Michael France sees new 'Hulk' as re-establishing the franchise

This weekend, millions of moviegoers will see the new, improved Incredible Hulk, as action-packed as screenwriter Michael France envisioned him years ago.

Actually, the St. Pete Beach resident did more than envision the Hulk; he co-wrote the screenplay for the 2003 film about the Marvel Comics icon.

The other day, France and his son Tommy, 10, joined me at an advance screening of 2008's The Incredible Hulk. His verdict: It was the kind of movie he'd wanted to make five years ago.

Come again?

Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk focused on the tortured relationship between scientist Bruce Banner and his father. France's script included that aspect, but Lee chose to expand it, at the expense of gargantuan action by the green-skinned creature Banner becomes when he's angry.

"What I saw with the new film, is one that has two sides to it: a dramatic side exploring how tough it is for Banner to live with this problem every day, and the huge action pieces that you'd see in the old Tales to Astonish comic books," France said.

"I'm not sure that there's really more action, but it feels that way because it's about 25 minutes shorter than (Lee's) film."

The 2003 Hulk turned off many viewers, and Universal admitted as much by touting The Incredible Hulk as a chance to get the superhero right — and get a better box office payoff.

France, 46, earned co-writing credit and a nice payday. Yet he also was frustrated that Lee and longtime writing collaborator James Schamus transformed his childhood hero into an Oedipal complex case study.

"People were dying to see a movie about the Hulk, to get those big Hulk moments," France said. "They weren't dying to see a movie about the Hulk's father."

France, the owner of Beach Theatre in St. Pete Beach since March 2007, includes among his screenwriting credits Fantastic Four, The Punisher and Cliffhanger.

So he had no trouble recognizing the tough job Universal faces in selling this new Hulk.

"That's why they came up with the publicity narrative that this is a reboot or a remake, even though it's very clear to me that it's a sequel. It's the same producers, same studio, and the characters are in the same places where they were when the first film ended,'' he said.

"I suspect that because of the baggage from the first film, this movie may not have the same kind of opening weekend,'' France said. The 2003 Hulk earned $62-million its first weekend, but tanked after that as bad word-of-mouth spread.

"On the other hand, (the new movie) won't have the same kind of drop-off, either,'' he said. "People will catch up to it. I think it certainly re-establishes (the franchise) enough to continue with it."

France continues to write screenplays — there's talk of an animation project with Warner Bros. — and a series of novels about Casca, an immortal warrior fighting in every war over two millenniums.

At the Beach Theatre, he mixes classic films with new releases that pay the bills. He won't be booking The Incredible Hulk.

"Because we have an older audience for the theater, I'm treading on icy ground whenever we book a tentpole feature," he said. "It has to be something that will appeal to an older audience, like Indiana Jones, or Iron Man that had an older, Oscar-nominated cast and great reviews.

"I had a feeling that The Incredible Hulk would play closer to Transformers, which didn't do well for us when we booked it."

His son, Tommy, who inherited his father's comic book infatuation, disagreed.

"Tommy actually told me: 'Oh, you made a big mistake not booking that for the theater, Dad."'

Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com.

Michael France sees new 'Hulk' as re-establishing the franchise 06/13/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 11:10pm]

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