Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Incredible Hulk!
Are there any shows on for kids anymore? I don’t watch as much TV as I used to but it seems to me that most, if not all, of primetime television shows are geared toward older teens and adults. I certainly wouldn’t want my kids (if I had any) watching my favorite shows like LOST, PRISON BREAK, HOUSE or THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES until they were in, say, high school. Even Saturday morning cartoons are going the way of the VCR and dial telephone. The FOX network has plans to do away with their kids programming block in favor of paid programming (infomercials.)
What the hell happened?
When I was a kid, there was a wealth of programming suitable for my age group that also played well with adults. THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN was probably my favorite. (I remember “running” around the yard in slo-mo, picking up empty cardboard boxes and throwing them, making the obligatory “nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh” sound.) But there was also PLANET OF THE APES, STAR TREK, DUKES OF HAZZARD...and THE INCREDIBLE HULK.
I remember how excited I was when I saw the first promo for the pilot movie. Even then, I knew how difficult it could be for Hollywood to adapt a character like the Hulk as a live-action show. But, judging by the previews, they’d pulled it off. And once I saw the movie (Mom let me stay up late, as she often did when something “special” was on.) I wasn’t disappointed. Obviously, they’d made some changes. I was baffled as to why he didn’t talk and why bullets actually hurt him. But I was mesmerized by the huge green guy with the white irises. Lou Ferrigno instantly became my idol. I wasn’t stupid. I knew there was Hollywood trickery afoot but for that one hour each Friday night (once the series was picked up) I completely bought into the idea that he and Bill Bixby were the same guy and that Ferrigno was actually seven feet tall and green. Ferrigno is about 6’ 5” tall so, with some creative camera work, this wasn’t hard to pull off. And, at the time, we didn’t have a color tv (just a 13” black and white) so I couldn’t really see the seams in the makeup. Or the spots where it would come off on whatever he picked up. Usually, a damsel in distress.
Mike’s friend Carlton wasn’t as appreciative of the character design as I was. He hated the eyes, the large nose they gave him (as did Ferrigno, I’ve heard) and described the wig as looking like something they found dead on the side of the road, dyed green and perched on his head. Looking back, he was right. Over the five seasons the show was airing, the makeup was slowly refined and improved but they never quite got the wig right.
But the show was really very good. The writing was good for it’s time and Bixby took the show seriously, grounding the show with his heartfelt, earnest performance. Obviously, it’s a little dated now. For budgetary reasons, the writers had to follow a strict formula of two “hulk-outs” per episode (at :25-after and :10-till) that never lasted more than a few minutes. The one time I can remember them breaking this formula was in one of the best episodes produced: “Married.” (SPOILERS!!) This featured one of the most heart-breaking scenes in the series in which Banner has to chase his new (and terminally ill) bride through a hurricane and becomes the Hulk from the stress. The creature finally tracks her down and she dies in his arms. When he changes back, she’s gone and he never got to say good bye. It was an incredible (n.p.i.) moment and, if I’m not mistaken, that episode won an emmy.
When I was a kid, I waited impatiently for each hulk-out to see Lou in all his glory, smashing walls and bending pipes. But I’ve been watching a few of the episodes on Hulu.com and now I can see that Bixby really was the star of the show.
Also slightly dated but really, surprisingly good is the music by the late Joe Harnell. Everybody knows the music played over the end credits called “The Lonely Man Theme” (referred to by Stewie Griffin as “the sad, walking away music from THE INCREDIBLE HULK...” but Harnell provided quite a few wonderful cues for the series. Each character, even the annoying but noble reporter Jack McGee had one. Harnell really doesn’t get enough credit for the work he did on the series. Since most of the Hulk’s scenes were shot in slow motion, really slowing the pacing, he used his music to add an element of excitement to the proceedings. I loved how, as Lou would emerge from wherever he’d just “changed”, Harnell’s familiar Hulk theme (bum...bum...BUMMMM...bummmm) announced the creature’s arrival. And, as he was chasing down frightened bad guys and pitching them into stacks of empty cardboard boxes or gingerly picking up Papier-mâché rocks with his fingertips (so as not to smear his makeup), this would be playing.
I could go on and on about how much I loved that show as a kid and how Lou Ferrigno (as the Hulk) inspired me in part to drop all the extra pounds in high school so I could play football and blah blah blah. But this post is getting long and I haven’t even mentioned my sketch at the top. I kind of like how it turned out, though I screwed up on part of the torso. That’s what I get for trying to ink in the dark. (Damn, the sun is going down early, isn’t it?) It reminds me of something but I can’t put my finger on it.
Anyway, if you haven’t checked out HULK show lately, do yourself a favor and head on over to the awesome Hulu site and watch an episode. Try to watch it with the era it was made in mind. Obviously, Lou Ferrigno in makeup can’t compete with a 12-foot tall CG creature but he sure did his best. And it was a heck of a lot of fun watching him do it.
If you’re interested in picking up some of Joe Harnell’s music, check out his memorial website and buy one of his CD’s. This site, incidentally, is where I got the music clips.
Posted by Matt Wieringo at 5:01 PM