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Director Ang Lee Puts New Spin on Popular Comicbook Character <i> The Hulk</i> - 2003-06-21

A big, green Marvel Comics character popular since the 1960's comes to the big screen in a big action film directed by Ang Lee. Alan Silverman has a look at The Hulk.

That's because after a laboratory accident . . . when brooding, introspective scientist Bruce Banner gets angry he grows five meters tall, bulging muscles burst out of his clothes and he turns emerald green and almost invulnerable as The Hulk.

Australian actor Eric Bana stars as Bruce Banner; but unlike the 1970's TV show in which muscular actor Lou Ferrigno played the transformed character, The Hulk itself is entirely CGI or computer generated imagery

"When I decided to do a big movie I said to myself unless I can make it feel personal I'm n-o-t good enough to take the project. It's n-o-t the size, it's the ambition," explains director Ang Lee.

Lee makes his first foray into the sci-fi action genre with The Hulk. The Taiwan-born filmmaker has won acclaim for character-driven dramas like The Ice Storm and Sense And Sensibility. His Asian martial arts fantasy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. To give personality to the computer-generated Hulk, Lee acted out the creature's movements for the special effects animators.

"It is like psychotherapy," he says. " I was so stressed out and I got a chance to 'be the Hulk.' It really helped me feel The Hulk I hope viewers see the whole movie as The Hulk, n-o-t just the CG character. That's how I talked to every actor. They're dealing with their 'inner Hulk' rather than just The Hulk subject. They're dealing with their subconscious and how to cover it up or reveal it: how to interact with The Hulk.

"It's interesting. I don't know it if it's cathartic, but it's kind of dangerous," says actor Eric Bana. He says finding The Hulk within himself the hidden rage ready to explode was a personal exploration as well as an acting challenge.

"You develop a kind of hotline to those places within yourself; and I actually recall moments while we were shooting this film where I felt myself accessing those parts a lot easier, whether it be a little argument or something like that . . . just a constant kind of bubbling away," he says. " I think if you are continually accessing those parts of your heart and head there is n-o-t so much a price to pay, but there is definitely a kind of shortcut to those areas. You do learn to keep it well hidden as well, thankfully."

Jennifer Connelly co-stars as Banner's fellow scientist and the only person who, through love for his human side, tries to understand THe Hulk. The Best Actress Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind says director Lee's vision drew her to The Hulk.

"It's n-o-t because of an affinity for comic books. It's really because of him," she explains. " I really respond to his sensibility. I like the way he talked about the script staying at a certain length so that there's time to expand on it. At times I couldn't even follow all of his ideas. I think it's really brave and kind of risky, but his motivation is so pure and great. It's like an artist grasping for something that he's never done before that he wants to try. I thought 'that's what it's about.' If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but you're trying to make something."

With all the psychological layers, Eric Bana hopes The Hulk appeals to fans of the comic book popular worldwide since it first appeared more than 40 years ago.

"I'm very respectful of the fans' wishes . . . because, quite frankly, they have every right to deserve a great movie and great interpretation and I respect that," he says.

Nick Nolte plays, literally, the father of The Hulk, Bruce Banner's father, whose experiments genetically change his son and make him susceptible to the transformation. The Hulk also features Sam Elliott and Josh Lucas; and there's a brief cameo by the original TV "Hulk," Lou Ferrigno.