Harry provides the first look anywhere at the shooting script for Ang Lee's THE HULK by James Schamus!
When HULK went into production, I got a call from Avi Arad, I forget what he was calling me about, actually I think he was calling me regarding something having to do with Guillermo Del Toro. Anyway, as a conversation with Avi usually goes, Avi is usually excited, yet guarded… And as we went down the list of Marvel properties, I expressed my concern about the David Hayter draft of HULK, which was just terrible. He assured me that the HULK script that James Schamus and Ang Lee had put together was the best thing ever to happen to a Marvel property. I believe I said something like, “Well, I’ll see about that!” And that’s when Avi’s voice became absolutely serious… “You Will NEVER Read This Script!” “but” “Never, You Will Not Get This One!”
Earlier today, when I wrote up the tiny piece about Alfred Molina being confirmed as DR OCTOPUS in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN… I dropped a sentence in there that said: “Just read THE HULK shooting script, more on that later…” Not 20 minutes goes by before my phone rings and what should I see on the caller i.d.?
It was Avi Arad. He was calling to find out what I thought of THE HULK shooting script. I could have played it icy and told him to wait like everyone else, but frankly… Avi is just about the only other person on the planet I know, that I could geek out about this script with that would know what the hell I was talking about. We were so into talking about the script and what Ang has done with the script, that we barely talked about anything else. Though… expect Kiefer Sutherland to be playing someone in the Marvel Universe soon… Possibly Leonardo DiCaprio too… Oh and did you know that Academy Award nominated screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (CHOCOLAT & THE SHIPPING NEWS) is the screenwriter on WEREWOLF BY NIGHT? I seemed to have missed that one. Oh and expect THING hands when FANTASTIC FOUR comes out, that one is happening very soon now he tells me. Fox is no longer afraid to commit the money necessary to make the film the way it needs to be made. ABOUT BLOODY TIME!!! Just do it PERIOD too!
So enough of that… you want to know about THE HULK.
Well, be patient. I waited for nearly a day and a half before cracking open THE HULK to read. I was scared. I don’t want to be the one to tell folks… this is where Marvel’s streak ends. I don’t want that streak to end. I don’t want to have to write a single angry editorial about a Marvel film, I want an endless stream of smart fantasy, sci-fi, horror films with that MARVEL logo. Crossing all the studio stamps, I want these films done right.
When I finally sat down to read it, I cracked the title page which carries no screenwriting credit. Just the title and a series of revisions: 1-7-02, 2-1-02, 2-19-02, 3-15-02, 4-2-02, 4-11-02 and 4-27-02. That final one was a “Buff Revision”
The script starts with:
“Oh soul, be changed to little water drops
And fall into the ocean, never be found.”
-- Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
THE HULK as envisioned in this script is an epic tragedy of modern man on the cusp of brilliance and downfall. Originally the character was based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE. Schamus gets that, but rather than base it merely upon Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s super-empowered ID monster, he married the concept with a bit of Mary Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN… The father that does not take responsibility for his creation. PLUS there is a true feeling and overriding ethos to the script regarding the ‘sins of the father’.
There are deep hidden flaws in the mind of Bruce Banner. Bruce’s problems don’t begin with that Gamma Explosion… He’s got problems long before that. Problems, problems he doesn’t even know. Not merely bio-chemical issues, but scar tissue in the psyche. Pain, fury and anger so base, so buried in his mind that he can not even speak of it, think of it or acknowledge it in any manner.
People have said, what’s so special about a big green super powered monster that leaps around?
Well, if that was the movie they made, I could defend it at a pure comic book level. This, this there is no need to ever make excuses for. This script is dense material. Remember CLASSIC ILLUSTRATED comics? Those comic book versions of great novels and plays? Think of this in reverse. This script version of THE HULK, this feels as though truly ingenious minds sat down and reverse engineered the original material, upon which the comics were drawn.
This is a script that has long character monologues, that are great. Witty back and forth dialogue that isn’t banter, its classic and classy.
In the first 4 pages, at lightning speed we’re told the beginnings in sparse details. Nuggets, micro-pieces assembled to make us understand a bit of the horror involved. The story begins in 1965… yeah… 1965 with David Banner working at the top secret DESERT BASE on his own genetic experiments. As all over-eager achievers must do, he defies ethics for his own personal reasons, and gets slapped for it.
