AICN EXCLUSIVE! Moriarty Visits The Editing Room For THE INCREDIBLE HULK!
Published at: May 26, 2008, 5:57 p.m. CST by Moriarty
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
Okay... so the other day, three clips showed up online for THE INCREDIBLE HULK, which is not a sequel and not a remake but which is more a case of Universal and Marvel hitting the reset button by mutual agreement. Everyone looked at the Ang Lee film and just... decided to do something else this time. It’s that simple. We knew that as soon as they started work on this one. Not a sequel. Don’t even bother calling it a reboot. It’s just different.
I went to the Universal lot last Wednesday to look at a chunk of footage. Those three clips that Harry introduced were from the footage I saw, but I saw a big chunk of the movie beyond that. Enough that I can say with all confidence that this looks like another example of Marvel done right. I think it will belong next to IRON MAN on a DVD shelf as the fun and crazy introduction of the character who shows up in THE AVENGERS. Maybe that’s the next place we’ll see him. Maybe he’ll show up in someone else’s film like IRON MAN 2. Who knows? I’m guessing audiences will welcome this HULK with open arms...
... if they go. And that’s the question, isn’t it?
I will. I’m excited. And speaking as a parent for a moment, I actually want to thank Universal for putting out the clip of the Abomination versus Hulk online. It’s an excellent test of a young comic book fan’s threshold. Show them that clip. If that looks like fun to them, I think you’re okay. If that clip is too scary, then let the little one sit this film out. I think that clip is pretty crazy and wild, something we’ve never really seen in a superhero fight before. Two giant crazy supermonsters using every inch of a city to beat the holy hell out of one another. For a long, long, long time. I think this is going to make the fight in THEY LIVE look like a bitchslap. Every bit of it I saw made me laugh in the right way. Like, “Oh, my god, they’re crazy. There are two monsters destroying Toronto. And it’s AWESOME.” You have to decide if your younger viewer’s going to be able to enjoy that, or if it’ll turn into a bad experience before the movie’s over. It’s action movie overload, like a cake on a pie with ice cream and a brownie.
A big part of that is Louis Leterrier. Never met him until last week, and right away, he’s a guy you can tell enjoys his job. He knows full well that Hulk is an action movie star. You don’t go to this movie to see Hulk win a debate. You want to see Hulk smash, right? He’s the goddamn Hulk. And in this movie, they’ve given him a villain that’s worthy of him and his power. They’ve given him someone to punch. Finally... and in a huge way... Hulk will DEFINITELY smash.
And don’t get me wrong. I liked Ang Lee’s HULK. I thought it was beautiful and strange and experimental and sort of affecting. But in that movie, the Hulk doesn’t fight a villain. There’s no suitable focus for his rage. At the end of the film, he doesn’t fight a bad guy. He wrestles a metaphor. Onscreen. A metaphor that was created by ILM and Nick Nolte in one of his finest batshit hours, but still... a metaphor. It’s one of the weirdest endings I’ve ever seen the Marvel movies try, and I love looking at it. But there’s no question that the movie is a commercial nightmare. A total miss. It was never going to make a dime for the studio, and even liking the film, I totally admit that.
I read Zak Penn’s pass on the new HULK, and I thought it was pretty much a bull’s-eye. Like any script, it was bound to change somewhat by production, but it was the blueprint for a successful relaunch of HULK, a new issue one. And that’s a tradition that Marvel Comics has long been part of... deciding to start a flagship character over from issue zero because of marketing and sales and whatever other whims of fate. And Marvel fans have long since accepted that as part of how things are done. Sometimes... you just start over. Penn’s script seemed to get that.
Anyway... when I arrived at Universal, I was met by Kevin Feige and Louis Leterrier, as well as Lindsey from Universal. Gale Anne Hurd joined us a moment later, and we headed into one of the screening rooms at the front of the lot. They said it wasn’t an ideal screen to use, but because of other screenings scheduled on the lot at the same time, part of an international junket, the best rooms weren’t available. As we settled in, Kevin Feige apologized for not being able to show the whole film. “It’s just not quite together on film. As of last night, though, the film is done...” He looked over at Louis, who just smiled. “... isn’t it?”
Louis said, “What is it you told me? The George Lucas line?”
“Oh. Films aren’t finished. They’re abandoned.”
“Right. I abandoned my movie last night.”
We talked about the comparison shots that Alex Billington over at FirstShowing.net published a few weeks ago, a dramatic example of how far the rendering has come on the movie in a short amount of time. Louis said the post was very tight overall, but everyone put in the sleepless nights.
