LOS ANGELES ó Despite hours of interviews with cast, director, writers, and crew, not to mention a presentation by three special-effects wizards from Industrial Light and Magic, one nagging question remains unresolved at the end of the promotional junket for The Hulk, the soon-to-be-blockbuster film adaptation of the Marvel comic that opens next Friday. And that is: whatís the deal with his pants?
Genetic researcher Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), his body addled by some weird heredity and an accidental exposure to gamma rays, one day starts turning huge and green whenever he gets angry. The angrier he gets, the bigger he grows ó way past Lou Ferrigno size, heading into Godzilla territory, with all of his clothes flying off in shreds. But his purple sweat pants stay on!
To his credit, director Ang Lee broaches this question on his own. "People always ask, including myself, how come the pants always stay on? I wanted my Hulk to be naked. When he fights the dogs [these are mutant Hulk dogs, sicced on his girlfriend Betty (Jennifer Connelly) by his father (Nick Nolte)], he gets the pants torn off. He should be naked, we should see . . . "
His, uh, Hulkness? Right. But we donít. Itís dark. There are tree limbs. There are mutant dogs the size of taxi cabs. But no Little Hulk. After that, Lee gave up about the pants. "Itís too much trouble, trying to hide him. It got to the point that I felt like I was making Austin Powers." As Josh Lucas ó who plays Talbot, Bruce Bannerís rival ó puts it, "The Hulkís pants stay on because they want a PG-13 rating."
Still, the questions persist. What material are those pants made of? Are they a metaphor for our own repression of the rage the Hulk embodies for us? Are they a dark hint of Oedipal castration? Lee, whose previous films include an adaptation of Jane Austenís Sense and Sensibility as well as the blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, does not deflect such absurd inquiries. "Pop art has the wildness, the secret pleasure, the aggressions that you try to cover up ó only in pop art do you see the psychology of the audience," he allows, explaining his attraction to such pulpy material as Marvel superheroes after the refinement of Austen. "Sometimes the formal arts are just a cover-up of what really is."
And as for Oedipus, the film has him in spades. Most of the plot revolves around Bruceís relationship with his father, a researcher like himself who disappeared when he was a child and returns years later bearing terrible secrets and a terrible legacy. One would like to ask Papa Nolte about it, but unfortunately, his interview is delayed until the very end of the junket. A publicist says something about his not being allowed on the lot, about his being turned away at the gate. But he gets in finally, wearing a long leather jacket over what look like pajamas, seeming a bit frail and shaky and unsteady on his feet but raring to go.
"So what do you need to know?" he growls. "Ask me anything."
Could he explain The Hulkís Oedipal fixation? And what about the whole pants thing?
"One of the things that happens in this film," he begins, "is that I get genetically tied to my son. Itís an abnormal relationship in that sense. Because in modern days, a father at a certain point has to let the son win. They all do it. Usually we get too feeble, but you have to let him win. Heís not an extension of you. Sure, he has some of your genetics, but heís truly unique in his own consciousness." Note to readers: thus ends the portion of Nolteís answer that makes any sense. He continues, "The father knows the son will not be allowed to survive. Then the father maybe reaches a little too far. Of course, because overreaction happens. What does the military do? They want to destroy it right away. ĎThunderbolt,í right? Know who that is, right? Thatís Zeus. And itís a Greek tragedy in the sense that the father with these energies presents an idea to his son, that . . . but they combine together to create, what? Create peace/war."
Uh, sure. But what about the pants?
"I canít see the Hulk having sex," says Nolte. "Iíve seen a nude picture of him. Itís not pretty. It could be used as a weapon, believe me."
The Hulk opens next Friday, June 20. See film listings for showtimes.