With the news last month of a live-action Hulk television series in development over at ABC, many questions are swimming through the minds of fans.
Will it be in continuity with the Marvel films?
Will any of the film actors commit to a television series?
Who will play Banner?
For myself, the first question that sprung to mind was, “How are they going to do the Hulk effects?” I’ve made no secret of my long-standing love affair with the not-so-jolly green giant, and of all the creative hoops the studio and show-runner will eventually have to jump through, the one that weighs most heavily on my mind as a fan is what the beast will actually look like on the small screen.
It might surprise some to learn that the Hulk is one of the few characters to have been brought to life through almost every school of visual effects there is.
Behind the cut, we’ll take a look at those different incarnations and speculate on their potential for the new television series.
…is not one of them. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. The closest we’ve come to a stop-motion Hulk is in homemade action figure epics like this one.
As for the rest…
The most well-known (and ONLY) version of the Hulk prior to the last seven years was the beloved TV series starring Bill Bixby as Banner, and body-builder Lou Ferrigno as the titular titan. The extent of Ferrigno’s transformation was relatively light: thick green body make-up, white contact lenses, a shaggy wig, and a few facial prosthetics which were abandoned early in the series.
Ferrigno’s signature look defined the character for an entire generation, but today’s audiences might not be so accepting. Whether it’s the inevitable result of a society that’s “seen it all” or just plain old pickiness, it’s doubtful that there will be enough suspension of disbelief for audiences to accept another bodybuilder in green make-up.
Gotta hand it to Ferrigno, though. There isn’t a single incarnation of the character that wasn’t influenced by him in some way.
The only vaguely believable Hulk costume I’ve seen appeared in Scary Movie 3…
…but that’s hardly an endorsement. Ignoring the problems with the face, the body suit in that movie is actually pretty decent, but it still shows its imperfections around the edges. It proves that a Hulk costume in broad daylight runs the risk of looking fake.
There have been believable monster costumes on TV in the past — hell I still believe in Harry from Harry and the Hendersons — but the challenge with the Hulk is that he doesn’t really LOOK like a monster. He has the body of a human, and though his face may run more on the Cro-Magnon side of the gene pool, it’s still more human than anything else. Putting a fake muscle suit on someone and shining a spotlight on them will only showcase the imperfections. However, keep the suit in the dark, and you’d be surprised how effective it can be. Take, for example, Smallville’s handling of the Doomsday character in the show’s eighth season.
This is probably the closest example of a television Hulk costume done right, and would be high watermark for the new show’s producers to surpass. As the above video explains, Doomsday was basically a muscle suit and mask with just enough of the actor’s face coming through to animate it. But, with the right lighting and camera angles, it worked quite well. Shadows and tight shots made for an extremely menacing and believable monster for Clark to fight.
Could they do a Hulk series this way? Possibly. The only issue might arise when the show finally does reveal the Hulk in all his glory — and you know they’d have to. There’s a reason that in every movie the Hulk is only left in the shadows for his first appearance. You can only tease the audience so much; eventually, they will want to see the main attraction. The only question then is just how well the FX people have done their jobs.
Starting with Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003, persisting through 2008’s The Incredible Hulk and on to 2012’s The Avengers, the modern era of superhero films have allowed monstrous characters like the Hulk to be seen the way they were always intended: Larger Than Life. It would only make sense, considering the most popular version of the character at the moment is a computer creation, that ABC might want to present that version to television audiences.
The problems they might face are similar to those that come with the muscle-suit, but to the umpteenth degree. Computer generated human characters are notoriously difficult to create, period, let alone trying to create one on a television budget in any sort of believable capacity. Hell, even the most successful movies with such characters still have some audiences that are either unwilling or unable to give themselves fully over to the illusion.
Stargate Universe recently featured some of the most realistic computer animated aliens I’ve seen on TV, but I wonder if even their talented FX crew could produce a convincing CGI Hulk on a television budget. The uncanny valley is a vast and costly expanse to cross.
Again, keeping the monster to the shadows may be the answer here, but eventually they’ll need to show the Hulk in the daylight… and after audiences are used to the (varyingly) believable performances of their CGI Hulks on the big screen, anything less than that on a small screen would be… well…
You might think that covers the full range of their options, but in the words of one of the greatest special effects of all time… “There is another.”
What you are looking at is the animatronic torso that was created for the ill-fated late 90s Hulk movie slated to be helmed by future Punisher director Jonathan Hensleigh. This was the one that was rumored to star Johnny Depp as Dr. Banner and dealt with the Hulk fighting giant insect people (it’s true. I’ve seen the story boards in person. They were… interesting).
Back before the studio had enough faith in the then-still-burgeoning CGI movement, Hensleigh’s Hulk would be brought to life through a combination of CG elements, prosthetic puppetry, and the computer-controlled robotic torso you see above. There’s also a few clips of it wrapped in its not-yet-painted foam skin in this video (look around the 1:30 mark), as well as some of the other puppeteering tricks they were going to use (some of which would later serve the same studio in bring LXG’s Mr. Hyde to life).
Pretty cool stuff. And surprising to see the smoothness and fluidity with which the torso (and many other animatronic effects in the video) moves. Animatronics, I feel sad to say, is a dying breed in the film industry, but it’s possible that an ambitious show runner (like, oh, say, Guillermo del Toro for example) could push for the technology to be used in helping bring a larger than life Hulk to TV. Would it be cost effective? I’m not sure. Would it be believable? Anyone’s guess… but I have to admit, I’m curious to find out.
Which incarnation of the Hulk is your favorite? And which do you think would work best in a television series?