Tag Archives: Bill Bixby

The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988, Nicholas Corea)

The Incredible Hulk Returns is severely lacking. It’s severely lacking pretty much everything. Despite being set in and filmed in Los Angeles, the movie looks generic and constrained–director Corea has a truly exceptional aversion to establishing shots. The interior shots often have a different visual feel. More like video (Returns was shot on film, but edited on video). The video feel makes everything seem more immediate. But the last thing Returns has is immediacy. It lacks an immediacy, even though it’s incredibly dramatic.

No pun.

The movie’s set an indeterminate time since the TV series ended, but two years since Bill Bixby has turned into Lou Ferrigno. He’s in L.A. making a gamma ray to cure himself and romancing fellow scientist Lee Purcell. Despite a not too big thirteen year age difference, Bixby and Purcell lack chemistry. They’re not bad together, they just don’t seem into one another. The script tries too hard to make them cute and they’re not. The dialogue’s real bad on their romance too. There’s a lack of affection, even implied.

It doesn’t really matter because Purcell’s not important. She even gets kidnapped at one point and manages not to be important. The movie willfully ignores her. Because after the first act, it becomes a pilot for a “Thor” TV show and not really a Hulk TV movie.

Bixby’s about to cure himself when annoying rogue nerdy but late eighties nerdy cool doctor (medical doctor… sure, why not) Steve Levitt shows up. Seems Levitt’s gone and found himself an ancient Viking war hammer and become bound to giant, buff, blond Viking warrior god Eric Allan Kramer. Pretty soon Kramer is fighting Ferrigno and they break the lab, causing a big problem for Bixby.

Except not because they just fix up the lab, much to the chagrin of Bixby’s boss’s little brother, Jay Baker. Baker works his ass off in The Incredible Hulk Returns. He takes this movie really, really seriously. More seriously than anyone else, including Charles Napier playing a Cajun mercenary without a Cajun accent but TV Cajun speech patterns. It’s painful. Anyway. Baker. He tries. He’s also a corrupt little shit who hates his older brother John Gabriel. Baker doesn’t like Bixby much either. Or Levitt. They work too hard. Not really a subplot, but it comes up a couple times and it’s a lot of character development for Returns. Baker goes wild with it.

The movie utterly fails him, of course, but he does try. No one else really tries. Tim Thomerson doesn’t try as the villain. He’s also a Cajun but he’s ashamed of it. Or so Napier implies. Because Corea’s script for Returns puts more effort into the back story on the industrial mercenaries than on its lead female actor. Oh, wait. It’s only female actor. Purcell manages to weather Returns with dignity. Maybe having less to do helps.

Bixby’s completely flat throughout. He’s default likable, but never anything more. He’s not bored or condescending to the material or anything. He’s just completely flat. He’s supposed to have figured out some zen thing to control the Hulk but still. A lot of it is probably the script. Or Correa’s direction. Neither succeed at all.

Regarding Baker and his valiant efforts in his role–he’s not auditioning for a series. Levitt and Kramer would be the leads on the “Thor” show and, although Kramer does try, he doesn’t try as hard. And Levitt is exceptionally bland. Again, some of it’s the script. Some isn’t.

Kramer at least has fun. But his character is supposed to enjoy having fun. No one else in the movie enjoys anything. Not even Ferringo enjoys breaking things. Then again Correa kind of gives Ferringo the worst stuff in the movie. Not just the script or how Correa directs him–though I guess Ferrigno does get a couple spotlight action sequences–but also the make-up. When Ferrigno needs to do “Hulk sad,” he can do it. Shame Correa only has him emote twice in the movie.

Jack Colvin (from the “Hulk” TV show) comes back too. He’s barely got a part and spends a lot of his screen time talking on phones. He’s not good but he’s not terrible.

