Sunday, April 26, 2015

Outré Intro: The Incredible Hulk (1978 - 1981)

The Incredible Hulk (1978 - 1981) is a real rarity in cult-tv history. 

It is a comic-book adaptation that is completely unfaithful to the details of its literary source material, and yet remains beloved by fans. For example, the series presents a different origin for the Hulk, omits the comic's supporting characters, and features no comic-book villains whatsoever. 

Worse, the series adopts the tired, oft-recycled format of The Fugitive (1963 - 1967), about a man on the run from the law, with a hapless pursuer forever on his trail but never catching him.

Despite such obvious creative deficits, the stories on The Incredible Hulk, such as "Married" with Mariette Hartley, are enormously affecting and well-written. Similarly, the late Bill Bixby is remarkably good as David (Bruce) Banner, and Lou Ferrigno is the perfect living embodiment of the Hulk, no CGI required, thank you very much.

The carefully-crafted opening or introductory montage for The Incredible Hulk nicely reflects the series' virtues. At first blush, it may seem like an outright copy of the intro for its contemporary, The Six Million Dollar Man (1974 - 1978), since it features a voice-over narration explaining the main character's "accident" and then new predicament. 

Yet on close examination, one can see how adroitly and artistically The Incredible Hulk montage introduces the artistic and dramatic parameters of this revered superhero series.

The first shot is among the best and most critical of the entire montage. It is a close-up view of an indicator flashing red, reading in all-caps "DANGER." 

But, intriguingly, the framing of the word "DANGER" largely omits the "D" at the front of that word.  So, the first image we see is a red flashing indicator that says, basically "ANGER."  

And "ANGER," of course, remains a key concept for this interpretation of the Hulk mythos.  It is extreme anger, after all, that precipitates the transformation from mild-mannered scientist David Banner to gamma-ray-infused juggernaut, the Incredible Hulk.

Following a zoom back from the word "ANGER, we get a view of the high-tech scientific equipment being used in an experiment by Dr. David Banner.  The next several shots focus on the nature of the danger (an increase in "Gamma Units," and reveal that David is, himself, the test subject.

Two additional things to note in the following shots:  First, there is a frequent focus on hands throughout the montage.  

In this case, framing or featuring two hands in the shot represents or symbolizes "balance."  At this point, David's psyche is ordered and balanced, and so when we see both hands positioned are they are, we are to understand that this is, literally, Ground Zero, of the experiment.  David is starting from stability, and moving towards, alas, grave instability.

The second visual we see here is one of equipment being prepared for the dangerous experiment.

Several of the shots featured above generate suspense as they feature the "ticking clock," counting down towards the moment in which David will be rendered unstable, and changed forever.  

The next shot puts David in visual jeopardy, literally putting his brain in the cross-hairs of the experiment. Once again, we get an explicit shot reminding us of DANGER.

At this point, David is suffused with gamma rays during his experiment to "tap" the hidden strength he believes all humans possess, and the X-ray shot of a human skull suggests that his very body chemistry is altered.

In the next series of shots, we understand that the experiment has been carried out, and that David has been altered by the gamma rays.  We understand this from a view of his cells, which undergo transformation and change.

Next, we get a shot of lightning in the sky at night, an indication that David's experiment is unnatural. It has made God angry.

Together, the following shots juxtapose inner nature (David's changed psyche and physiology) and Outer Nature, or Mother Nature.

Next, the narrator reveals that, post-experiment, when David grows angry or outraged, the change to the Incredible Hulk involuntarily occurs.  

We see one example of this happening. David attempts to fix his car on a rainy night, and again, we see two hands, representing balance, undertaking repairs.

Then, we see just one hand, as David is injured during his attempt to change a tire. The focus on one hand at this juncture suggests his imbalance, and we get a close-up of him screaming in pain and rage. Once more we see the x-ray skull and his altered cells, to remind us of Banner's transformed nature.

Next, as the change from David Banner to The Hulk commences, we move into our first opening title card, indicating performer credits: "Bill Bixby in...."

As we wait for the title of the series (and are left hanging by the word "in..."), we get our first view of the titular character, the Incredible Hulk. Not surprisingly, it is an asymmetrical view: a view of one arm -- much like one hand -- indicating imbalance.  

Thus we understand, psychological and physical balance is lost as Banner's muscles grow, clothing rips, and the Hulk erupts.  The creature is revealed in all his glory, but not before demonstrating his strength by over-turning the damaged vehicle.

After the dramatic title card (above), it's onto the dramatic business of establishing The Hulk's back-story, and his hapless pursuer, reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin).

The following frames feature an intense conversation between prey and pursuer, McGee and Banner, that has become iconic, even a trademark of the series.  

David tells McGee not to make him angry, and, furthermore, that the reporter would not like him when he is angry.  

The word "angry" very clearly ties into the opening shot of the montage, which flashed "ANGER" at the audience.

In the next series of shots in the intro, we see fire and explosions, an indication that David has faked his own death, so he can look for a cure to his condition without being hounded by the police, or anyone else.  

Again, the visual of fire seems to symbolize the Hulk's nature too, the anger and rage burning inside. The creature represents a form of anger that burns out of control. 

Similarly, the scenes of fire seem to validate Banner's warning to the reporter.  Don't get too close to him -- or the flame -- or you''ll get burned.

Next we get our supporting performers credited...

The story continues below, as we see David visiting his own grave. 

His defiance of Mother Nature for the advancement of science and medicine has led not to glory or hope, but to the death of his life as it was, a death symbolized by the headstone and the locale.  

The inference? David cannot live a normal life so long as the monster boils and burns inside of him.  The man who he was is now dead.

Finally, a great split-screen shot that I absolutely love.  

In the graveyard, David looks up sadly from his own casket, and we see his face juxtaposed -- split in half, actually -- with the Hulk's face.  

This shot represents a different kind of balance than any we have seen in the montage thus far.  David has split himself, Jekyll-Hyde style, and he will know no peace until he is restored.

The Incredible Hulk opening montage does a terrific job, in 90 seconds or so, of establishing David's back-story, and the nature of the experiment that ruined his life.  

More than that, it highlights ANGER as the thing that he cannot contain, the quality that brings out the monster within. And again, that is a key concept of the series, going forward.

 Below, the montage in its entirety:

No comments:

Post a Comment