until June 27. Everything I have written about Hulk so far is based on second hand accounts by other reviewers -- hearsay evidence, as a trial judge would say. But if Hulk lives up to its reviews, including a glowing review by the Dean of Movie Critics Roger Ebert, then it will join the ranks of such SF landmarks as Gattacca, Dark City, and The Matrix.

On a more mercenary, less spiritually elevated note, during its first week of release Hulk grabbed the number one spot and raked in a box office total of US$62,128,420.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Hulk Has Heft
Illustration(s): Hulk expresses dissatisfaction with his accomodations, Hulk takes in the sights of San Francisco, Hulk contemplates the majesty of the Grand Canyon, Speed (1994), Air Force One (1997), Guns of Navarone (1961), Vertical Limit (2000)
Author(s): Joe Baltake
Affiliation: The Sacramento Bee
Publication Date: June 20, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

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