The music from Lance Rubin needs to be heard to be believed. At least for the first thirty or so minutes. Then there’s less or different music, but Rubin’s action sequence music? It’s loud, fast, layed, and terrible. There’s one good bit of music–when not using the show theme–and it’s a shock, because it suggests Rubin can do different approaches. He actually can’t. The good bit was anomalous.

The Chuck Colwell photography is bad. But is it because Colwell’s work is bad or because Correa doesn’t really do the whole shot composition thing. Either way, the result is bad. The movie never looks right. Or good. Unlike some things, the bad photography is quite bad. It isn’t just not good. It’s bad.

I suppose at the very least, The Incredible Hulk Returns is never boring. It’s just never good. And it’s often bad. Correa does a rather poor job, both at the directing and the writing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Corea; teleplay by Corea, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Chuck Colwell; edited by Janet Ashikaga and Briana London; music by Lance Rubin; executive produced by Bill Bixby and Corea; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Bill Bixby (David Banner), Steve Levitt (Donald Blake), Eric Allan Kramer (Thor), Lee Purcell (Maggie Shaw), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Tim Thomerson (Jack LeBeau), Charles Napier (Mike Fouche), John Gabriel (Joshua Lambert), Jay Baker (Zack Lambert), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


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The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)

The Return of the Incredible Hulk is the second pilot movie for the subsequent “Incredible Hulk” TV series. It aired three weeks after the first pilot, which featured the origin of the Hulk–scientist Bruce Bixby turns himself into green-skinned musclebound grotesque Lou Ferrigno thanks to gamma rays–and his pursuer, annoying, uninformed tabloid reporter Jack Colvin. Luckily Colvin doesn’t come into Return until over a half hour in so there’s limited Colvin, which is just fine. Return has enough acting… issues without Colvin mucking up too many scenes.

It’s not all Colvin’s fault; the details of his scenes are idiotic television shorthand. But it’s not like he makes the scenes work, which an actor could with some enthusiasm. The cast of Return of the Incredible Hulk is usually at least enthusiastic–all the guest stars act like they’re auditioning for a regular CBS show, which they are–but not Colvin. He’s just an unenthusiastic jackass, which isn’t a good kind of jackass.

And Colvin isn’t the one who drags Return down. The Return of the Incredible Hulk is a perfectly adequate, lower mediocre, late seventies television pilot. The one impressive shot in it doesn’t even involve the Hulk and it’s only technically impressive. Director Levi does show some interest occasionally, but he also shoots some really mediocre scenes. He’s got no interest in the soap opera aspects of the story, which is sort of a Gothic about a troubled young woman (Laurie Prange), who lost her father and her ability to walk, now getting sicker and sicker, in the care of stepmother Dorothy Tristan and special doctor William Daniels. Although an heiress, her true love is Gerald McRaney. He disappears after the first third, which is too bad. He’s rather enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Prange ends up getting the spotlight, befriending both Bixby and Ferrigno–separately. She calms Ferrigno’s beast and Bixby is trying to save her from those conspiring against her. Though there’s not much mystery in who’s conspiring against her. Kenneth Johnson’s teleplay is nothing if not efficient. The moment after Bixby reveals he knows Daniels’s doing something slimy, Daniels’s conspirator confronts Daniels about it. So all of a sudden Return’s got specific villains who have specific henchmen for Ferrigno to fight.

All the action takes place on Prange’s orange orchard in Northern California. At the opening, before it’s been made clear what a low bar Return is going for, it almost seems like there’s going to be a Bill Bixby as Tom Joad thing. There isn’t.

There is a Lou Ferrigno is Boris Karloff with the old man, which would be a lot more amusing if the old man didn’t stick around the rest of the movie. John McLiam plays the old man, a loner who has cut himself off from the world because of tragedy. He’s a veteran. He’s also a drunken Northern California hillbilly living in a surprisingly well-lighted shack. Oh, and his introduction is taunting the chicken he’s cooking about how he’s going to eat it.

And McLiam plays it all straight, which is just the wrong way to play it.

