Wednesday, August 2, 2006

THE INCREDIBLE HULK – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

Of all of the genre shows that I loved as a child, very few hold up too well today. Fortunately, one of the rare exceptions has just hit DVD in its first full-season set: THE INCREDIBLE HULK – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1977).

Based on the Marvel Comics character and starring TV veteran Bill Bixby (MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE MAGICIAN), THE INCREDIBLE HULK told the tale of a benevolent scientist named David Banner, who accidentally overdoses on gamma radiation during an experiment. Because of this, whenever he gets angry or stressed, he physically transforms into a muscular, inarticulate green giant (Lou Ferrigno, THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES). When a fellow scientist is killed in an explosion blamed on the Hulk, Banner is also presumed dead in the blast. Rather than turn himself in to the authorities to be locked up and experimented on, Banner instead decides to take to the road, hiding his true identity and searching for a way to reverse his condition. Cue the sad piano music.

With the sincere and sympathetic Bixby as Banner, THE INCREDIBLE HULK was a surprisingly successful remake of the previous decade's mega-hit show, THE FUGITIVE, spiced up with just a dash of fantasy. In both shows, our hero wanders the countryside, pausing briefly in his travels to involve himself in people's lives, and managing to solve their problems just as the time comes to move on again. The beauty of the formula, though, is that it works. What you end up with is essentially an anthology show with a continuing lead: one episode can be pure soap opera, another a crime thriller, the next, a scaled-down disaster flick. The drama keeps the grownups watching, and as long as Banner "Hulks out" twice an episode, the kids are happy, too.

Universal has released various episodes of this show on DVD previously (to tie-in with the Ang Lee feature film from a few years ago), but this is the first full-season release. As such, it contains both original 2-hour TV movies, and the ten episodes that followed, when the show was picked up as a mid-season replacement series. Compared to other TV shows of this vintage – especially from Universal – HULK looks incredible! Presented in its original 1.33:1, full-frame format, most of these episodes look like they were shot today. Picture quality is remarkably sharp, with solid colors, no obvious artifacts and only occasional instances of print damage, dust or speckling. The only audio option is good old Dolby mono, but it's crystal clear and well-balanced.

Extras are minimal: there's a commentary track by writer/producer/director Kenneth Johnson on the first TV movie (recycled from a previous DVD release of that film), and an episode from Season Two, "Stop the Presses," has been slapped onto the last disc. Originally, it was announced that the set would include an interview with Ferrigno (also recycled from that previous release), but it doesn't appear to be included in this set.

For fans of the show, this set is unreservedly recommended. The picture and sound quality is stellar, the lenticular packaging is clever, and generally speaking, the writing, direction and performances hold up wonderfully, even after nearly thirty years.

BUY: The Incredible Hulk - The Complete First Season