Ed Norton honors Bixby, writes Hulk his way

Edward Norton isn’t just starring in next summer’s total revamp/reboot of The Incredible Hulk.

He’s also writing it.


In the Superhero Hype round-up of the Marvel Studios panel at San Diego’s Comic-Con International this past weekend, Norton and the dreamy Liv Tyler — who are playing Bruce Banner and his beloved Betty Ross in the film — were on hand to answer questions from the fans.

And during the panel, it was revealed that Norton rewrote original writer Zack Penn’s screenplay when he came on board:

Edward Norton rewrote the screenplay and both he and [director Louis] Letterier talked about the influence of the Hulk TV show and the performance by Bill Bixby. Liv Tyler also said that she was a fan of the TV show because of the “humanity and what the man is going through.” She was drawn to the love story between Bruce and Betty.

Russ Fischer from CHUD clarifies this a bit with the following paragraph from this story:

The dirt paraphrased from Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige goes like this: Zack Penn wrote a few drafts that were great starting material, and that when Ed Norton came on board he started suggesting ideas as a fan of the character. Eventually, Feige asked if he wanted to just write the script, which Norton did.”

I love it!

And please check out lots more coverage of the panel — including a gorgeous Liv Tyler photo — by clicking here.

Like many of you, my own introduction to the Hulk came via the classic CBS television series starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as Banner’s gamma-fueled green alter-ego, the Hulk. It ran from 1977 to 1982.

(Banner’s first name was changed from the comic book’s “Bruce” to “David” because executive producer Kenneth Johnson was tired of all the alliteration in comic book names — Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Clark Kent, Wonder Woman, etc. — and wanted to establish a more serious tone for the show.)

While the original comic books — first published in 1962 by Marvel Comics — featured Banner on the run from super-powered villains and a military that didn’t understand him (or in some cases, wanted to exploit him), the television series made the character (and the concept) more accessible by scaling back some of the more far-fetched elements and putting the focus on humanity and heart, as Liv Tyler so duly noted in the above-referenced article about Norton writing the script for the new movie. (She’s so smart and thoughtful. And sweet. That guy from Spacehog is a lucky, lucky man.)

In the comics, Banner’s biology was changed when he was caught in the blast of a gamma bomb he created. (A young man had driven out onto the test site and Banner knocked him into a ditch, saving the young man but absorbing all of that gamma radiation into himself.) After the accident, he would change into a big, green creature that would come to be called the Hulk.

The TV show turned Dr. Banner into a medical researcher devastated by his inability to save his wife from the burning wreckage of an automobile accident that should have killed them both. He begins conducting research into the behavior of adrenal functions during times of duress, wondering why his body didn’t react as others have in similar situations. During what should have been a routine experiment he accidentally bombards his body with far more gamma radiation than he intended, with a similar result to the comic Banner. In other words, don’t make him angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

In the first episode, Banner’s attempt to reverse the process is interrupted by a nosy reporter named Jack McGee (Jack Colvin). Banner’s friend and fellow scientist dies in the resulting fire; Banner is also presumed dead, and the Hulk is wrongly blamed for what happened. And so Banner goes on the run, desperately seeking a cure for his affliction while being chased by McGee.

Much is made of comic book movie casting these days, and I think it’s unfortunate that lots of younger fans have missed out on the truly wonderful comic characters brought to life in the late ’70s. Lynda Carter gave Wonder Woman a dazzling combination of power, grace, beauty and kindness. Christopher Reeve was Superman without even trying. And then we had Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, who each brought something vital to the two sides of David Banner.

Bixby brought a quiet kind of gentle kindness to the role. As Banner moved from town to town and odd job to odd job, he always found himself in situations that ended up bringing out the Hulk. That was part of the tragedy of the show: No matter how much David might have helped someone, or no matter how many lives the Hulk might have saved, or no matter how close that particular place and time might have gotten David to the cure he so desperately sought, he’d have to move on. Any connections he’d made to the people or the place would be lost.

Had Banner been an evil man, he could have used his intellect and the Hulk’s strength to take the things he needed for the cure. On the other hand, an evil man would have used the Hulk for personal gain and probably wouldn’t have wanted a cure anyway. Doing the right thing came naturally to David Banner, and Bixby’s performance always kept that right at the surface. No matter how lonely or weary David might have been, he could always manage a warm smile and a helping hand for someone in need.

Lou Ferrigno’s physique never left any doubts about the stature and power of the Hulk. And if you were trying to harm a child or commit a crime, the Hulk would have no reservations about picking you up and throwing you through a wall. But even though the Hulk was a primal being without David’s intelligence, he was still David under all that green muscle. Ferrigno was just as capable in scenes that showed the Hulk’s gentle curiosity as he was in the ones that required him to lift a truck or fling a bad guy through a tool shed.

I loved the show as a child. And it’s a huge testament to Bill Bixby’s performance that when I played Hulk when I was a kid, I spent just as much (if not more) time hiking around the woods behind my parents house with a Banner-inspired backpack slung over my shoulder as I did growling and flexing like Ferrigno. (I was never afraid of the Hulk when I was little, but I was afraid of the transformation. When David’s eyes turned green and his clothes started ripping, I’d hide behind the couch. But as soon as he had fully become the Hulk, I was okay again.) Even when I was three or four, I could tell that David was a good, nice man, no matter how sad and lonely he seemed. Now that I’m older, I’ve really enjoyed watching those old episodes again now that I can more fully appreciate how much Bixby was bringing to the table.

