Hulk (2003), Microcosmos (1996) and The Court Jester (1956)

Video/DVD Picks
by Steven Greydanus | Source:
Hulk (2003)
Not the best or most exciting of comic-book movies, but the most thoughtful and arguably one of the most interesting, Ang Lee’s Hulk offers a new look at Marvel Comics’s green-skinned Jekyll-and-Hyde pulp antihero through the director’s poetic, psychologically attuned sensibilities.

The result is an unusually restrained character drama that eventually segues into comic-book action, much like Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) himself morphing into the Hulk. It’s also a cautionary tale about the dangers of seeking to usurp the Creator’s prerogatives—something the villain expressly professes as his intention (note the name of the sinister corporation Atheon).

In reimagining the Hulk’s origins as involving not just a single gamma-ray related accident in Banner’s scientific career, but a legacy of fateful events extending to Banner’s childhood and even his paternity, Ang Lee recasts the story from a simple character allegory to an intergenerational tale of overreaching fathers and wounded children.

Lee’s deliberate pacing, psychological drama, and somewhat head-scratching climax may bewilder comic-book fans expecting a mere action-fest, but it’s something more ambitious. The sometimes cartoony CGI Hulk is no Gollum, but he’s effective enough, and his soaring leaps are among the film’s best images. Another visual highlight: virtuoso split-screen work that evokes comic-book panel layouts.

Content advisory: Stylized, sometimes intense comic-book violence; implied domestic violence; limited profanity and crass language; fleeting rear nudity. Teens and up.


Microcosmos (1996)
To human sensibilities, insects are very far from the most appealing forms of life on the planet—yet the sheer fact that God has made so very many of them can hardly fail to impress upon us that he must think more of them than we are inclined to.

What Winged Migration did for birds and Atlantis did for life under the sea, Microcosmos does for the insect world. It’s an astonishingly up-close and personal look at an infinitesimal world as alien as anything captured by the Hubble telescope or the Mars rovers—but also a world of strange fascination and unexpected beauty.

These three documentaries bring us closer to their subjects than any other nature film I’ve ever seen. For Microcosmos, specially built cameras with powerful magnifying lenses were built to capture insects as vividly and powerfully as players in a football game or cars in a car commercial. Stag beetles lock horns as fearsomely as rams, raindrops land among insects like hailstones, snails mate as tenderly as humans, and a pheasant picking off ants looms like the T-rex in Jurassic Park.

Like Winged Migration and Atlantis, Microcosmos is about showing, not telling; the images are so arresting that no running commentary is needed, just as a symphony needs no lyrics.

Content advisory: Some documentary footage of invertebrate carnage and mating; fine for kids.


The Court Jester (1956)
See Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood—and then see Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. As the former is the ultimate Hollywood swashbuckler classic, the latter is the ultimate swashbuckler spoof, and one of Kaye’s finest, funniest hours. Not only does it terrifically succeed where movies like Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights miserably fail, Jester also as merry, high-spirited, and wholesome as the adventures it parodies, with none of the cynical, anarchic spirit (or content issues) of the likes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

It’s also a genuinely entertaining tale, with a convoluted plot involving an evil usurper king (Cecil Parker), a scheming knight (Basil Rathbone) who covets the false king’s throne, and a Robin-Hood / Zorro type hero-outlaw called the Black Fox (Edward Ashley). Kaye stars as former circus performer Hubert Hawkins, now the meekest of the Fox’s merry men, who dreams of derring-do but is charged with caring for a royal infant who is the true heir to the throne in hiding.

Viewers always remember the classic tongue-twisting wordplay of the “vessel with the pestle” scene, but Jester is full of hilarity, from Hawkins’s sparkling debut as a jester, to his rapid-fire personality changes under hypnosis, to his accelerated elevation to knighthood. It could not better be!

Content advisory: Comic swashbuckling violence. Fine for kids.

Steven Greydanus is a film critic for the National Catholic Register.



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