David Banner, a research scientist who is haunted by the death of his wife whom he couldn't save in a car accident is researching how to tap the hidden reserves of incredible strength all humans have. While investigating episodes of people who have displayed such strength under times of great stress, he discovers that each one coincided with a solar flare spike of gamma radiation. Convinced by the link, Banner decides to put it to the test when he deliberately doses himself with gamma radiation. Unknown to him however, the machine was modified to give a far higher dose than he anticipated. While there was no immediate effect, that soon changes when on the way home, he forced to change a tire in the rain. He injures himself and the result anger and frustration transforms him into a massively powerful green giant, the Hulk. He eventually changes back and, now he must investigate what did this thing and face the consequences. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Riding high on the success of his excellent 1976 TV creation "The Bionic Woman", writer/director Kenneth Johnson embarked on perhaps his most ambitious project ever: bringing to the screen for the first time the story of The Incredible Hulk.
The result is the best TV pilot I've ever seen in my life. Even if you're not a hulk fan, you must see this episode for its expert presentation, unparalleled acting, sublime poetry and iconic music (the "Lonely Man" piano themesong has the power to make people weep instantly).
There is not a lot of action in this episode, but it's far from boring. In the opening scene, Bill Bixby brings to life the character of David Banner in a way that no one will ever be able to touch. His portrayal brings to mind the line from Thoreau: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Only David Banner gets the opportunity to be not-so-quiet. Enter Lou Ferrigno 1973-1974 Mr. Universe, who needed no cgi, special effects or prosthetics to portray the hulk: the personification of raw, primeval rage. Ferrigno's roaring mass of muscles contrasted sharply against Bixby's quiet desperation to create a perfect balance of extremes.
I love the entire series and the 3 TV movies that followed. But this 100 minute pilot is the best of the lot. It was a cut above the rest back in '77 and to this day it's still a cut above.
Joseph Harnell was the composer, and his music will burn itself into your brain. The melody of "Lonely Man" reappears in the heart-pumping action pieces as well as the heart-wrenching piano sonata. In between we have distinct themes that are equally memorable, such as Mr. McGee's theme (which is instantly recognizable by its bass drum and hi-hat rhythm). At times Harnell mixes separate themes and moods together into one piece, perfectly in tune with the bipolar nature of the story. You'll hear trombones "fighting" with violins the same way David Banner fights with the monster within him. This is one of the cases where the music brings as much to the table as the directing, cinematography & acting.
And back to the subject of acting, we get stellar performances from everyone. Not just Bixby & Ferrigno as I mentioned, but Susan Sullivan (Banner's research partner and best friend), Jack Colvin (the antagonistic reporter McGee, who is wonderfully fleshed out in subsequent episodes) and even the minor actors doing bit parts are brilliant.
In terms of directing & cinematography, there was no equal in the 1970s. Kenneth Johnson made extreme use of shadows, darkness, hazy lighting and wide camera shots to create an indescribable feeling of loneliness and isolation. Back in the 70s, TV was very bright and fast paced (think "Love Boat", "Charlie's Angels", etc). But here in "The Incredible Hulk" we get a journey into darkness for the first time I had seen on network TV. Think of the way the 2003 Battlestar Galactica remake plunged us into darkness for the first time, and that is what Kenneth Johnson did for the 1970s crowd. (By the way, the 2003 BSG is my pick for 2nd greatest TV pilot in the history of time & space, don't miss it either!) I can't speak highly enough of this show. Watch it a few times. Absorb its full spectrum of human emotion: sadness, rage, love. And tip your hat to the amazingly talented individuals, particularly the great Mr. Bixby, who made this possible for us to experience.
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