Incredible Hulk - The Complete First Season

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You wouldn't like me when I'm angry, but you'll like David Banner

Oct 16, 2006 (Updated Jul 7, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:great mix of emotion and action, gripping story

Cons:dated, weak effects, few TVD extras

The Bottom Line: one of the best shows ever made finally on TVD. Get it, watch it, love it, need it.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

When the fan collection of Incredible Hulk episodes was released I was dismayed, afraid that this would be the only DVD offering of one of the most defining shows of my early life. So I waited… and waited… I ALMOST broke down and bought it on multiple occasions. Then out of nowhere I walked by the DVD isle and noticed the green face of the Hulk growling at me. Oh, how happy I was that I hadn’t spent money on any of the other Hulk releases! Here was the entire first season calling out to me.

For you young tykes and folks living under a rock since the 70’s gather ‘round and listen to the story of the Hulk. Bruce Banner is a brilliant young scientist. At the testing of a gamma bomb he notices Rick Jones driving obliviously through the danger zone. The heroic doctor rushes out to rescue the unsuspecting Rick right at the moment of the explosion! Banner takes a huge dose of gamma radiation, but seems to be generally fine afterwards. Fine, that is, until he gets angry. When that happens his higher brain functions shut down, and he becomes basically primitive. In addition, his body takes on a green tinge. Oh, and did I mention that he becomes an unstoppable mass of muscle?

Okay, so that’s the comic book. The TV show takes the basic premise, but is considerably different. DAVID Banner (yes, name changed, although his middle name is revealed to be Bruce) is plagued by memories of the crash that took the life of his wife. Other people in high-stress situations were able to exhibit unnatural strength. So why couldn’t David? He begins experimenting and accidentally exposes himself to high doses of gamma radiation, but seems to be generally fine afterwards. Fine, that is, until he gets angry. When that happens his higher brain functions shut down, and he becomes basically primitive. In addition, his body takes on a green tinge. Oh, and did I mention that he becomes an unstoppable mass of muscle?

So the end result of the origin is basically the same, though the TV version is a bit easier to swallow. From there we follow David as he pretends to be dead in order to avoid the press, namely Jack McGee who’s determined to build a career on the back of the Hulk, and quietly travels the land in search for a cure for his unique condition. He’s tortured by the destruction he wreaks always afraid he has or will hurt someone. He always helps others when he can (usually a beautiful woman) in part because that’s his nature and in part because it’s compensation for the guilt he feels from his alter ego.

I love werewolves and the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde concept in general, as well as cross-genre stories. I believe my taste developed largely because of this show. It’s one of the earliest memories of TV I have, and at the height of my love for it my grandmother met Lou Ferrigno who, in full Hulk makeup, gave her a hug. She didn’t have a clue who he was, but she couldn’t wait to tell me about it because she knew I would be enamored. That served to further ensconce the show in my heart.

This is very much a Jekyll/Hyde or lycanthropy-type story with its split-personality, shape-changing hero. The Hulk is in no way evil, though. He can be enraged and is most often destructive, but he protects the innocent in super-heroic fashion, he just does it more on instinct than any noble intentions. This is not at all a religious show, but David is Christ-like in some ways (not including the uncontrollable, rage-filled alter-ego, of course). David travels the land homeless, performing miracles of a sort and spreading good will. People often feel better about themselves and what life holds for them once David departs, yet David’s own future is filled with suffering and sacrifice.

This is where the cross-genre comes in. This is a comic book super-hero about an incredibly strong monster, yet the show is more of a drama than anything. Sure it has its moments of action, but the excitement is complimentary and often even secondary to the emotional content. Obviously there are going to be episodes with varying levels of emotion and action, and some have much simpler plots than others although they still tend to have at least a little bit of David’s plight. However, the most defining episodes tug heavily on the heartstrings of the viewer. The show does nothing if not incite caring and sympathy for its main character.

There are a few things that weaken the effect of the show. Guest and supporting actors are a variable. Sometimes they are great, sometimes not so good. Occasionally the stories can be stifled a bit by the poor portrayals. The 70’s styles, particularly the bell bottom jeans, date the show and keep it from feeling as timeless as it otherwise could be.