Everyone in Return, with the exception of Colvin and McLiam, tries. Daniels has some good nerdy creep moments. Tristan has some good moments. Some bad ones too, but at least there’s some energy to her performance. Though muted… as it appears in Charles W. Short’s thoroughly competent and boring lighting.

Prange tries. And she is frequently bad. But when the script’s at its best and the melodrama is toned down, Prange has a really good moment or two. There’s a sweetness between she and Ferrigno and it’s entirely from the actors. Johnson makes the time in the movie for it, but–as producer–he doesn’t make Levi enable it. Instead they rely on Joseph Harnell to do a terrible theme for Prange, separate from the “Incredible Hulk” theme, which gets a disco-ish remix early on in Return. And they use that theme for Prange ad nauseam. It ruins scenes, it ruins momentum.

Because Return finally gets some momentum in the second half, when Bixby, Prange, and McLiam are on the run. Through the Northern California orange country swamp, chased by men with dogs and a guy in a helicopter. And there are snakes.

And bears. And Ferrigno fights a bear. It’s not a bad fight. Like, for a TV pilot movie? With the “Hulk”’s demographic target audience? It’s a decent bear fight. Much cooler than the rest of the Ferrigno action. There’s too much slow motion, not enough choreography. When there’s choreography–even a little bit–it works better. There’s also the breaking stuff factor. Ferrigno breaks things (it’s the reason Bixby can’t stay in one place too long, Ferrigno might break something–not kill someone, break something). They’re big things, sure, but the set pieces are often tedious in Return. And sometimes Levi will all of a sudden decent to get serious during a fight scene and totally change the tempo.

But the bear fight is cool.

The snake not so much.

There’s also a quicksand sequence, because it’s a TV pilot movie from the late seventies. The quicksand is a disappointment.

I forgot McRaney (just the like the movie; though maybe he was busy shooting other things). He’s not good, but he’s likable. You can tell he’s got the TV star thing down. And when he’s in the movie, there’s at least a chance for it to go someplace surprising, story-wise.

It’s when he disappears Return becomes a race to the half hour chase scene.

And the half hour chase scene makes up for the rest. Enough for a late seventies TV pilot movie. The whole thing is an audition tape for Bill Bixby and the various things he’ll be able to do on the subsequent series. There’s just enough with Ferrigno to show off the action possibilities. Prange has just the right amount of tragedies to show off the sentimental possibilities. Bixby’s likability, especially opposite Prange, makes up for a lot throughout. Johnson does a fine job advertising a series.

While still adequately plotting out the ninety minutes. Return is well-produced, it’s just unimaginatively executed and rather underacted.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Levi; teleplay by Kenneth Johnson Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Charles W. Short; edited by Glenn Lawrence and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; produced by Johnson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Laurie Prange (Julie Griffith), John McLiam (Michael), William Daniels (Dr. John Bonifant), Dorothy Tristan (Margaret Griffith), Gerald McRaney (Denny Kayle), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Victor Mohica (Rafe), Robert Phillips (Phil), Mills Watson (Sheriff), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk)..


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The Incredible Hulk (1977, Kenneth Johnson)

The Incredible Hulk opens with a montage of lead Bill Bixby’s martial bliss. It goes on for quite a while, just Bixby and (an uncredited) Lara Parker being a happy married couple. Then tragedy strikes. Like most tragedies in The Incredible Hulk, it involves a car tire blowing out. There are three such instances in the movie. The first two are fine. The third one’s contrived, but effective. Director and writer and producer Johnson doesn’t let anyone acknowledge how unlikely the third instance seems; Hulk takes itself way too seriously for that sort of thing.

And Hulk taking itself seriously works. Sure, Hulk Lou Ferrigno has a terrible wig but who knows what would happen to hair after a person metamorphoses into a… well, an incredible hulk. But the rest of the seriousness? It works.

Even the manipulative opening montage.

