Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Forgotten Horrors to the Nth Degree

And many thanks to Dennis King (at Projections Movie Blog) for all the kind woids on Forgotten Horrors to the Nth Degree (eStore link below): http://blog.newsok.com/projections/2013/04/26/forgotten-horrors-leaps-to-nth-degree-in-new-edition/#comment-47440

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Timely Preview from 'The Movie Beat' — New Companion Volume to 'Forgotten Horrors'

     Rounding the halfway-mark curve on The Movie Beat, the first book to collect a sizeable number of my newspaper reviews from a good long hitch in the screening room. Akin to the Forgotten Horrors books, of course, but covering a broader range of subject matter and popular appeal. Currently fitting in the 2003 newspaper article about Ang Lee's The Hulk, which seems timely in the Here-and-Now not only in light of its early station in the current sooper-dooper-hero movie craze, but also in view of the chronic controversy over Marvel Comics' shabby treatment of its essential artists. Herewith, a preview of The Movie Beat (below). The book, containing a Foreword by my news-editor cohort Bill Thompson of the Maine Today papers, will issue during the summer from Cremo Studios.
Mike Price

The Hulk
When a shabby, 10-cent funnybook of the 1960s proves more interesting than its spinoff into a high-dollar movie, the ill-balanced state of the Popular Culture becomes disturbingly evident.
Not to suggest that Ang Lee’s take on The Hulk is a particularly bad motion picture. Or even a less worthwhile investment of time and money than, say, staying at home and re–reading the original comic books. A paperback reprint of the earliest Hulk escapades can be had at Half Price Books for less money than a movie ticket.
It is just that The Incredible Hulk, as perpetrated in 1962 by a rambunctious artist named Jack Kirby and an opportunistic sweatshop-boss editor named Stan Lee—no kin to Ang Lee—packed a wallop of predatory hunger and maverick defiance that is nowhere to be found in the well-fed and only superficially edgy movie version. The anger and alienation that motivate the big-screen’s pixel-perfect, Photoshopped-to-death Hulk are entirely melodramatic, cloaked in Existentialistic posturing. The comic book is the genuine article.
Early-day Marvel Comics’ bearing upon the comic-book racket had to do with insurgence and resentment. The Incredible Hulk is an irradiated menace, the alter–ego of a brilliant scientist, an atom-age Jekyll–become–Hyde. Ang Lee’s picture is a mixed bag of honor, betrayal, and transcendence.
It bears noting that the Hulk was popularly counted among the lousiest of his kind during the early 1960s. The Academy of Comic Book Arts & Sciences—a fan-club network of schoolboys who took the funnies more seriously than the rest of the world—found itself torn between The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman when it came to citing the Worst Comic Book on the market. (Wonder Woman had the edge in this backhanded contest, what with its being a magazine designed for girls, under consideration by a voting panel of [mostly] boys. At least The Incredible Hulk had the requisite virility.)
Luckily for all concerned except the overworked artists, Stan Lee had in his service such brilliant illustrators as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Lee also had the advantage of a punchy and memorable monicker, having set aside his actual name of Stanley Lieber in favor of the two-syllable jab of Stan Lee. This euphonious tag would have been just right for a Top 40 disc jockey of the day—especially after he had amended it to Stan “the Man” Lee—although as an attempt at Anglo–Saxonizing the identity it did not quite work. Most of the kids in my junior-high circle of comics fans just assumed that this Stan Lee must be some Chinese guy. (Filmmaker Ang Lee, on the other hand, is authentically Taiwanese.)
Stan Lee presided over a line of also-ran funnybooks, many of them dealing with hideous monsters, like visions from a 6–year–old’s nightmare, at large and getting larger. The Hulk, though consistent with such juvenilia, also was part of Lee’s gone-for-broke attempt to challenge the well-heeled publisher of Superman and Batman, tenured mainstays of an industry. Having nothing to lose and plenty to prove, Lee copped a renegade stance, denying his heroes the joy with which Superman flaunted his powers or the official acceptance of Batman’s vigilante tactics. If Lee’s situations and dialogue were na├»ve and overwrought, at least his attitude was refreshingly grim.
Lee and his hired help (his Betters, though subjugated by economic considerations) already had defined the Amazing Spider–Man as a nerdly misfit, afflicted with superhuman abilities. Their heroic team, the Fantastic Four, was a quarreling extended family transformed into freaks as a consequence of a renegade flight into space. For the Hulk, Lee looked to R.L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde while Kirby took a visual cue from Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein movies. When Ditko took over, early in the run, he heightened the sense of malevolent intelligence.
Such prehistory exerts a fundamental bearing upon Ang Lee’s The Hulk. The film is, at one level, a critic-proof blockbuster for a summer moviegoing season that traditionally aspires to such bombastic sensationalism. Lee (Ang, not Stan) is, however, more an Art Film director than a dispenser of Popcorn Movies, and his thematic and artistic conceits make The Hulk somewhat more complicated.
The collaborative screenplay takes considerable liberties with the comic-book version-scientist, transformed in a nuclear shock-wave-to include an element of genetic tampering and at least one generation of mutation. Eric Bana stars as Bruce Banner, whose conversion to the Hulk (the real Bruce Almighty?) has as much to do with inborn abnormalities as with any triggering crisis. Bana’s response to his altered self is too nonchalant, denying the character his due as a tormented anti-hero of the film noir type, and this lack of depth requires what compensation the supporting players can provide.
Jennifer Connelly, as a conflicted romantic interest for Banner, moves beyond the damsel-in-distress stereotype of the Lee & Kirby version, with an actual career and a genuine stake in the motivating crisis. Nick Nolte lends a robust and ominous presence as a fatherly sort who seems responsible for having rendered Banner susceptible to the change. The Hulk himself is more a creation of the digital-effects realm than of any literary or dramatic artistry, and such soulless sensationalism is quite at odds with the deeply felt art of the comic books, where the dichotomy between the man and his monster-self was rather more sharply defined. Where the comics required just one or two capable, underpaid illustrators per issue, the movie requires a regiment of overpriced special-effects artisans.
There also are some gimmick-casting touches, including the overbearing presence of Stan Lee and the pleasanter Lou Ferrigno—television’s Incredible Hulk of the 1970s—in cameos that only flirt with overkill. Or as Stan Lee himself might put it: “‘Nuff said!”