Saturday, June 21, 2003

To follow up on my Hulk comments from yesterday: Last night at Borders, I heard some people talking about it, referring to it as an "art-house" movie. This morning, I read a review from the New York Post describing it as "artsy." What, just because it's not balls-to-the-walls action? I mean, come on, we're not talking Chien Andalou here. This isn't the Babette's Feast of Hulk movies, for God's sake. Is this what we've come to? Is any movie that isn't just plain stupid now an "art-house picture?" You can't have a movie that appeals to mainstream audiences that isn't dumb as a bag of hammers?
So it's about 12:30 in the morning, and I'm waiting at Borders for my copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I got here at about ten to midnight, and I'm number 232 in line. The place is packed with kids giddy with enthusiasm, some wearing costumes, makeup, or cardboard Harry Potter glasses. Some cute college girls in witch outfits. And there are some twenty-something guys making farting noises, but I guess that's to be expected.

And then there's the parents. For the most part, they seem pretty well-behaved. But I swear, I just heard someone say, "They better hurry up!" Like they're willing to haul themselves out to Borders at midnight for the book, but that's it. If they have to wait any longer than that--at a store which usually closes at eleven--it's a huge inconvenience to them. Please.

(Written on my palmtop.)

Friday, June 20, 2003

As might be expected from the complete comics/film nerd, I saw The Hulk today, opening day. I saw it at 11:00 in the morning, in a mostly empty theater, with a bunch of families with large numbers of kids. When I saw Daredevil, my quickie, high-concept review was that it was Spider-Man for grownups. In that spirit, The Hulk is The Hulk for grown-ups. Which makes it pretty unfortunate that there were so many kids in the theater, because this is by no means a big super-hero action movie in the Spider-Man vein. Which is fine, because the Hulk isn't that kind of character.

The thing about the Hulk (the character) is that he isn't some guy who develops super powers and goes out to fight crime. He's this guy who can't stop himself from turning into this uncontrolable creature of pure primal emotion, mostly anger and rage. Something happens to Bruce Banner, he turns into the Hulk, havoc is wreaked because the Hulk isn't a rational being--which is the whole point--Banner eventually regains control, and he tries to go on with his life. It's a people story, and Ang Lee's movie is a people movie. It's a two and a half hour long movie about people talking and relationships, and periodically one of them turns into this big green guy who goes on a crazed rampage, smashing up buildings and helicopters and tanks and so forth. And the movie really works. It's a good Hulk story, and it's a really bad movie to bring kids to if they're expecting wall to wall Hulk action. (Trust me; I was witness to this.)

Word on the 'net, which, as what regular readers I have will know I give very little credence to, is that Universal Studios were upset that this film is, well, what it is, and not, say, Spider-Man. And I suppose they should be upset, because this isn't necessarily a big, crowd-pleasing actioner that'll bring in huge audiences and guarantee multiple sequels. I could have told them this going in, and I don't work for Hollywood. You can make Spider-Man movie after Spider-Man movie, because he's a crime fighter. In the first movie, he fights the Green Goblin. In the next one, he fights someone else. In the third, he fights someone else again. Same with Daredevil, same with Fantastic Four, same with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and so forth. The Hulk? There's one big movie-sized story for him, and that's his origin. He's not a big action movie franchise character, and assuming that he is, just because he has his own Marvel comic book like the others is just narrow-minded and stupid. And if that's the sort of reasoning Universal went in with, well, they deserve whatever disappointment they get.

So, enough of the studio politics stuff out of the way, and on to what I thought about the actual movie: I really enjoyed it. And not just because Jennifer Connelly is in it, although that's usually enough for me. No, this movie impresses because it feels like an honest effort to make a real movie, with a real story about real characters. It has one or two over-the-top moments, mostly courtesy of Mr. Nick Nolte, but for the most part, it's a very human film. It could, arguably, be trimmed in places, but compared to the rushed feel of Daredevil's final act, I think I'd rather have too much than too little. Comics purists will, no doubt, be upset with the changes to the Hulk's origin, but then, complaining about that stuff in public probably doesn't make them any less likely to get laid, so I guess there's no harm done. Within the context of this story, it all works.

While this is the least super-heroic of the three recent big Marvel movies, it's the one most consciously designed to look like a comic book. Many scenes play out with multiple images appearing together on the screen, a la TV's 24, and--according to interviews with Lee--is meant to resemble comic book panels on a page. For the most part, the effect works, creating some effective and distinctive transitions, unlike what we normally see in a major motion picture. Every now and then, it doesn't quite work--at one point, we see the same character from two different angles, something not normally seen in a comic--and the technique draws attention to itself. Still, I give Ang Lee credit for attempting something that worked most of the time rather than making a movie that looks just like every other movie.

And then there's the CGI Hulk... He works. Obviously, you have to go in understanding that you're seeing a movie called Hulk, and it's about this big, green guy. If you aren't prepared to accept the green guy, if you need the movie to completely convince you, if you aren't prepared to at least meet them part of the way... well, you still might be surprised, because he's pretty effective. Especially when we see his expressions in close-up. Considering he could have been, well, Shrek, this is impressive.

In other news... Well, there isn't much other news. Looking forward to the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix tonight at midnight at my local Borders. And Tuesday, Michelle Branch's new CD comes out. I suppose I'm supposed to be all hip and independent and looking down on populist entertainment like the Harry Potter novels, pop artists like Michelle Branch, and even movies like Hulk. But that's okay; I'm planning on watching episodes of Spaced this weekend, and I'm looking forward to not one, but two new Paul Magrs novels this summer. So there. Still won't be shaken on the whole pop music thing, though...