As a major-league comic book geek, I was excited as hell when several of Marvel Comics' greatest characters began hitting the small screen back in the seventies. Unfortunately, pretty much every attempt at translating the super-hero favorites to the television medium failed miserably, partly because the producers (or maybe it was the networks themselves) seemed to balk at the idea of keeping any of what made the comics so cool (like super-villains, to name one thing). Spider-Man just fought a lot of white-collar criminals and his "wall crawling" consisted of being dragged up the side of a building by a rope attached to his dong; Captain America was a big oaf wearing a star-spangled motorcycle helmet, for God's sake; and while the Dr. Strange movie was actually pretty entertaining (as I remember it, anyway), the Doc was saddled with that cheesy 'fro.
But then there was The Incredible Hulk. At the time, I remember thinking "Hey, they stole the whole premise (guy wanted for murder he didn't commit, goes on lam, helps housewives and children before having to high-tail it on to the next town) from Kung Fu!" Of course, a few years later I realized that Kung Fu lifted it from The Fugitive. And while I'll admit it would've been nice to see Lou Ferrigno fight the Rhino or the Leader, this particular TV adaptation still managed to deliver the goods. You know the set-up: Dr. David Banner (Bruce Banner in the comic, but the network thought that sounded too "gay") farks around with gamma radiation, accidentally giving himself an overdose. This, as one might imagine, means that whenever he gets angry or upset, he turns into a raging green monster (Lou Ferrigno) and throws things (and sometimes people, which was always cool to see) around, then scurries away before the cops (and pursuing investigative reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) show up. Part of what made the show so good was Bill Bixby's portrayal of Banner - he brought real class to what could've been damnably silly.
The series ran for an amazing five years, and delivered consistently good episodes (okay, maybe "Alice in Disco-Land" was a little weak). Then, abruptly, the show was cancelled although it was still a performer in the ratings.
Six years later, the Hulk rampaged onto the airwaves once again in a made-for-TV movie, The Incredible Hulk Returns. I circled the day on the calendar and plopped myself in front of the TV, ready for more jolly green thrills. Instead, I was met with two hours of suffering and humiliation. The movie brings back Bixby, Ferrigno (I mean, who else?), and Colvin, but also introduced another Marvel character: The Mighty Thor (Eric Allen Kramer). Only they totally screwed him up, making him a beer-swilling Norse doofus rather than the god of thunder we all know and love.
The plot is a pretty standard follow-up to the series: Banner has taken up with a saucy scientist (Lee Purcell) (Banner scored with more chicks on that show, I tell ya), and they're both working for a lab where Banner has built a "gamma transponder," which he hopes will cure him of his Hulk-iness. Before he can test his theory, a former student of his, Don Blake (Eighties-Hair Steve Levitt), sneaks into the lab. Blake has sought out his favorite professor so he can confess a secret: during an expedition to the frozen north, he stumbled across a cave containing an entombed Viking warrior. When Blake picked up the Viking's hammer (which all good Thor fans know is called Mjolnir, but that's never mentioned here), the Viking was revived in all his blonde-wigged glory. Thor was cursed, never to be let into Valhalla unless he performs a number of good deeds. Now Blake can bring Thor into our world whenever he chooses, and sadly, he does so often. To prove his story, Blake calls up the Viking, who proceeds to tear up the lab in search of something to drink. Banner Hulks-out and all hell breaks loose before the Hulk runs off into the night. Now Blake knows Banner's secret, and wants to help him out.
Unbeknownst to our heroes, bad guy Jack LeBeau (Tim Thomerson) has been hired by an insider at the lab to steal the gamma transponder. He calls in his underlings (including Charles Napier, who spouts his dialogue in the worst Cajun accent ever committed to film), and the trouble begins.
The Incredible Hulk Returns is not as heinous as I remembered it being, but it still sucks quite loudly. It's agonizing to see the Mighty Thor reduced to chugging pitchers at a biker bar and dancing with eighties-style trollops, and above and beyond all that, the action scenes are very poorly staged. A major disappointment.
It was a huge hit, though, which means The Trial of the Incredible Hulk couldn't be far behind. This one promised to rape the character of Daredevil, so I must admit I didn't watch more than about twenty minutes of it in its original airing. That's why it was such a pleasant surprise to see it on this DVD - it's actually an entertaining little flick. Bill Bixby picked up the directorial reins for this one and did a fine job, especially with the action scenes (the Daredevil stuff is kinda goofy, but the Hulk sequences are outstanding).
This time, David Banner has drifted into a big American city that just happens to look a lot like Vancouver. The city is under the thumb of crimelord Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. The Kingpin, played by John Rhys-Davies - and how ironic is it that a guy large enough to play the Kingpin went on to play a dwarf in The Lord of the Rings?), and attorney Matt Murdock (Rex Smith, way overdoing it in the "earnest portrayal" department) wants to bring him down. Murdock was blinded as a youth when a canister of radioactive liquid struck him in the face, but his other senses were heightened to a super-heroic degree, and while he fights crime in the courtroom by day, he takes to the back alleys by night as the mysterious vigilante known as Daredevil.
A group of Fisk's cronies pull a diamond heist, then scatter. Banner finds himself on a subway train with two of the men, one of whom assaults a young woman. Banner intervenes, which means Hulk time. The green goliath kicks the crap out of the two men, tears the subway car apart and runs away. When he reverts to puny Banner, the good Dr. finds himself under arrest for the attempted rape of the woman on the subway. Murdock wants to represent Banner, hoping he can use the case to catch Fisk. As one might imagine, it isn't long before Daredevil and the Hulk are teaming up to battle the Kingpin.
While The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is a lot of fun to watch, it still painfully drops the ball on the Daredevil stuff, for the most part - the biggest thing being that somebody decided on this outfit because they thought the comic book costume would look silly. Overall, though, the flick provides plenty of Hulky goodness (the green guy's courtroom rampage is a beaut, especially when he terrorizes Stan "the Man" Lee, in a cameo as a juror).
Anchor Bay has delivered a nice package here - the transfers of both movies look great, and the Dolby Digital mono handles the growls and smashes with aplomb. Extras are nice, too: Disc one features Muscling in on the Movies, an interview with Lou Ferrigno; The Marvelous World of Stan Lee, an interview with the always-affable Marvel Mastermind (who says "Excelsior!" thereby making me all giddy); a poster and still gallery; and talent bios. Disc Two, though, is where the real reward lies: Stand Tall, an 84-minute documentary on Lou Ferrigno's return to competitive bodybuilding (in his forties) for the "Masters of Olympia" contest. This one is worth the price of the DVD all by itself and held me mesmerized for its entire running time, a sort of mini-Pumping Iron that provides a lot of insight into Ferrigno. This disc also includes a poster and still gallery and talent bios.
Hulk fans should grab this one up in preparation for Ang Lee's big-budget big-screen version coming this summer. Face front, effendi!