They told me that they wanted to walk me over to the dub stage after the presentation to hear some of the final mix in the film, but first, they were going to show me a series of extended clips, stopping between each to talk about what I’d be seeing.
First up was the opening title sequence, which had just been handed in days earlier by the great Kyle Cooper, still most famous for that genius opening to Fincher’s SE7EN. “He’s worked with us a lot... he did the openings to the SPIDER-MAN movies, and he just did that great montage for the Apogee Awards presentation on Stark Industries in IRON MAN. This is an attempt to bring people up to date with what version of the Hulk this is. Stuff most people know, but laid out very simply. Bruce loved Betty. They worked in a lab. There was an accident and he became the Hulk. She got hurt. Her father’s a general, and now he’s chasing. Bruce is on the run, looking for a cure. It’s been years now, and that’s where our film starts.”
Louis explained that all of the footage of the accident and the origin was originally presented in the film as flashbacks, but they wrestled with it, and finally decided to try handing it over to Cooper to make sense of as an opening. There were several versions that they worked on, various edits, before they finally locked this one down.
It’s a very cool, very smart way of getting a lot of information across very quickly, and it’s comic book but it’s not as self-conscious about it as what Ang Lee did with the panel frames and the editing. This just has the right energy, the right kinetic sense, and it paints in big broad strokes.
You’ll catch a reference to Stark Industries in the opening, something I love since it starts the big push to tie the whole Marvel Universe together on film. I’m going to unabashedly enjoy watching them lay each brick on the way to THE AVENGERS. I’ve always wanted to see a company try this on film. Not just one sequel or a series of sequels, but a larger interconnected world where you can tell any story under this one giant umbrella. The accident in the lab that first transforms Bruce into the Hulk is played as scary, and both Betty and her father are hurt in the aftermath. Ross doesn’t just hate the Hulk because he hurt Betty; he hates the Hulk because he made him feel weak. And they don’t have to say it... it’s in the way Hurt plays that moment, looking up at that monster, all of his military training useless in the face of that thing. And the Hulk is played as a monster. Not just as a big green giant. When you see how big the standees are that are in theaters right now… when you actually stand next to that thing and see how it would look in real life... it’s right to be a little bit afraid of Hulk. The rest of the opening lays out what Bruce’s life has been like since. Running. Afraid. Out of control.
And then Bruce wakes up, and the film begins. My first comment to them was how nice it is to see them reference the TV show without directly doing a remake of it. There are visual cues, and a sort of thematic similarity to the way it’s played.
Kevin said, “The first act of this film is pretty much an episode of the show. And then the second act takes us onto the much larger stage that the comic occupies. With Betty. And General Ross.”
Louis talked about how the most important thing to him was the idea that each of the major Hulk fights in the film had to be different. Each one had to have a rhythm of its own. Each one was against different enemies. He talked about premiering the first clip at the New York Comic-Con, where they had to face “3000 scared fans, with no idea what to expect.” They were well aware of how fandom was reacting to the lack of footage all the way up until about two months ago. They just didn’t have a Hulk ready to show yet, though, so that New York crowd was the first place they could go to have a big group of comic and movie fans together where they could unveil their approach.
Gale and Kevin talked about how they had to stand in the back, waiting to start the HULK panel, watching Guillermo do his presentation on HELLBOY 2. If you’ve never seen Guillermo in front of a crowd, you have no idea how intimidating he can be. He’s hilarious, and he really works a room. And he had all of the actual physically created monsters from the film on the panel with him, so the crowd was having a blast.
So they thought it was going to be really hard to walk up there and reintroduce the Hulk. And instead, when they showed the clip that they showed me second, the response was immediate and enormous. Louis said he almost felt like a rock star for a moment in the afterglow of this explosive demonstration, this collective “HOLY SHIT THAT LOOKED GOOD!” that filled the place.
Kevin set the stage: “At this point, Blonsky’s already encountered the Hulk one time, and he didn’t like the way that encounter ended. He sees the Hulk and he becomes obsessed with this thing. He knows that Ross knows what this thing is, and so he really corners him on it. He learns that there was this certain super-soldier program during WWII, and Ross revived that program and is trying to use it to come up with a solution to the Hulk problem.”
Again... I’m loving this. The idea that they’re going to tie Hulk’s origin to Captain America’s backstory when Cap finally shows up... that’s fun. That’s the sort of thing that’s going to get mainstream audiences really invested as they see all of these puzzle pieces snapping into place. Comic geeks may have decades of continuity bouncing around in their heads, but for general audiences, this is ground zero. They’re just getting their first taste for how all of this works, and I hope it works.