It’s almost a year after the tragedy. Bixby has thrown himself into his work; he and research partner Susan Sullivan are trying to figure what gives people superhuman strength in cases of crisis. It’s not clear whether they’ve been working on the project since before the tragedy, as it ties directly into Bixby and Parker’s experiences.

The first act of Hulk is this phenomenally plotted science and research story. Sullivan does great selling all the scientific stuff (for a while at least, Hulk sounds pretty scientificy–the science variation of truthy). Sullivan does a great job with everything. Bixby might get top-billing, but Sullivan makes the movie. She and Bixby have this gentle relationship; when Johnson adds their backstory in exposition towards the end of the second act, it all works because Sullivan has been so good.

As the movie begins, Bixby’s not doing well at work. He walks out on an interview with mom Susan Batson who found super-strength to save son Eric Deon. Sullivan, playing the responsible one, has to get Bixby focused. Turns out she gets him too focused and he starts experimenting on himself. Resulting in the third blowout and the first appearance of Ferrigno.

Ferrigno’s “first day” out as the Hulk is Johnson doing something of a Frankenstein homage. The electronically amplified Hulk growls don’t work–and the wig is terrible–but Ferringo works hard in his scenes. He gets to over-emote since he’s a seven foot tall musclebound green grotesque, but the over-emoting is what the part needs. Johnson knows it too. He gives Ferringo more emotional scenes than Bixby by the end of it. Bixby’s sad, but Ferrigno’s tragic. Sullivan’s great with both of them.

Did I already mention she makes the Hulk? Not literally, of course, because she’s a responsible scientist, unlike Bixby.

Unfortunately, once Ferrigno shows up, the movie takes a turn. It’s been expansive until that point–introducing new characters, having Bixby and Sullivan’s research go somewhere–but once it’s about figuring out the Hulk, the movie starts folding in on itself. It’s just Bixby and Sullivan trying to figure things out. And dodge tabloid reporter Jack Colvin, who is very dedicated to his job, but very bad at it. Colvin’s performance also isn’t up to Sullivan or Bixby’s level, which certainly doesn’t help the already narratively troubled third act.

The movie’s technically accomplished, with Johnson getting a lot of good work out of his TV movie crew. Howard Schwartz’s photography is excellent for the daytime stuff and interior night stuff, okay for the exterior night stuff. Johnson’s direction is rather good. Surprisingly good in spots. The editing is fantastic–Alan C. Marks and Jack W. Schoengarth cut the heck out of the first act setup. Okay, they can’t make the remembered dialogue playing as voiceover work but who can? And the script needs the voiceovers for introspective purposes. Johnson likes introspective; he gets the tragedy out of it.

He’s good at the introspective stuff too. Bixby’s great at being sad. Sullivan’s great at everything, which I think I mentioned. She really holds the movie together. Anyway, Johnson’s not great at some of the action stuff. He’s fine with scaling up to big set pieces, but he’s not so great at little stuff. Like his Frankenstein homage. It’s well-directed, but the actors? Johnson doesn’t pay any attention to their performances, just how they’re moving through the action sequence. Their performances need a lot of attention, especially given the action sequence. Johnson doesn’t direct much from character point of view (if ever). Sometimes that point of view would help things.

I can’t forget–Batson’s great. She’s only in it for a bit but it suggests Johnson’s going to keep bringing in excellent performances in small parts. Doesn’t work out that way, though. Instead we get Colvin’s performance rolling gradually downhill from mediocre.

Joseph Harnell’s music has one good theme and then the rest of it is hot and cold. He runs out of ideas for the action scenes pretty quick. And the dramatic stuff only really works when he’s playing with that one good theme.

The Incredible Hulk could be better–another half hour to play with might have given Johnson some ideas for subplots–but it’s still pretty good.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Kenneth Johnson; teleplay by Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Howard Schwatz; edited by Alan C. Marks and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Susan Sullivan (Dr. Elaina Marks), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Lara Parker (Laura Banner), Susan Batson (Mrs. Maier), Eric Deon (B.J.), Charles Siebert (Ben), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


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