We Live In Better Times

I was accused on social media the other day of being a millennial or at least of having the millennial mentality. Putting aside the fact that I am 54 years old, far from being in that generation, that attitude is broad brush painting people born after the previous millennium ended at the close of the year 2000. (The years 1999 and 2000 were so annoying to this pedant as people kept getting the beginning of the new century/millennium wrong. They started January 1, 2001. Get it straight!) It’s a cultural constant, I think, that each generation believes the following generations just don’t get it. When talking about those younger folks, the diatribes are often prefaced by “In my day…” or “My generation…” Just ask my son. Hey, I didn’t say I was immune.

Case in point…

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Yeah, well…

I watched that show when it first aired and… We needed CGI back then, too.

I responded in that way on Facebook and then came the accusation. They accused me of needing high tech to be edgy and cool. They were probably thinking that I lacked the imagination to fill in the gaps that the limited technology left in the old days.

Actually, the show itself attempted to make up for the lack of technology by making the Hulk mute, less intelligent, and much, much, much, much weaker.

The show I’m talking about, of course, is The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982). It starred Bill Bixby who played Dr. David Bruce Banner, a physician and scientist who was searching for a way to enhance human abilities. He had been unable to save his wife after a car accident due to his lack of physical strength, so he obsessed with enhancing his own abilities. So much so, he used himself as a test subject. Boy, didn’t Jekyll and Hyde teach us anything?

Well, the experiment did give him super strength, but it also inflicted a werewolf-like condition on him. Whenever Banner was subjected to extreme stress or anger he would become a large, green monster with super strength and a bad attitude. The creature was dubbed the Hulk. Banner, believed to have been killed by the monster, then drifted across the country meeting people whom he would help out of tough situations. And there was a dogged reporter on the trail of the Hulk to add to his troubles.

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“…You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Say, you wouldn’t have a spare belt, would you?”

Right off the bat the superhero show alienated me, a young Marvel Comics fan and budding pedant, by getting the name of the lead character wrong. In the comic books, since 1962, the scientist’s name is Robert Bruce Banner. There was never any David in there. And he was called Bruce by his friends.

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Wrong! His first name isn’t David!

I put a great big black mark against the show the moment someone called him David and not Bruce. How could they get something so basic wrong? There are explanations, but I won’t get into them here. It was just the wrong name and I was not happy about it. The show started off in the hole as far as I was concerned.

In the comics, Bruce was bombarded by gamma rays when he was exposed to a nuclear test blast. A dumbass kid wandered too close to the test area and Bruce dashed out of the bunker to get the trespasser to safety. In the process, being unable to get into the ditch in time, Dr. Banner was bathed in deadly gamma radiation.

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Dr. Banner is probably thinking, “In my day, kids didn’t go hanging out in nuclear test ranges!”

He survived, but was now forever cursed to hulk out whenever under stress.

The TV show changed how David (argh) was exposed. It wasn’t accidental. It was from a machine bombarding him with gamma rays in his experiment to enhance human abilities. I’m guessing it was one of those technical limitations, due to not having CGI, that necessitated the change.

The comic book Hulk could talk. He could think. Sure, he wasn’t brilliant and he wasn’t much of a orator, but being able to do more than just roar, growl, smash through drywall, and knock over empty barrels made for a more interesting character. It opened up the possibilities for more compelling storylines than a drifting doctor who seems to always find people who need his help. And eventually the helpful hand from a growling, roaring, marginally super-strong, green brute to put the beat down on some bad guys.

“Thanks, Hulk! We were thinking of enlarging that doorway anyway.”

And now a short break from the blog for a brief aside:

By the way, the basic plot of The Incredible Hulk is essentially the same as TV’s The Fugitive (1963-1967) and Kung Fu (1972-1975). Both series’ lead characters were also drifters encountering people who needed their help. In The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble would break out his doctoring skills. In Kung Fu, Caine would bust out his martial arts moves. And each of the three lead characters in these shows was searching for something while they drifted from town to town. Kimble was looking for the one-armed man, Caine was searching for his family, and David (gahhh) was trying to find a cure for his hulking out.

Brief aside over, now back to the blog.

The show used all the techniques used extensively in The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978). There was the use of slow motion to make the action appear more impressive. Real speed might look silly. There were the foam rubber rocks that were easy to lift and throw, but were a little too bouncy. There would also be shots of the Hulk throwing bad guys 20 yards through the air. And there was the filming of a stunt person jumping backwards off a building and then running the film in reverse to make it appear the monster was jumping onto the building.

These were ways of dealing with the limited technology. And some of the techniques were admittedly pretty clever, but this just wasn’t the Hulk in my eyes. I mean no disrespect to Lou Ferrigno. He was certainly an impressive physical specimen. And he did the best he could with what he was asked to do. It’s just that his Hulk wasn’t nearly strong enough. In the comic books, the Hulk could travel miles through the air in a single leap. He could topple entire buildings. And the madder he got, the stronger he got. But, the TV Hulk, although able to throw a grown man great distances, seemed to struggle lifting a woman who was hanging from a cliff to safety.

Weeeelllll, they’re close, but these costumes just don’t work.

There were other attempts in the 1970s to bring live action super-heroes to television: The very short-lived The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-1979), a made-for-TV movie featuring Captain America (1979), and DC Comic’s Wonder Woman (1975-1979). Spider-Man’s and Captain America’s costumes were fairly accurate to the comics, but looked silly on TV. Wonder Woman’s costume worked much better, but that was probably due to Lynda Carter being in it.

Um. Yeah, that works.

Compare those shows with the super-hero movies we’ve been getting since the advent of CGI. Sure, they aren’t all perfect. Some of the DC Comics movies have been down right lousy. But Marvel Comics movies, for the most part, have been thrilling to this old comic book fan. Visually stunning with the characters being true to their comic book versions. The Marvel Universe films may not be exactly what I had in mind as a kid wishing for an Avengers movie, but they are virtually spot on when compared to those 70s shows.

Maybe that is the millennial mentality, but I don’t think so. Those shows were way too limited. Limited by technology. Limited creatively. Let’s face it, despite their best efforts,  the shows were lame. How many times can we see David (ugh) drift along helping strangers and hulking out? And that wig was horrible! Surely, they could have done better even with 1970s wig technology.

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Hey! That’s Jeremy Brett, my favorite Sherlock Holmes actor, in the background!

No, my generation didn’t have CGI, but it would have been awesome if it did.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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