Hulk Bore

Thursday, June 12th, 2008 Horrorthon Posts

[I originally posted this as a comment below, but nobody’s replied yet (in a whole half-hour), so I’m impatiently clamoring for readers by re-posting it up here. Pay attention to me! Me, me, me, me!]


You know, the thing about The Hulk story in all its incarnations is very simple…so simple that I’m ashamed that it’s taken me so long to figure it out. Here’s the problem: you’ve got this guy, right, who’s the main character; he’s running around from town to town dealing with his weird life, and then he gets angry or whatever and the alter ego is unleashed…and it’s somebody else.

Whether it’s Lou Ferrigno or a bunch of CGI or whatever, it’s just a different character and there’s just no way to reconcile the two entities into a single protagonist. The ‘seventies TV show is basically a drama about “David” Banner and his life dealing with small problems in the towns where he works as a short-order cook or whatever, not really dealing with his Hulk persona, and then Ferrigno comes in during a couple of mute sequences as a deus ex machina to solve everything. But you never feel like it’s him doing anything; it’s like the Hulk is some kind of remote-control guardian angel or something.

In a horror story like American Werewolf in London, this bifurcation and distancing is the whole point of the story. The werewolf isn’t David Kessler; he hates and fears it, and, in the few moments when the werewolf might behave like him (like at the very end) it doesn’t, and the horror is magnified. Vampire/zombie stories are the same: you can’t trust the protagonist once he/she is “taken over.”

But the Hulk is supposed to somehow be the “hero” even though he/it is really just a werewolf identity. He’s/it’s so scary and powerful and Banner hates him/it (and wants an antidote as desperately as David Kessler would, if it were possible), but, when he becomes the Hulk, suddenly we’re supposed to accept the Hulk not just as “the hero” but as him, as the same person, which is ridiculous because the Hulk doesn’t have a fucking brain; he’s vaguely “attached” to a couple of people, King Kong/Fay Wray style, but basically he’s just a big fighting machine. Does Banner even remember what “he” did as the Hulk? (David Kessler has no idea what he did as a werewolf.) The TV show never makes it clear.

CGI exacerbates all of these problems, because while Lou Ferrigno was an actual actor, and therefore recognizable as a “person” (albeit a different person as I’m saying) the CGI Hulk has the added burden of being an animated character. It’s like the animated Kim Basinger in Cool World (which worked, sort of, because it was the same persona and the same voice). Banner runs around dealing with the plot and then he just exits the movie so a big special effect can sub in.

When Andy Serkis turned into the animated Gollum (at the beginning of Return of the King) it worked perfectly, because a lot of people were working really hard to connect the two personae into a single character. With the Hulk, as I’m saying, it’s a far more tenuous connection.

I’m not sure why it “works” in comic books. But then, I’ve never liked Hulk comics anyway. So what do I know.

UPDATE: Thinking back to the old comic book Hulk (from the Jack Kirby era) I remember that the Hulk had a lot of dialogue. He had a personality; it was very limited and child-like, and mostly based around his temper and ego (he threw big raging tantrums all the time, especially when the military was trying to subdue him, like all good monsters) but you could definitely get a sense of the Hulk’s feelings and motivations. They weren’t the same as Banner’s (in fact, if I remember correctly, the Hulk was aware of, and contemptuous of, Banner) but they were definitely part of the story.

None of this made it onto the television screen, for simple reasons; Lou Ferrigno couldn’t talk, so they had to re-shape the character as a kind of mute, mysterious “save the day” plot device as I said above. (Of course Ferrigno could talk but his speech was impaired and wouldn’t come across properly in the story.) Without language, you can’t figure out what the hell the Hulk is doing or why he’s doing it, so he becomes an extension of Banner’s id, destroying the train tracks of the evil corporation or whatever. The movies seem to have picked up on this approach, maybe because a talking Hulk is too corny for today’s tastes. But it leaves them with the same problem: if he’s not Banner, and he’s not his own character, then what is he? A special effect.