The effects are pretty corny by today’s standards. The green paint washes or rubs off, the morphs are unconvincing, and the car explosions are cliché. If there were nothing more to the story then it would not be worth seeing again (much like how I view the Adam West Batman show, I liked it as a kid but can do without it as an adult). The scope of the writing and effort to tell a character-driven story makes this show a joy to watch almost 30 years later.

Despite the bad effects there are still some good visuals. The white eyes with the signature sound signifying the upcoming morph still excites me. I love watching the shirts rip apart to reveal the green of the Hulk’s skin. The practical effects (done with props and illusion rather than special effects) are often good, and if you’re really into the show you’ll barely notice where they falter.

Rick Jones, Betsy Ross, and the military are completely absent. In order to have a constant other than Banner, reporter Jack McGee follows the Hulk from town to town. Jack is a large part of the reason Banner keeps up the illusion of death and is often the reason he must move on when he otherwise feels like he could settle down and set up shop to research a cure. I remember wishing Jack wasn’t a part of so many plots, but as I came to appreciate the storytelling as much as the rampaging monster I grew to enjoy the character and Colvin’s portrayal of him more and more. It clicked for me when I went back to watch the pilot again and was old enough to recognize the irony in him being the cause of the disaster that he blames on the Hulk which is part of what drives Banner into hiding. I was thoroughly disappointed when he abruptly disappeared from the story in the late 80’s and thought he should have been included in the final tales of the Hulk. But that’s for another review I suppose.

There are only two other constants: Bill Bixby as Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. Both do an outstanding job with their roles. Lou’s is mostly physical which is understandable, but he manages to give some emotional range to the creature beyond pure rage. His facial expressions help sell the fact that this is actually Banner in an altered state retaining some of the basic humanity and emotion of his normal self.

Impressive in every way it may not be, but a good piece of storytelling it is. It’s miles ahead of the soulless Ang Lee movie. The TV show can still bring a tear to my eye, but the movie can bring a yawn to my mouth. If someone could find a balance between the visual effects of the movie and the emotional content of the series they would have a real winner.

It’s going to vary some from episode to episode, but this is a family friendly show. The violence is mostly non-lethal. In fact, emphasis is put on Hulk not being a killer even when people are shooting at him. He also makes an effort to save the lives of his enemies even if their deaths would be no fault of his own, but that does not mean that people don’t get killed. There’s some very mild bad language from time to time, and some mild sensuality. I watched it as a preschooler with no objections from the adults who didn’t hesitate to turn off things they deemed inappropriate for me and feel like the show was a positive influence on me.

The set is not necessarily impressive, but I’m just happy to have the entire first season on TVD since that means that the others will most likely follow. The first positive comment goes to the packaging. Seeing Banner change into the Hulk on the cover is quite eye-catching (which is, of course, the point!) There are 4 single-sided DVD’s in 4 thin clamshell cases. Oh how happy I was that they didn’t stack all the DVD’s on top of each other like some packages do! I enjoy the images on the case sleeves also, 3 of them being the same as the box image except presented 1 by 1, the last one being a combination of them and some additional ones.

It’s a nice looking package all around. The menus feature some animation and sound. My one complaint is the preview trailers that play on disc 1. I hate watching ads when I put a DVD in.

Video and sound are not impressive by current standards, in fact they can be pretty weak at times. I guess that's what you get when dealing with a TV show of this age.  Chapter divisions are well done allowing for easy skipping of the opening in most cases. The extended episodes don't necessarily hold to that, though.

Extras are unfortunately few. There is a bonus episode from season 2. While it’s nice enough to have more Hulk to watch why include an episode from the next release (assuming season 2 gets released)? It’s kind of pointless. A cartoon episode or animated comic book would have been more exciting. There’s a commentary which I will talk more about in the episode descriptions. A short audio clip is hidden on the disc 1 episode selection page. Highlight Pilot and move left to reveal DANGER. There are a few previews as well.

