Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Planet Hulk
Lionsgate has released a number of direct-to-DVD Marvel movies in the past. Of those, many would call Hulk vs. the best. So there are high expectations for Planet Hulk to be at least as strong as the previous Hulk release.
The film is based on a storyline that ran in the comic for just over a year. In the movie, as it is in the comic, Hulk is exiled from Earth by the Illuminate because of his bouts of uncontrollable rage. He is supposed to land on a planet that had plenty of plant life, but no intelligent life. In such a world, he wouldn't be a danger to any inhabitants. However, in yet another bout of rage, he damages his ship and sends it through a wormhole. It crashes on the planet Sakaar.
Sakaar is not the lush paradise where the Illuminate intended for the Hulk to live in peace. In fact, when he lands he is captured by agents of The Red King and sentenced to life as a gladiator, forced to fight with a group of fellow prisoners. These include Korg (a member of an alien race of rock beings called the Kronan), Elloe Kaifi and Lavin Skee (members of the resistance), Hiroim (an ex-Shadow Priest excommunicated when he doubted The Red King was the hero of his people's prophecy, known as the Sakaarson), and Miek (a member of the insectoid species that is native to the planet). At first Hulk doesn't want to fight, only escape. He attacks the Red King, who is of course a fan of the games. However, The Red King's personal guard, Caiera, repels the Hulk's attack with one shot of her own and he is again reduced to nothing more than a gladiator. While the others swear an oath to fight as a team, Hulk refuses. He is still recovering from the betrayal he suffered at the hands of the Illuminate, whom he considered his friends and allies. However, as Hulk fights and wins, he becomes a favorite of the people, some of whom think he is the true Sakaarson. This doesn't sit well with The Red King, who sends Caiera to set a trap for Hulk.
We learn of Caiera's past. Years earlier creatures known as Spikes attacked the planet and turned many of the inhabitants into zombie-like creatures. This included Caiera's village, where her father, mother, and younger sister were transformed. She was forced to kill her family. The Red King, then just a boy, saved her village and she swore undying loyalty to him. Since she was immune to the Spikes, she was perfect to become The Red King's personal guard.
That's the basic set up to movie and I don't want to discuss it further, lest I run into spoilers. While I had not read the comic series that served as the basis for this movie, I was still able to predict a number of major plot points. For instance, as soon as Caiera defeated Hulk, I knew the two would have an epic showdown later in the movie and in the end she would be fighting on his side. There's a definite Gladiator vibe to the film, with some mythological prophecy aspects tossed in. If you didn't like the movie, you will call this film predictable. If you liked the movie, you can shrug off the similarities by correctly pointing out that Gladiator is not exactly an original story either and itís the film's execution that matters.
The execution is good, but not great. There are a number of emotionally powerful scenes, especially the image of Caiera trying to save the young child, which paralleled the story she told of trying to save her own younger sisters. Emotionally powerful is not a phrase one would expect to use to describe a Hulk movie. A lot of people simply expect "Hulk smash!". Of course, there were also more than a few cool fight scenes. Perhaps too many, because some of them were less than memorable. (In the commentary track they talk about cutting down the gladiatorial fights to just three, which was a wise move.) The animation is adequate, on par with most direct-to-DVD releases, but not on the level that one would expect for a theatrical release. There's not enough detail, and while sometimes the animation is very fluid, at other times it is not.
There were two major changes to the story from the comic book. In the comic, the Silver Surfer makes an appearance. Due to a previous licensing agreement, that wasn't possible here. However, I think the replacement, Beta Ray Bill, was a good choice. Secondly, the comic ends with Hulk's ship exploding killing most of his newfound alien friends. This causes him to return to Earth for revenge. However, the filmmakers wisely decided to end this story in a more self-contained fashion. After all, if they later decide to make the sequel, it won't be to include the original ending as the opening scene.
I do not have either of the DVD releases, but it appears that all of the extras found on the Blu-ray are also found on the Two-Disc DVD. These extras include two audio commentary tracks, the first with Joshua Fine and Greg Johnson (which is more about the story), while the second has Sam Liu, Philip Bourassa, and Steve Nicodemus (which is more technical). There are two "making of" featurettes: one on the movie and the other on the comic book. There is a bonus episode from Wolverine and the X-Men that featured Hulk.
That's the list of meaty extras, but there are also previews for Thor: Tales of Asgard, the adaptation of the Spider-Woman saga, Agent of S.W.O.R.D. and the X-men story, Gifted. They barely give a taste of these projects. Finally, there are two music videos for the two motion comics.
As for the film's High Definition presentation, it is not stellar. As I mentioned above, the animation lacks detail and so it doesn't shine on Blu-ray. The sound is better and it does use the surround speakers, especially in the fight scenes. That said, it costs less than 20% more than the Two-Disc DVD, which is a great price.
So far most of the Lionsgate Marvel movies have only earned mixed reviews. Since the best of these were the two shorter stories that made up the Hulk vs. release, expectations were high for Planet Hulk. For the most part it lives up to those expectations, with a more compelling story that puts Hulk at the focus of the emotional heart of the story, as well as the action. It earns its PG-13 rating). There are some flaws that prevent it from completely living up to its potential, but it is still worth checking out. Add in the numerous extras and it rates a solid purchase, with the Blu-ray being the better value over the Two-Disc DVD.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Date posted: 2010-03-18