We next step up to 1986. A teenage Bruce Banner, paralyzed by his own crippling fear of striking out. Why, I’ll let you discover later in a theater, but that conflict in him… it is a terrible thing.
We move to present day.
He doesn’t know his name, his first 5 years, his parents… a blank. He doesn’t care. He is a scientist. He’s in love with Betty Ross, a fellow scientist. They have had a relationship, it didn’t work out. Something about his inability to give of himself. He yearns but is closed off. We join the scene already in progress, it doesn’t start with the beginning, but with the response, the rebuttal, and frankly it is all we need to understand that Betty loves a flawed great man who can’t love himself or anyone else… and in Bruce we see that is not entirely true… that he is in fact paralyzed by fear. A fear he doesn’t understand, and is unwilling to understand.
This is a film where dreams mean things. There are symbols to ponder, feelings to unleash… All of this having nothing to do with THE HULK, but everything to do with being THE HULK.
Why does the HULK hate Banner, but do mainly good?
Why is Banner intimidated by authority figures?
Why is Banner driven?
What is Banner hiding?
He doesn’t know himself and he’s not looking to learn, he’s got his work. The grind, the obsessions, the dreams he can realize, not the dreams he can’t understand.
You’re probably wondering about HULK DOGS right about now.
The toy you saw online, that was the poodle. There is a Pit Bull and a Mastiff that hulk out. They are, BARELY, in the film. They are used in the first combat scene with the Hulk, and it is so he can fully and brutally unleash upon them. The scene is a night scene, in the Redwood Forest and it is bloody and cruel. The Hulk rips, tears and breaks them, the bite down and rip at him. A very short sequence, but it could be cool, ESPECIALLY since it is a shadow and dark sequence. It is a heroic sequence and the first time the Hulk understands what he can do. If it sucks, it’ll be over quickly. If it super-cool, there won’t be enough. There is no middle ground there.
There are many fights, with many different types of things. Futuristic weaponry, traditional weaponry and even a superhuman foe.
However, that’s not what I’m excited about right now. I’m excited by the dramatics and the material that is here for these actors to deliver. Bana has some tough scenes. Connelly is asked to handle some tough dramatic moments. Nick Nolte… well, if Nick Nolte delivers on his role, whew… great stuff here. Here’s a little moment from when Betty Ross confronts Nick Nolte’s David Banner character, you hear a part of this in the trailer… I’ll give you a bit more. This is delivered in a room between Nolte and Connelly. There are 3 snarling dogs in the room and Banner is BEING intimidating:
My son is…unique. Impossible for you to
relate to. And because he is unique the
world will not tolerate his existence
will they? But you try, don’t you? And a
beautiful woman like you, your attentions
can’t be completely unwanted, can they?
Not with eyes like yours, watching
The scene does escalate from there, but I like that. It is sinister, without the moustache twirl. And Nolte’s character is absolutely fascinating. He is operating from his own twisted sense of logic and purpose. If you were him, his decisions make complete sense, he’s a completely realized flawed character in here. He’s been wronged, he believes, and he’s acting out on that. And it has the makings of a great cinematic character.
This HULK script does not represent the Hulk from the comics, you can see that here, but this isn’t a story taken from the pages of… Tales To Astonish or THE INCREDIBLE HULK. This isn’t the T.V. show or any of the cartoons. This script represents an intellectual filmmaker and screenwriter using the character as a jumping off point to something more than just the character we know or the books we love.
The transformation scenes are described differently. I’m not real sure how it’ll translate, but the first time he transforms back:
And then, as if in a dream, Hulk begins to transform, back to Banner, as if the rain were washing him, back to himself.
I like that. The script is filled with that sort of stuff. The script sold me.
As for Avi Arad’s phone call today, they’ve screened the film for Universal’s executives as it is right now, and there was silence in the room for several minutes. They were stunned. This has far more beauty and poetry and poignancy and soul than we were expecting from the property. Avi told me that visually, that Ang has taken specific moments and panels from the history of the Hulk and given them a moving life he never really dreamt of. This is a film of loud moments, large moments, quiet ones and little ones. There are human beings in this movie trapped in a tragedy beyond their control. With forces that they can’t command. It has the potential to be a truly great film, not just a great comic book movie. In a strange way, it felt a bit like STARMAN to me… not sure why, it isn’t that story, but it had that sort of weight to it.
And that trailer… you haven’t seen anything yet. Really. You’ve seen nothing thus far.