Saturday, 5 March 2016
349 The Incredible Hulk
First viewed : 26 May 1978
Though The Hulk was never my favourite Marvel character I looked forward to seeing this first live action adaptation of their work. The series was launched with a TV movie to establish the premise and it quickly became clear that not much from the comics was going to make the transition. The Hulk resulted from a scientist called Banner's exposure to gamma radiation which caused him to transform into a raging green creature with incredible strength and equally incredible trousers which expanded with him as the rest of his clothes were shredded in the transformation.
That was pretty much all the series took from the comics. The scientist's name was David not Bruce and all the supporting cast like Betty Ross and her general father were jettisoned. Nor , for perhaps budgetary reasons, did he fight super-villains or extra-terrestrials ; the villains he put to flight were strictly human. To make the fights a bit fairer the TV Hulk's strength was considerably reduced. Nor did he have the pigeon English of the comic character which might have turned it into a comedy series . The Hulk/Banner's main adversary was a tabloid reporter Jack McGee ( Jack Colvin ) whose investigations precipitated an explosion which led to Banner ( Bill Bixby ) being presumed dead. McGee then succumbed to monomania and pursued sightings of The Hulk for the rest of the series with Banner, under a string of false identities , keeping one step ahead of him while periodically looking for a cure. None of this came from the Marvel stories.
As such the series had as much in common with The Fugitive as the comics. Banner would turn up in a small town, get a blue collar job and make friends who invariably needed his help against some small time oppressors. Something would trigger The Hulk's appearance which drew McGee there and Banner, having managed to dodge him ( often by ingenious devices ) , would have to move on. Every episode ended with Banner having to part from his friends and wend his weary way onwards to the melancholy theme tune. It was daringly downbeat for a prime time series. Unusually there was no regular female character; Banner's wife and then a female colleague having both perished in the pilot episode.
The Hulk himself was played by bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno in a mask , wig and green body paint. Playground rumour had it that the Hulk's face was Ferrigno's own until a magazine photo settled the issue. He only had a maximum of ten minutes screen time per episode in which to burst out of his clothing , roar and throw some polystyrene props around.
I was a little disappointed that it was so far removed from the source material and I don't think I watched it regularly after the first series. It was formulaic but very popular lasting for five series until 1982. Later in the decade three TV movies were made ostensibly to bring some closure although the first two were also used to trial ( unsuccessfully ) new superheros in Thor and Daredevil. Bixby's death from cancer - one can imagine his thoughts while undergoing chemotherapy - brought an end to the franchise in 1993.
Colvin appeared in the first Child's Play movie then had a regular role in Murder She Wrote from 1987 to 1991. He then retired from acting and became artistic director at a studio in LA. He died of a stroke in 2005. Ferrigno continued in professional bodybuilding until the mid nineties and appeared in a few films in strong man roles. Since then he's done some reality TV, been involved in training Michael Jackson for his ill-fated London concerts in 2009 and had cameos in both the more recent Hulk films.