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THE HULK

Weird Science
It is one thing to try and ground a film in reality when dealing with such issues as physical movement, set construction, costume creation—even an enormous CG monster that leaves a wake of destruction. There is room for a certain amount of subjectivity ("Would the Hulk move that way? Would the military base look like that? Would Betty wear something similar to that?”). But when science is to figure heavily in a film, providing the environment in which the story unfolds? It is advisable to have, well, a scientific advisor…enter John Underkoffler. 

Science consultant Underkoffler helped to guide Lee, the cast and the crew through the intricate vagaries of the science that might create a Hulk and, in the process, the director learned to appreciate the pure artistry of the miniscule forms that might lead to such an immense monster. Underkoffler primarily made sure that the story was rooted in accurate science and that the jargon was at least based in reality. 

Underkoffler relates, "The first thing they wanted me to come up with was an explanation for the research that the scientists in the film were pursuing, which would then lead to the accident that creates the Hulk. Lee also wanted all the background, the techniques and gestures—from how to hold a beaker to the more theoretical—to be as realistic as possible. Audiences are increasingly savvy about this stuff even if the general audience may not have much familiarity with this argot, it recognizes when the rhythms are authentic.” In what can only be described as a reversal on the "art imitating life” maxim, TIME's February 17, 2003 cover article, "Secret of Life: Cracking the DNA Code Has Changed How We Live,” included commentary and conjecture from a bank of leading scientists on gene research. 

In it, journalist Nancy Gibbs points out, "Gene therapy allows doctors to introduce some handy gene into the body like a little rescue squad…” that can repair damage on a sub-cellular level—in essence, providing factual back-up for the science-fictional research being executed by Bruce Banner and his colleagues. 

Gibbs goes on to say, "The nature-vs.-nurture debate changes when scientists find a gene that makes you shy, makes you reckless, makes you sad.” 

Cracking the genetic code may have indeed unleashed a possibility for alterations to "life as we know it,” paving the way for, if not a Hulk, at least the reparation of genes—a topic that continues to be hotly debated within the scientific and ethical communities. 

Another factor in the lore of the Hulk—gamma radiation—also recently made the pages of the April 29, 2003 edition of The New York Times. The article detailed the use of the Gamma Knife, a scalpel-less form of surgery that combats brain tumors by blasting them with "hundreds of high intensity radiation beams in a single session.” The form of radiosurgery, FDA approved in 1987, has received increased usage recently, accounting for "nearly 10 percent of brain operations in 1999.” 

In such a world where the gap between science fiction and medical fact grows ever smaller, Underkoffler worked to impart a practical authenticity, giving the actors a crash course in science and accompanying Lee and the principal cast to Cal Tech in advance of principal photography. He also met with the actors and worked with them on the background for their characters, including their education, their career trajectory and their specific scientific discipline. While at Cal Tech, the actors received hands-on training with laboratory equipment and observed research scientists in their day-to-day routines. 

Of course, the original Hulk tale has a specific bit of science built in, namely the gamma radiation that transforms Bruce Banner into the Hulk. Yet director Lee wanted something that went beyond the 1950s thoughts about radiation and the period notions about the effects<

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