Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Edward Norton gives us the anti-Ang Lee with his action-packed (but emotionally inert) script for The Incredible Hulk.
I know what Edward Norton dressed up as for Halloween. A gift box with a label that read "To: Hollywood, From: God." How else to explain that upon getting the role of Bruce Banner, he requested (and was granted) the opportunity to rewrite the script for The Incredible Hulk? How many stars, even A-listers, even award-winning actors, can do that? Delusions of grandeur aside, Norton probably should not quit his day job as an actor to be a writer, at least not any time soon. I have no idea what state this script existed in before Norton rewrote it. I don’t know if his rewrite consisted of a major revision or just a “polish” of what someone else generated, but for the purposes of this article, I’m placing all of the good as well as the bad squarely on his shoulders. His is the only name on the script, you see.
I couldn't help but consider Ang Lee's failed project Hulk while I read Norton's script. Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain) approached this pulpy material like a Greek tragedy, the personal drama of a disastrous relationship between father and son. There were special effects and CGI, even some explosive confrontations between Hulk and the military, but that wasn’t the focus of Lee’s film. His vision, while not bad (in my opinion), was different. It didn’t meet the expectations of viewers, leading to lackluster ticket sales and ultimately what was viewed as a disappointing failure. Where did Lee go wrong? He made a film more in line with what he had done before and has done since (and I can’t fault him for sticking to his vision), but (and I kind of hate to say it) fans wanted Transformers.
Transformers was so successful because it delivered precisely what most people want to see in a summer blockbuster, and what fans hoped to see in this film in particular – giant fucking robots beating the hell out of each other. There was minimal character development, a membrane-thin plot, but enough of one to drive the action forward. The vast majority of the time and focus was spent on the eye-candy: giant robots transforming back and forth and battling it out in highly populated areas. This movie won’t win any awards (except maybe for special effects), but it was great fun to watch.
With a character like The Incredible Hulk, fans don’t want a quiet, character-driven drama; they want “HULK SMASH!” followed by a green behemoth smashing anything and everything in his way. They want Transformers, but with the Hulk instead of giant robots. I will say that TIH (I’m beginning the review now) delivers precisely what fans want to see (if my assessment is correct). TIH, intended more as a reboot than a straight sequel, is about as far from Lee’s vision as it could get, and for that reason it will most likely be a lesser movie, but a better moneymaker. I’m going to start by looking at what works well in this script. I love a great opening to a film, and TIH definitely starts strong, to wit:
We’re met with a black screen and the sound of strong, howling wind. We then see the exterior of a squat old ship, the miles it’s traveled etched in its hull, churning down a narrow lane of open water flanked on either side by expansive polar shelves. Bruce Banner stands in its prow, gazing out at a stark white world, bone-chilling ice as far as the eye can see. He disembarks, turns his back on the ship and begins walking toward the distant horizon, apparently toward nothing, until he eventually comes to a place with mountains at his back and a glacial sea before him. We see he has a revolver in hand, a haunted look upon his face. Flash to a memory, a point of view shot of a woman lying unmoving on a debris-strewn floor, with flames dangerously close. But the image isn’t clear; it’s streaked, blurred and warped, accompanied by a shrieking, distorted sound. Just as quickly as it comes it is gone, and we return to Banner, a close-up of his face, anguish in his eyes. We look on from a short distance behind him, and as he thumbs back the hammer we see a dull, pulsating glow begin emanating from his skull, just below his cap. We see that it has a greenish radiance to it, more brilliant than the Aurora Borealis blazing in the sky overhead. We jump to a close-up of his eyes, squeezed shut, Banner straining for courage. But they fly open, the irises changing from their natural blue to a deep, glowing green.
Quickly, before it’s too late he jerks his arm up and pointing the gun at his head pulls the trigger. From behind him we jump to farther away, his shape less descript, falling forward. At the last second his arm shoots out in front to catch him. We jump again to a close up of snow and see an arm piston down to the ground, but it is huge, muscled, and a dark grayish green. The arm moves up out of frame and returns, a smashed and flattened bullet in the large palm. Cut to a wide shot of the glacial shelf and we hear an inhuman roar, a howl that is quickly carried away by the wind. Then a massive boom reverberates throughout the landscape, quickly followed by a gigantic chunk of the glacier shearing away from the shelf and plunging into the Arctic waters below. The resulting tsunami rushes toward the camera and before it hits we cut to the title: The Incredible Hulk.