“So now Blonsky’s been injected with the serum, and he’s outwardly unchanged, but he’s feeling the effects, and you’ll see that in this scene,” Kevin said as the lights went down. The scene began with Bruce trapped in a walkway between two buildings. Ross orders his men to shoot gas into the enclosed walkway, and as they do, Betty breaks free and runs towards him. Bruce is freaked out and afraid, but it’s not until he sees the soldiers below handle Betty roughly that the change begins.
I noticed that they don’t show the full transformation here. You get the shirt shredding in close up. A hand swelling and growing while clenched in a fist. A huge shape rising up in the cloud of tear gas.
And then it’s go-time. The Hulk comes busting out and starts distributing some serious mayhem.
Which actually seems to please Ross. “Now she’ll see,” he says, as Betty watches the Hulk tear through several teams of soldiers. This isn’t just a few quick shots of Hulk, either. This is a major head-to-head broad daylight battle sequence, with the Hulk thinking as much as smashing. He uses his environment, uses anything he can get his hands on, and he takes the soldiers apart. It’s pretty great stuff.
Once Hulk’s wreaked enough havoc, Ross tells Blonsky to go for it, and Blonsky goes in, up close and personal, and actually fights the Hulk. That’s what this clip was taken from. Right after that quick bit and Ross’s amazed “He’s really doing it,” Blonsky scrambles to his feet and takes off running. Fast enough that the Hulk can’t keep up. He leads the Hulk towards a pair of giant sonic cannons, and as soon as Roth is past, they open up on the Hulk. It’s punishment on a massive scale, and for a moment, it looks like they’ve got him. Imagine what it would take to seriously hurt the Hulk. They manage to pin him to the ground for a moment, but the Hulk figures a way out. I laughed out loud several times during the sequence, pleased at how big they were going. There’s another clip online, courtesy of MTV, from a little later in the sequence, but you really can’t get a sense of just how big the scene is until you see it all in context. It’s awesome. There are two things about the footage that must have made the visual effects guys absolutely mental: a lot of this stuff is handheld, and the film was shot anamorphic widescreen scope, a full 2.35:1. It’s not Super Panavision or even 1.85, which is what they prefer, and it makes for extra work for them. But it pays off, because there’s a very real and captured feeling to the battle footage, and the scope frame makes it all feel epic. At the end of the scene, Hulk walks away with an injured Betty, leading into the next scene they were going to show, and Kevin Feige explained that the scene was a reference to one book which, more than any other, inspired the visual approach to this film.
Louis went on to explain that when he first met with Marvel about making this movie, he wanted to do some homework, and he picked up everything he could get his hands on about the character. In the process, he found one book in particular, called HULK: GRAY.
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have done some strong, iconic work together on many comic legends. This collaborative interpretation of the Hulk is very stylized, very emotional. And there’s a scene in a grotto that definitely inspired the sequence Louis put on next. This is where I think the Universal Monsters vibe comes through the clearest in the stuff I saw. This is Hulk trying to connect to Betty, huge and terrifying but tender with her as well. It’s raining, and he wants to get her someplace sheltered. Someplace safe. He bashes his head on the low-hanging rock as he does. He panics at nearby thunder and rages at the storm overhead. He’s primal and raw, but she finally manages to talk him into sitting. Quietly. So they can just watch the storm in peace. It’s a lovely moment, and considering the propulsive energy to most of what they showed me, this one quiet beat is a strong indicator that Louis can handle the heart of this film just as well as he can handle the action.
We talked about how they used MOVA technology to allow Ed Norton to actually “perform” the Hulk facially. This goes beyond the simple mo-cap phase and allows for far more nuanced expression and personality in a captured performance. Now you’ll really see Hulk and Abomination played by Norton and Roth, and it will allow them to bring real character to these giant creatures. The scene with Betty is a perfect example of how that pays off in subtle, realistic work.
Then we talked a little about Lou Ferrigno. Anyone who was a fan of the show in the ‘70s has a soft spot for Lou, and it’s very shrewd of Marvel to reach out to him. They originally just offered him a cameo in the film, and the clip where he appears is a nice one, a passing-of-the-torch between Ferrigno and Norton. Lou looks great, by the way. But onstage at the New York Comic-Con, they actually offered Lou a chance to voice the Hulk in a few scenes, and he rose to the occasion. Turns out, he’s been working on his version of a Hulk voice for a while, and since he never got to speak on the TV show, it’s something he’s been itching to do. In the final film, Lou’s work is combined with the work of Dave Farmer, who did the vocalizations for Peter Jackson’s KING KONG. He doesn’t say much, but the few lines he delivers really pay off. Louis talks about how many Easter eggs there are in the film this time, how they’ve layered in references to the show, and the comics, and how some of them are only for the most hardcore obsessive fans.
