The Incredible Hulk Series:
A lot of talk has been going around about “Who’s the best Batman?” “Who’s the better Spider-Man?” (It’s Andrew Garfield, by the way.) with all this “Who played it better?” going on…why is no one talking about The Hulk? There have been 4 actors for him already! Edward Norton (2008) Mark Ruffalo (2011) Eric Bana…(2003) Wait a minute. The reason there’s no one talking about Hulk is that there’s only been one real Hulk! Lou Ferrigno.
He wasn’t CGI. He was a real life deaf bodybuilder in the live action Incredible Hulk series. They didn’t really have the budget for Hulk to be this giant thing rampaging through the city, but he’s big and tough and you get the sense that if Hulk were real, this would be him. He’s a little more human in this old series. Which is important, because in the modern movies, he just symbolizes “the monster within” or is handy whenever they need someone to kick butt and grunt. But, because of Ferrigno’s deafness possibly, I feel that this Hulk attempts more at communication, in contrast to where we, as a hearing audience typically associate communication with verbal articulation.
For example, in the first episode, Hulk saves a little girl from drowning by tearing down a tree and having her grab on. The girl was scared by Hulk, but he saves her. This returns Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk to his roots in Frankenstein as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The “modern” Hulks certainly capture the effect of Mr. Hyde, (Especially in The Avengers; since for the first hour there is no Hulk, and then he shows up to smash.) But, little is done to preserve the idea that the monster is ultimately just as sympathetic as the doctor. Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk is misunderstood and scary-looking, but like Frankenstein’s monster, he is ultimately kind.
As mentioned, the live action Hulk isn’t some 20-foot giant rampaging through cities, but he is strong. He rips up cars, uses trees as clubs, and even tears up houses while fighting an evil version of himself! You see, this Hulk is still trying to do good. I suppose you can make an argument that in modern movies Dr. Banner “doesn’t have control of the Hulk yet.” but in the live action version it’s made clear that the Hulk is David Bruce Banner.
By the way, why is his name Dr. David Bruce Banner? Isn’t his name Dr. Bruce Banner? In this series though, he’s a medical doctor who’s obsessed with finding out what’s at the root of superhuman feats of strength. This seems to make more sense than a nuclear bomb or accidental overdose of gamma rays or a government scientist working with the military! No! He intentionally doses himself with gamma rays and becomes the Hulk for science! His irrational obsession drives him to superhuman feats. His transformation scenes into the Hulk are awesome, and he’s (Bill Bixby) replaced with Lou Ferrigno as Hulk. Though it’s tacky by today’s standards!
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Mark Ruffalo and Edward Norton. But, Lou Ferrigno adds humanity to the Hulk as well as a superhero! The human aspect is lost in the modern CGI. Curiously, in other iterations of the Hulk, he only speaks in minimal phrases. Lou Ferrigno does not talk. This adds more humanity I think, when he is saving someone, and more intensity when he is under threat, because he can’t explain himself! To be fair, the catchphrase for Hulk at this point was “You won’t like me when I’m angry!” which was left to Bill Bixby. Lou Ferrigno is all action!
Stan Lee has said that part of his inspiration for Hulk was Frankenstein. The other was Mr. Hyde. Lou Ferrigno revives the possibility that the Hulk still is Dr. Banner; like Frankenstein’s monster he tries to do good but frightens the ignorant townspeople. The thing is Hulk is still Bruce Banner. He just can't talk and is a little scary-looking. Perhaps Ferrigno's deafness added to the effectiveness of him running from people he can't talk to; people he's often trying to save. (or teach a lesson!)
In conclusion, literally, there’s only one real Hulk. I’m sure there’s motion-capture involved today, but on a purely visual level, Lou Ferrigno is the only real Hulk, and that’s the reason there can be no discussion about who’s better. The other actors did fine as Bruce Banner, but they did not become the Hulk. He was the Hulk.
All that needs to be said of Ferrigno’s Hulk is the catchphrase: “You won’t like me when I’m angry!” but I do! And he seems to be more in “control” when he is the Hulk, because of his pure muscle and focus. No caveman speech. Lou Ferrigno adds such intensity and such emotion without it; to make the Hulk strong and more human! I highly recommend looking at this series!