And that brings us back to Ed Norton. My good friend Kareem was at the Comic-Con panel and kept me posted on all the latest happenings.

(At last year’s Comic-Con he got me a personalized, autographed Hulk photo from Lou Ferrigno, and this year his phone calls and text messages made me feel like I was right there for all the moments that would have been my own favorites had I been able to make it out there myself. Thanks again, Kareem. You rock.)

Kareem said that Norton came across like the nicest, most normal guy you could imagine, and that he was kind of quiet until he was asked a question. That’s when he’d open up and deliver thoughtful, essay-quality articulations of what the Hulk means to him, and how he wants to honor in the new film what Bill Bixby did on the TV show.

That’s why I’m so excited about the fact that Norton’s writing the movie in addition to starring in it. (And now I know how they got somebody of Norton’s caliber for this project.) He knows the character, he loves the character and he’s aware of the heart and humanity that Bixby brought to such a comic-booky concept. Marvel Studios has said all along that the new film would combine the man-on-the-run aspect of the television show with the action and scope of the original comics.

Norton also spoke of how the film’s going to handle the origin. Rather than throwing it all in at the beginning, pieces of the new origin — which will include carefully selected and combined elements from all the best versions — will slowly be revealed as the film progresses. “I don’t even like the phrase origin story,” Norton said at the panel in San Diego, “and I don’t think in great literature and great films, that explaining the roots of the story doesn’t mean it comes in the beginning.”

I can’t wait. And I’m so glad they’re ignoring the Ang Lee film that came out in 2003.

The new film’s director is Louis Letterier, who directed both of the Transporter movies and Unleashed, which starred Jet Li as a man who’d been brutally treated and kept all his life like an attack dog. I think he’ll bring some massive action to the table, and with Norton guiding the story I think these guys are going to come up with something really special.

Would you like to see the new Hulk? Of course you would. Here’s a YouTube video of Letterier revealing the concept art for the new design:


… and here’s a capture that I pulled out of the video and cleaned up for a little more detail:

Awesome! The Ang Lee version of the Hulk looked and moved like a giant, water-filled green blob. The face looked like a constipated version of actor Eric Bana’s. But this new Hulk design is perfect.

Kareem said it best: “He looks powerful and strong, but at the same time you’d also feel safe around him.” I agree with that description entirely. There’s weight to the brow and the eyes that tells of battles won and lost. It’s one of the best pieces of Hulk art I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Norton will also be performing the Hulk thanks to fancy advances in performance capture.

The film’s official site also just went up. Keep an eye on it for updates.

In the meantime, here are some more stories about the film:

Ed Norton to make green for being green

Liv Tyler joins Ed Norton in The Incredible Hulk!

Tim Roth joins Ed Norton and Liv Tyler in The Incredible Hulk!

William Hurt joins Ed Norton, Liv Tyler in The Incredible Hulk!

Tim Blake Nelson joins Ed Norton’s Incredible Hulk!

I’ve also got some interviews in there that I did with Bill Bixby’s co-stars from the last three Incredible Hulk TV movies he made with Lou Ferrigno from 1988 to 1990. I got to talk to Eric Allan Kramer (Thor) from The Incredible Hulk Returns, Rex Smith (Daredevil) from Trial of the Incredible Hulk, Elizabeth Gracen (Jasmine) from Death of the Incredible Hulk and even Lou Ferrigno himself. Please check them out; of all the things I’ve written, it’s these interviews that I’m most proud of.

The actors were some of the nicest and most enthusiastic people I’ve ever talked to, and their respect for Bixby was obvious. Lou Ferrigno had to reschedule our interview several times, and every time he called me himself to tell me why and work out a new time to do it.

In our interview, Ferrigno also talked about what the next Hulk TV movie would have been if Bill Bixby hadn’t been tragically lost to cancer in 1993.

I’m also starting a new Incredible Hulk tag. Because you’re going to be hearing a lot more about the new movie on these pages in the months leading up to its release on June 13, 2008! All these Hulk blogs are dedicated to his memory.


  1. Kerstin says:

    Has he written before? That would make me nervous I think.

    He’s a brilliant actor, but not everyone can write. I hope he does a good job.

  2. John says:

    Kerstin! Hey! I think it’ll be great. Zack Penn has written lots of comic book movies, so I’m sure he provided a solid foundation for Norton’s rewrite. Hopefully Norton will bring an actor’s sensibilities to what’s already there on the page. We’ll find out in June. :)

    His filmography has some really interesting entries. Cinematographer for a TV movie? Editor? I didn’t know either of those things. And he directed Keeping the Faith. I never saw that.

  3. Kerstin says:

    Keeping the Faith was pretty good. It sort of fell apart at the end, but I still enjoyed it. I guess I didn’t pay attention to the fact he directed it. For some reason I thought it was Stiller.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this because I just love Ed. By the way, you should totally watch him in Kingdom of Heaven. I know it got terrible reviews but it really was a wonderful movie.

  4. Jen says:

    I skimmed through the Ed Norton ‘Trivia’ on IMDB and APPARENTLY he did an uncredited rewrite of Frida, which I think was fairly well reviewed… Anyway, it’s a basis for comparison.

    OH and he also did some of the writing for Keeping the Faith.

    However, I agree with you, John. An actor’s sensibility and a FAN’S sensibility :) Particularly a Bixby/Ferrigno fan! How fantastic! I loved that show.. *sigh*

  5. Alex says:

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

Comments are closed.