The Incredible Hulk: Death in the Family (1977)

TV-Movie aka The Return of the Incredible Hulk
Article 2673 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2008
Posting Date: 12-7-2008
Directed by Alan J. Levi
Featuring Bill Bixby, Jack Colvin, Lou Ferrigno
Country: USA

Bruce Banner gets involved with a young heiress who has lost the ability to walk after she was rescued from a boat fire that killed her father. He discovers that the heiress is being poisoned by her stepmother and an unscrupulous doctor. This makes him angry, and you wouldn’t like him when he gets angry…

Adventures in Movie-Watching: This movie first entered my hunt list under the title THE RETURN OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK, a title that is easy enough to find when you’re hunting movies. Unfortunately, the movie that is marketed under that title is NOT this movie; it is, in fact, a movie called THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS, a late eighties TV-Movie that made an unsuccessful attempt to revive the series, and, from what I saw of it, looks pretty silly. For a while, I assumed that the movie I was looking for was one of those TV-Movies hammered together from episodes of the TV show. It was only later I discovered that this was actually the second movie-length pilot for the original series, and was available on the recent DVD releases of the series. So, finally, I’m able to cover it.

I have to admit that I never watched the series when it was popular for a couple of reasons. For one, I felt that live-action TV versions of superheroes tended to compromise the concept by having the superheroes fight ordinary villains rather than supervillains. The other reason is that I’m not a particular fan of the whole superhero genre in the first place, a revelation that often leaves the mouths hanging open of my friends when they discover this. At any rate, I pretty much ignored the series.

Now, having seen the second pilot, I understand why it became a series, and, if this pilot accurately captures the feel of the series itself, I can understand the affection that the series has garnered over the years. It’s greatest asset is simple; Bill Bixby’s performance as Bruce Banner is so captivating that you totally caught up in the character and his issues. Furthermore, this TV-Movie has a good script and is quite well directed; you really do care about all of the characters you’re supposed to care about, and their struggles and conflicts have a real resonance. I even liked Lou Ferrigno’s performance as the Hulk, even when the script calls for him to do something other than wreak havoc; he handles comic scenes and the more poignant scenes very well indeed. The biggest problems I had were probably unavoidable. The sequences where Bruce Banner must get angry in order to turn into the Hulk often feel contrived (and I’m willing to bet this problem extended to the series as well), and the special effects aren’t always up to par; the Hulk’s battle with the grizzly bear actually looks convincing enough until… well, if you’ve seen it, you probably know what I mean, and if you haven’t, you’ll know what I mean when you see it. Still, the problems are easily overlooked; Bill Bixby’s performance is such a solid anchor that you’re quite willing to forgive any flaws. Had I been the TV executive in charge of deciding whether to turn this premise into a series, the TV-Movie would have convinced me that it would fly.


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