(2003) dir. Ang Lee
viewed: 06/28/03 at Platinum Theaters, Dinuba, CA
When I used to live down in Reedley, CA (a small town in the San Joaquin Valley — for those of you who do not know), we would have to drive to either Fresno or Visalia to go see a movie, which would amount to a 40 minute drive each way. A couple of years ago, the town of Selma (another small San Joaquin Valley town) opened a small, six-screen cinema, which made for a 20 minute drive and despite the rather mainstream and limited fare, saved the trouble of the long haul to the bigger towns when we visited the valley and wanted to see a film.
Well, on the Wednesday before I got to Reedley this last week, the town of Dinuba (yet another small San Joaquin Valley town) opened its own six-screen movie theater, the Platinum Theaters, as they call it. They feature “stadium seating,” which I guess is a plus over the Selma Theater, and though they show virtually the exact same mainstream fare, it’s only a ten minute drive from Reedley. On Saturday afternoon, we visited the Platinum Theaters to see Ang Lee’s The Hulk, the latest Marvel comic character to get the digitally animated big screen/live action treatment.
The theater is located right in the downtown, which is pretty cool, but its parking lot was still pretty unfinished, making it look quite a bit like it was not yet opened. But it was. It had that “new theater smell,” which I can’t say that I have ever smelled before, but is full of semi-toxic artificial chemical aromas of acrylic fibers and fresh paint. The theater was none too crowded, which was nice.
The movie. Ah, yes, the movie. Well, I didn’t have such high expectations. This wasn’t a film that I would have gone out of my way to see, but I felt like seeing something and my nephew was interested and there was this chance to see the film in this new theater…so that is how I ended up at it.
Digital animation has given filmmakers the license to portray a lot more fantastic storylines and characters than were feasible in the past with more traditional special effects. The Hulk is a giant green dude, bulging repulsively with musceles beyond even the most grotesque bodybuilder on Earth, something presumably that in the past could only be rendered with the likes of Lou Ferrigno (the tv Hulk of the 1970’s) or perhaps some animatronic creature. The problem for digital animation is to create believably something that is utterly unbelievable. And despite the distance that the technology has traveled, filmmakers often try to rely too heavily on the technology to render their story. This is not to say that some of the digital animation is not impressive or engrossing, but that its shortcomings are evident throughout, distancing the viewer and at worst, showing itself for what it is…which is not convincing.
In the past, 2-D animation has been utilized in the manner, and the results were similarly stylized but not convincingly real. The heavily detailed attempted naturalism of the Hulk and other digitally animated special effects seems to clearly attempt to allow itself to “read” as truly three-dimensional and “real.” Perhaps to younger viewers who have grown up with this animation style as a staple of the language of film, this technology “reads” better. Perhaps it is a personal prejudice on my part.
The film’s character and story development, which take up the first hour of the film and set the stage for the action, is handled more successfully, I thought, than last year’s Spider-Man. That said, Spider-Man was more fun, for whatever reasons. Ang Lee tries to situate The Hulk in more emotional territory, and as much as one can with a very fantastic story, manages to do better than Sam Raimi did with his bad dialogue and hammy acting. The Hulk climaxes with an operatic finale which seemed pretty over-the-top to me and somewhat unsatisfying. The best action scene was the battle with the “hulk dogs,” I thought.
In the end, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone to see this film in the cinema, but it’s not a total waste of time. If you take it for what it is…an expensive summer confection from Hollywood that is ultimately a cheap sort of thrill.