Posted on Saturday, June 14th, 2008 by Peter Sciretta
Okay, you’ve heard the rumors of the behind-the-scenes battle between Marvel and star Edward Norton over The Incredible Hulk. I’ve been getting a lot of emails asking me to explain what exactly happened. Here is what I know/have heard or gathered:
Edward Norton turned down the project when he was first approached but Marvel insisted that he meet with director Louis Leterrier, and Norton relented. At the meeting Norton offered his version of The Hulk story, and Marvel agreed to hire a screenwriter to work with him on a rewrite of Zak Penn‘s draft. But no screenwriter was ever hired and Norton did a substantial page-one rewrite by himself. Anne Thompson explains: “With about two months to go before the movie started filming, Norton did a page one rewrite–knowing that he couldn’t do anything radical, because sets were being built, locations found, etc. The entire Brazil sequence was already story-boarded.” Norton added a lot of dialogue and character motivation, and Marvel agreed to shoot Norton’s draft of the screenplay.
After production was completed, Leterrier put together “an assembly” of the film, which basically included everything that was shot. The director explained to Collider: “It’s called a suicide run because it’s absolutely horrible. You want to commit suicide after you see it.”
Marvel decided they wanted make a shorter, more action-packed cut of the film, discarding a lot of the character development pieces that Norton had brought to the screenplay.
“So after this we had a meeting—just like this—like a round table where I go okay we have to find solutions. And then we were screaming stuff and everything. Maybe somebody walked in, a PA or somebody walked in, somebody who’s not used to it and we’re having a conversation and Edward was like…no, Edward’s very vocal.”
Norton was understandably pissed. He was brought onto the project under the premise that he would have considerable creative control. But the final cut was, of course, not his. Norton and Leterrier lobbied for a more nuanced cut of the film that ran about two hours and 15-20 minutes, but Marvel stuck to their guns.
“Everyone was exhausted; it was like a little burst. ‘’I’m angry with you!’’ ‘’No, I’m angry with you!’’ And me in the center saying ‘’Boys, calm down.’’ It didn’t come to blows. It was just a remark here and there, then it became public,” Leterrier told EW.
Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily ran the story on the Norton/Marvel blow up.
“The next day when the Nikki Finke…Nicky Fink or whatever her name is…article came out, Edward was right next to me. He’s like ‘you want to laugh?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, what’s up?’ ‘Read this’.”
A day later, Norton even showed up to do ADR work on the film. Leterrier told Collider that 70 minutes of deleted footage is set to be released on the inevitable Bluray release. (Leterrier describes the out-takes: “It’s like the back story. It’s more the sequel to the Ang Lee movie.”)
“I regret that [Marvel and Norton] didn’t come to an agreement where we could’ve all worked together,” Leterrier explained to Entertainment Weekly. “The press is what kept Edward and Marvel from talking to each other. [The argument] was nothing, but then it became something big.”
Norton’s script opened with a suicide scene in the Arctic. While the scene added a lot of depth to Norton’s character, giving you a greater understanding of just how much he wanted to get rid of his curse. I’ve heard that the scene is included in the video game adaptation. A couple reasons why Marvel may have exorcized the scene from the final cut:
1. It added an extra five minutes to the beginning of the film, and in effect pushed the first appearance of The Hulk to page 26/27 of the script (or about a half hour into the actual film). Hollywood’s reasoning is that with a movie titled “The Incredible Hulk”, mainstream audiences want to see Te Hulk as soon as possible. I tend to disagree. I think that one of the reasons Richard Donnor’s Superman is so great is for it’s extended origin story. It builds to the first climactic moment when you see Christopher Reeves in the Red and Blue suit. And lets not forget Jaws…
2. It undermines the moment that Penn wrote where Bruce Banner jumps out of the helicopter, not knowing if he would survive. The risk was removed from that scene.
3. Suicide is less accessible and not family friendly.
Norton’s flashback sequences were also cut from the film, including a sequence with Banner having a sit down conversation with a Doc Samson, which can be seen in the trailers. The storyline with Banner finding a serum in the Amazon and his computer conversations with Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson) were some of Norton’s storyline additions that remained in the final cut.
Marvel submitted both Zak Penn’s and Edward Norton’s (under a pseudonym, Edward Harrison) drafts to the Writers’ Guild for arbitration. Penn also wrote a letter to the WGA insisting that Norton had not considerably changed his screenplay. Members of the Guild follow a formula for determining the credits. An original writer must contribute at least one-third of the final screenplay to receive credit. If subsequent writers labor on an original screenplay as script doctors, they must contribute more than half of the final screenplay to receive credit. The Guild compares the final cut of the film against both drafts, favoring story and characters over dialogue. And as I said before, most of Norton’s changes were dialogue driven. The conclusion was that Penn would get sole screenplay credit. Zak Penn’s original script was also said to include two pivotal scenes from his 16-year-old screenplay attempt: Bruce Banner jumping out of a helicopter, and the scene where Banner tries to get intimate with Betty, but his rising heart rate becomes an issue.
Edward Norton released the following statement to Entertainment Weekly:
“Like so many people I’ve loved the story of The Hulk since I was a kid, so it was thrilling when Marvel asked me to write and help produce an altogether new screen incarnation, as well as play Bruce Banner. I grew up reading Marvel Comics and always loved the mythic dimension and contemporary themes in the stories, and I’m proud of the script I wrote. In every phase of production, including the editing, working with Louis Leterrier has been wonderful…I’ve never had a better partner, and the collaboration with all the rest of the creative team has been terrific. Every good movie gets forged through collaboration, and different ideas among people who are all committed and respect the validity of each other’s opinions is the heart of filmmaking. Regrettably, our healthy process, which is and should be a private matter, was misrepresented publicly as a ‘dispute,’ seized on by people looking for a good story, and has been distorted to such a degree that it risks distracting from the film itself, which Marvel, Universal and I refuse to let happen. It has always been my firm conviction that films should speak for themselves and that knowing too much about how they are made diminishes the magic of watching them. All of us believe The Incredible Hulk will excite old fans and create new ones and be a huge hit…our focus has always been to deliver the Hulk that people have been waiting for and keep the worldwide love affair with the big green guy going strong.”
EW’s sources say Norton, worried about being unfairly branded “a pain in the ass” by the press, conceded to Marvel’s cut, which even though it wasn’t what he wanted, he understood would be more commercial.
Edward Norton is supporting the film, and doing select press. Liv Tyler, Tim Blake Nelson and Louis Leterrier have contract stipulations for two sequels, if Marvel wanted to bring them back. Norton’s contract doesn’t have any such stipulations. Even if a sequel isn’t greenlit, The Hulk will return in the upcoming Superhero team-up film The Avengers. However, I’d be shocked if Norton returned to reprise the role of Bruce Banner.