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Summer Sneaks

He's our worst fear: ourselves

Ang Lee and company labor on a Hulk who's actually the raging monster in us all.

May 04, 2003|Fred Schruers | Special to The Times

"But my experience has been working with a master who's supremely specific, and he's taken an action genre and turned it into a psychological story as well. He's really putting you into the psychological space to play emotions instead of just trying top hit a mark."

Among the visual aids plastered around Ang Lee's ILM lair are some of the original "Hulk" strips, all the way back to the comic book's start in 1962.

"The back story, that very first comic, was interesting -- that melancholy mood," Lee says. "I think Hulk is the first novel superhero who is a tragic monster. I would hate to make him the obvious meathead, violent creature."

WHAT'S A SUMMER FILM?

Lee admits to some torment as he teaches himself what the ILM technicians, such as Spielberg collaborator Dennis Muren, already know -- and then pushes them beyond that.

"We don't do it overnight," Lee says. "You have a whole year to make that work. It's a constant job. Handcrafting, it is not push-button. There is no formula. Even at this budget and technology, the computer is not as smart as I hoped." And the Hulk presents particular problems: "Because of his weight and the green color, psychologically you have to have more details. A constant effort."

The stress isn't solely on the technical side, Lee notes. "It was hard for the actors making this movie, hard for me too, to mix the fantasy-world tone and the realistically emotional acting."

The filmmakers gave a nod to the "Hulk" TV series of 1977-82 by giving its star, Lou Ferrigno, a cameo. But a more immediate influence was video games. Lee shot his film with a greater than usual number of camera positions, sometimes parking cameras side by side, or looking over both shoulders of an actor. As a result, he's got plenty of footage to play with, and will split his screen horizontally, vertically, even on an angle. It's not just a split screen, says Schamus, but more -- "an image-rich environment."

Says Lee, "I think it's about time when I can choose my frames ratio [with images of multiple shapes and sizes on the screen at once]. It just opens up so much more dimensions. You can practically be Picasso if you want to."

If he sounds like a revolutionary, Lee isn't backing off. He, like Arad, doesn't buy the traditional warm-weather formulas. "I cannot speak for how everybody feels about summer movies, but I think I can speak for a lot of people globally. We're bored by the summer movie. I can't take it anymore. It's time for a change.

"I hope we can make that change. I don't feel we have a different mood from summer to winter, but somehow that is how they market it. And summer is a very long and boring two months."

Early and late in the film, he says, the desert plays a part in evoking a sense of place, literally and figuratively. "That is where [the government] is testing things, and that's where they hide their base. That's where things get buried. The desert's haunting and everything is there to grasp. I think it is both poetic and secretive, and it's also probably pretty real. It is poignant. I think it's beautiful."

Lee, sitting beneath his array of comic book images and classic art, looks up brightly with a flicker of amusement: "Just because it's summer, we don't have to be meatheads, do we?"

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