At that point, Kevin warned me that the Stan Lee cameo in this film is the strangest one they’ve done yet for any of the Marvel films. “Be prepared. It’s... it’s really weird.” As Louis laughed, Kevin explained that it’s actually one of the most important cameos that Lee’s done “because it directly affects the plot,” but that it’s very strange. The more he called it “weird,” the harder Louis laughed, so I can’t wait to see it.
The next clip they showed is the big transformation scene in the film. As with the action scenes, the transformations build gradually over the running time. The first major sequence with the Hulk, when Blonsky’s team tries to capture Banner in Rio, culminates in a factory where Hulk goes apeshit. We only see part of his change there. Same thing in the scenes I described above. And that’s because Leterrier wanted to build to a transformation that would take place under the harsh unforgiving lights of Tim Blake Nelson’s laboratory. “One of my favorite films is AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON,” Louis explained, automatically making him one step cooler in my book, “and I really wanted to create a scene like that... where we can feel what it’s like for Banner, and where we see very step of that change.”
Indeed we do.
You get a quick glimpse of the sequence in one of the trailers, but what I loved most about the change is the sound. You can hear bones breaking and muscles knitting. You get the feeling that this is an intensely physical process and not just swelling up like a green balloon. It looks like it hurts like shit, and Norton totally sells the change. They force him to transform in the lab so that they can try to apply a cure, and things get out of hand. One of the things I noticed in this scene that I like a lot is the low-tech approach to the labs and the science in the film. It’s the opposite of IRON MAN, where Tony Stark had the absolute cutting-edge of everything. Here, Bruce is forced to work on the fringe, so everything feels jerry-rigged and barely held together. This particular transformation is probably the best Hulk moment in either film so far because of the way it personalizes Banner’s reasons for wanting to be rid of this curse.
Finally, they showed me a piece of the Abomination/Hulk fight from the end of the film. You’ve seen the trailer where they run towards each other and jump up together and BOOM! But the clip they showed me starts before that and ends well after that, to give a sense of just what happens when the immovable object and the irresistible force finally meet. I love the moment where Bruce throws himself out of the helicopter. On the way down, he does that iconic Banner/Hulk thing where he closes his eyes as the transformation starts, then opens them suddenly to reveal the green irises. Only... this time, there’s no green iris, and we just get a quick “Oh, shit!” before he hits the ground. By now, you’ve probably seen part of this fight, and I haven’t seen much beyond where that clip ends. This is an epic rumble, though, that takes up much of the final act of the film, and if they pull off what it looks like they’re aiming for, this might be the new gold standard for superhero battles. I remember as a kid seeing SUPERMAN II and thinking that the fight in Times Square was amazing. Looking at it now, it’s all sort of slow-motion and awkward wire work and it doesn’t have much weight to it. I like the idea... but the execution just wasn’t possible at that time. Now, finally, a fight like this can have the right kinetic energy, the right scale. It’s exciting, and I think Leterrier is well aware of just how lucky he is to be able to stage something like this.
This was the last of the clips they showed me in that room, but since we still had a few minutes, they asked me to walk over to the dubbing stage with them to see a piece of the film with the right sound mix. This is where I saw pretty much the entire factory scene from the first act of the film, and it’s an awesome sequence. The Hulk is like a great white shark, picking off Emil Blonsky's men one by one, lunging out of the shadows, then vanishing again. There are so many little touches that work, so many smart action beats... I like that Leterrier doesn’t just throw sound and chaos at you and assume that is the same thing as action. Instead, he builds his sequences, uses set-ups and pay-offs to keep turning up the intensity. He understands that each sequence is a mini-movie that has to have its own shape and structure, and the result is some of the most ingenious and entertaining superhero action yet from any Marvel movie.
I want to thank Gale Anne Hurd, Kevin Feige, and Louis Leterrier for taking the time last Wednesday, and Universal for putting it together. I wish I was going to be in Austin for whatever Harry’s cooking up for his screening, since I’m sure it’ll be awesome, but for now, I’m just looking forward to my own first viewing of the finished film. Considering my apathy towards the film as recently as four months ago, it’s nice to be this excited and this confident that the final product is going to be worth that excitement.