It had been billed to us as a visit to the editing bay of The
Incredible Hulk
, and while the theaters we visited on the Universal lot
may have been where some of the mixing and color timing for the film
took place, in reality director Louis Letterier had just locked his
picture that morning, meaning that all the editing was done. So I was
really there with a group of fellow journalists to get a look at some
footage from The Incredible Hulk and chat with Letterier, Marvel
Studios big wig Kevin Feige and producer Gale Anne Hurd. Which was
pretty okay by me, all told.

I came to the lot that day a blank slate. To be honest, I don’t really
care about the Hulk. He’s not a character who deeply interests me
(except for a portion of the Peter David run on the comic, when the
Hulk was intelligent and grey), and the Ang Lee film isn’t one that I
particularly like, but also don’t care enough about to get annoyed by
(I’m still sort of impressed that Ang Lee made a Hulk movie at all). To
be honest, nothing that Universal had shown in the trailers or TV spots
interested me all that much, and I found myself more drawn to the
rumored behind the scenes battles with star Edward Norton, who had
taken a swipe at the script (note: we saw the film’s opening credits
and it says Story and Screenplay by Zak Penn, with no mention of Edward
Harrison, Norton’s writing doppleganger. That’s a WGA decision) than to
anything else. Besides not being a character who really moved me, Hulk
is also a character whose appearance in a film is based totally on
special effects, and I learned from Ang Lee’s Hulk that the effects are
almost never finished enough to do the film justice in early trailers
or TV spots, so I have stopped paying attention to them (for all
effects-heavy films). I was prepared to judge The Incredible Hulk on
what I would see on the lot, not what buzz I had heard or what I saw in
a tiny Quicktime trailer.

I was mostly blown away by what I saw. To be fair, we were shown
something on the order of 15 minutes of footage, and the best stuff was
obviously cherry picked for us (including footage that has shown up on
the web this week: Hulk battling the army on a college campus and the
opening of the Hulk/Abomination fight), so I can’t make any judgments
on the rest of the movie until I see it, but what we were shown was
damn impressive. You’ve seen the IGN clip, ‘Blonsky Battles Hulk’ – we
saw about six or seven minutes more of that battle, including the Hulk
versus a tank, the Hulk versus two jeeps with sonic weapons attached to
them, and the Hulk versus an attack helicopter. Letterier told us that
he had his camera operators pretend like they were shooting a live
action fight scene, so that when the Hulk jumps the camera lags for a
second behind him and he goes briefly out of frame. That’s the kind of
thinking that I think helps integrate CGI into live action – too often
we see CGI elements that are perfectly framed, or a CGI camera executes
moves that would be impossible with a physical camera. By keeping
everything in the realm of what might happen on a set, Letterier keeps
his action more believable. That’s crucial with an all-CGI Hulk
(serious question: is it at all possible to ever NOT have an all-CGI
Hulk? The work on this Hulk looks impressive, leaps and bounds and
layers of detail above the Hulk we saw in earlier commercials, but he
still looks like a CGI Hulk. I don’t know that we’re really ever going
to get to a point where a figure like the Hulk looks completely
photoreal in CGI).

Before that, though, we saw the opening credits sequence, which is part
of how the movie introduces the characters and the origin of the Hulk.
Obviously there’s been a lot of debate over whether this is a reboot of
Ang Lee’s Hulk or a soft sequel; after sitting with Feige, Hurd and
Letterier I still can’t quite answer that question. The movie, as far
as I can tell, more or less gives it to you both ways. The opening
sequence does show a different Hulk origin from Lee’s, but it also
feels like a truncated Hulk origin, like disparate elements are all
shoved together to tell the story. Bruce Banner is in that big dental
chair from the opening of the TV show (Letterier is a huge fan of the
TV show. At one point he joked that he wanted to keep the ratio of Hulk
appearances to Banner appearances the same as in the show, so there
would be about ten minutes total of Hulk in the movie), and he’s
winking at Betty Ross while her dad, General Thunderbolt Ross, is
chomping a cigar in the background. Bruce becomes the Hulk, wreaks
havoc in the lab, severely injures Betty and her dad, and disappears.
He shows up at Betty’s hospital bed after returning to Banner form,
where he’s confronted by Ross. Banner leaves and is hunted by the army,
as seen in a series of newspaper clippings (Green Sasquatch Sighted!).
This segment also includes a bunch of crossover Easter eggs, including
the Stark International logo, Nick Fury’s letterhead and Doc Sampson’s
name on a list of Banner’s contacts. Anyway, this is all new stuff, but
the movie actually opens the current action in South America, where
Lee’s left off. Banner is working in a bottling factory because he
wants some of the ingredients that go into this local soda. Letterier
said that there had been some other moments put in the film where it
would flash to elements of the origin, but I do think that if you will
it enough, you could accept The Incredible Hulk as a sequel to Lee’s

We also saw a scene that features Lou Ferrigno’s cameo as a security
guard. It was also just about the only Edward Norton scene we saw; I
get why that is – you show the geek press the money shots – but I’m
intrigued by how Norton approaches this character. Here he’s trying to
sneak past the guard; we later get some of him at the opening of the
Hulk/Abomination fight as he throws himself out of a helicopter in an
attempt to force a transformation into the Hulk. By the way, this cameo
isn’t Ferrigno’s only part in the film – after getting invited on stage
at New York Comic Con by Letterier, Ferrigno came into the studio and
recorded the few lines of dialogue Hulk has in the film. When you hear
‘Hulk smash!’ it’ll be coming from the Hulk you grew up on.

We moved to the sound mixing screening room for the final scene, the
opening of the Hulk/Abomination battle. Some of this footage was in the
first trailer – it’s come a long way since then, reinforcing why
judging FX on trailers is stupid. This is the bit where Hulk uses the
halves of a police car as boxing gloves to pound the Abomination into
the pavement; the sound in this theater was unbelievable (duh, it’s the
sound mixing stage), and I could feel the bass thumping through my
whole body. The best thing I can say about this scene – and I think
this is a high compliment – is that it felt like a tease. We only got
to see maybe three minutes of the fight, and it was just getting warmed
up when they shut the projector down.

I wouldn’t say my mind was changed by this Incredible Hulk footage,
mostly because I had no real opinion on the film one way or the other
before seeing it, but I would say that the few minutes we saw did amp
up my interest in the movie in a big way. Again, I wish we had seen
more Norton, because I think that the real secret weapon of the Marvel
movies isn’t going to be the big FX pieces but rather the characters
themselves. That’s what has made Iron Man a smash hit, and if Norton
can be as iconic in the Banner role as Robert Downey Jr was in the Tony
Stark role, Marvel is looking at one hell of a summer.