Though complete this is not a huge package. There are 10 regular episodes at about 50 minutes each (at least 6 minutes longer per episode than most current shows which usually only hit 44 minutes and sometimes less) plus the bonus episode. Then there are 2 episodes slightly over an hour and a half long.
Here’s the list:

1) The Incredible Hulk: This is the pilot. David is tormented by dreams of the accident that killed his wife. He wants to know why some people exhibit great strength in times of duress but he didn’t. He ends up dosing himself with a high concentration of gamma radiation. In a moment of extreme frustration he morphs into the Hulk. Now he must decide to study or destroy the creature while avoiding the press in the form of Jack McGee.

There is a commentary by series creator Ken Johnson. It’s an interesting look at the history and development of the show plus some of the effects and tricks used. This episode is available on its own release with the same commentary. I think it has some extras related to the Hulk movie and a bonus episode (the season 2 premier movie if I remember right). I wouldn’t have cared too much if it hadn’t been included in this collection since it would have been easy to go get the other release, but I’m glad it’s here.

2) Death In The Family: David heads towards a new radiology unit that may be his cure. He happens upon a crippled girl visiting her dead father. His medical training comes in handy when she collapses and even more so when he recognizes anomalies in her medication that suggest a sinister plot. His heroism overrides his anguish, and he stays around to help.

3) The Final Round: A boxer saves David’s hide (well, not really, of course) then finds him work at his gym. Turns out the boss has David’s friend doing things that could get him in serious trouble. When the guy becomes a danger to the operation the boss sets him up for a fall. It helps to have a super hero for a friend even when you don’t know about it.

4) The Beast Within: David is working at a zoo where a doctor is stemming aggression in animals. As always, there are evil forces at work, sabotaging the research for personal gain.

5) Of Guilt Models & Murder: A disoriented David finds evidence of the Hulk being a killer. He remembers answering a cry for help, but not much else (as is usual after his transformations). Should he search for the truth or accept the evidence and hide before scrutiny ousts him?

6) Terror In Times Square: David’s new boss in New York is being squeezed by organized crime. The mob boss threatens David’s new friends when they stand up to him with innocent Carol caught in the middle.

7) 747: David catches a quick flight to meet a scientist who might be able to help him. Of course, there’s a sinister plot. When a passenger innocently interferes with the criminal’s plans David is drawn into the scheme landing the Hulk in the pilot’s seat of an airplane.

8) The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas: Some reporter friends of Jack’s are up against organized crime and call on David’s nemesis for help. David gets involved when he witnesses the criminal attempts to silence the press. With Jack’s life in danger for trying to do the right thing David must save him without giving himself away.

9) Never Give A Trucker An Even Break: David is picked up by a lady that cons him into some strange tasks. Now they’re both being chased by homicidal criminals. Is David’s new companion being straight with him or not? He can’t quite be sure. There are some attempts at humor in this episode that don’t work. In fact, the episode as a whole is the weakest of any I can remember.

10) Life & Death: David runs across a fellow hitchhiker. Only this one’s pregnant. He steps in to help as usual. At the hospital he meets with a doctor performing experimental DNA surgery. This is his best chance at a cure so far, but when he learns his pregnant friend may be in danger he goes to her rescue. It’s not so easy this time, though when he’s given a lethal injection.

11) Earthquakes Happen: David turns con man to get into a facility doing top secret research. As he attempts to use a machine to cure himself he’s discovered right before an earthquake hits. Being trapped and facing arrest are the least of his worries, a nuclear meltdown is immanent.

12) The Waterfront Story: David is on the verge of leaving yet another life he’s been building but is talked into staying at the last minute. And it’s a good thing. A couple of men are running for leadership of the union, and it’s not a friendly race with David’s friends caught in the middle.

13) Stop The Presses: Jack’s inability to produce anything solid on the Hulk lands his job in trouble. Some dirty colleagues set David’s current place of employment, a restaurant, on the road to ruin, and it's Jack's job to cover the goings on which means pictures at the scene. David wants to help his new friends, but his main focus is keeping his face off the front page. He has to recover the photos without Jack seeing him. Jack shows his true colors in this episode.

Final Thoughts:
This is still one of my favorite TV shows. It was great when I was a kid, and it’s still great watching it as an adult. I very highly recommend it to any fan of comic book characters or action/drama TV. The TVD set could have easily been 5* if they had put in some extra features, even just a couple, and the lack of them is the only reason I’m dropping to a 4* rating.

Recommend this product? Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8

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