It should be no surprise to fans of the 1978-82 CBS series “The Incredible Hulk” that Ang Lee’s big-budget feature version of the Marvel Comics hero is dark, brooding and not aimed at young audiences. The TV series, which starred Bill Bixby as the troubled Dr. David Banner and muscleman Lou Ferrigno as his green, gargantuan, rage-filled alter ego, was meant for adults.
In fact, series creator Kenneth Johnson says, “The largest audience for the series was adult women and then men and then kids.”
The ever-expanding DVD market is cashing in on the release today of “Hulk.” Universal, which is releasing the film, has “The Incredible Hulk -- Original Television Pilot” ($20), which features the first episode and the Emmy Award-winning “Married” installment with commentary by Johnson and an introduction by Ferrigno. And 20th Century Fox is countering with the 1990 TV movie “The Death of the Incredible Hulk” ($15), while Anchor Bay has a double feature of TV movies, “The Incredible Hulk Returns” and “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” ($30).
For animation buffs, Disney has “The Incredible Hulk” ($30), featuring four episodes of the 1996-97 animated series, the pilot episode from a 1966 animated series, and introductions and discussions with Marvel Comics creative force Stan Lee.
“Everyone is trying to get on the bandwagon,” says Johnson, who after “The Hulk” did the TV miniseries and series “V” and the series “Alien Nation.”
Johnson had created the hit series for Universal “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman” when he was asked if he would adapt one of the Marvel Comics super heroes for a live-action TV show. “I literally ran screaming out of the room -- ‘I don’t deal with people in spandex ... Captain America. The Human Torch.’ ”
Johnson was trying to figure out a way to politely say no to Universal when his wife, Susie, gave him a copy of Victor Hugo’s epic tale of redemption, “Les Miserables,” to read. “So I had this Jean Valjean and Javert and fugitive concept in my head and I thought, maybe there is a way to take Victor Hugo and a little bit of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ and this ridiculous premise called ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and turn it into an adult psychological drama about a man who is cursed and struggling under this curse to try and free himself of it. Of course, ultimately, the piece is about control.”
Johnson turned Banner into a physician -- he is a research scientist in the comics and the movie -- so he would have entree into people’s lives on an ongoing basis. He also changed his name from Bruce to David Banner. (In a tip of the hat to the TV series, in the feature Bruce Banner’s father, played by Nick Nolte, is named David.)
“George Burns told me once, if you are going to tell a lie, put as much truth in it as you can, particularly when you are dealing with something that is larger than life,” Johnson says. “It’s critical you keep the audience rooted in reality.”
In the pilot, Banner’s rage is caused because he wasn’t able to save his wife from the fiery car crash in which he escaped without a scratch.
Johnson says he was eager to set up the relationship and love between David Banner and his wife in the opening moments, so that when she did die, “her loss was so excruciating that we understood what drove his obsession ultimately to the point of going over the top. Here was a man who caused his own problem and now he has to reap the whirlwind.”
The late Bixby, Johnson says, was his one and only choice to play David Banner. The actor had the solidity, warmth, humanity and accessibility to make the character real. “The audience also respected him as an actor,” Johnson says.
Originally, Richard Kiel, who played “Jaws” in James Bond movies, was cast as the Hulk. “He had been a working actor for a lot of years and he was the size of Shaquille and an actor.... But after a week of shooting with Dick, we felt it wasn’t the right look that we wanted.”.
Enter 25-year-old bodybuilder Ferrigno, who had grown up reading the “Hulk” comic books. “I escaped with the Hulk,” Ferrigno says. “I was very introverted as a child” -- he had a hearing impairment -- “and I used to love his strength and power.”
According to Ferrigno, a director came on the set of the “Incredible Hulk” pilot with his son. The boy was not impressed with Kiel’s Hulk. “His son said this is not the Hulk. It has to be like the comic book -- big muscles, big shoulders. So they did a nationwide search and I was called into audition for it.”
Initially, Ferrigno didn’t want to be colored green for his audition.
“Then I decided nobody could play the Hulk but me. I went in and got painted green and did the screen test and I was working the next day.”
Ferrigno says it took three hours a day just to put on his Hulk makeup. “It’s probably the hardest work I have ever done.”
But he loved every minute of it and still does.
“I do a lot of autograph signings and people come from all over and ask me about the Hulk,” Ferrigno says. “I am coming out with my book in another two weeks, ‘My Incredible Life as the Hulk.’ It’s self-published.”
Ferrigno, who also supplied the voice of the Hulk in the 1990s cartoon, is happy about his cameo in the film with Stan Lee. “I filmed a couple of scenes,” Ferrigno says. “I did another scene with Eric Bana, but they had to cut it. Ang Lee said that would be on the DVD.”