Countdown to 'Hulk': Screenwriter Michael France's big, green vision

Mon, June 16th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

Comic book movies are big business in Hollywood these days. Michael France is

one of a handful of screenwriters that has carved a niche for himself in the burgeoning

superhero genre. He wrote a draft of "The Fantastic Four" and more

recently penned a script for "The Punisher." He'll even admit to

writing a TV pilot script for "Green Arrow." ("That one's almost like jury

duty for action screenwriters," France said. "I think they've done about twenty different

pilots for that.")

However, his first comic-to-film effort to make it to

the silver screen is Friday's "Hulk." France was hired onto the

project at two different times and he, along with John Turman and James Schamus,

is credited with the screenplay.

Comics2Film/CBR News talked to France about

his interest in comics and his work on "Hulk."

ORIGINS

France

broke into the industry with his spec script "Cliffhanger," which he

sold in 1991. "When I was writing the thing I thought it was so

expensive it would never get made. I thought it would just turn into a writing sample so I

could get assignment work," France told C2F. "It sold and it went into production almost

immediately, and it was very expensive to make, but it turned out alright."

Indeed,

"Cliffhanger" turned out to be one of Sylvester Stallone's better

action movies and a box-office success as well. From there he took on another

big-screen hero, penning the James Bond installment "GoldenEye." Soon

Marvel and Fox had him writing the script for "Fantastic Four"

"Everyone at Marvel like the way

'Fantastic Four' turned out so that led to my being offered 'Hulk,'" France

said.

Then, in 1997, Marvel brought France in to do a rewrite of

"Hulk," although his time on the project turned out to be short-lived.

Jonathan Hensleigh ("The Punisher") was hired to make his directorial

debut on the movie and wanted to go in a completely different direction than the

previous efforts. France was fired from the project before he had written a

single page.

RETURN OF THE MONSTER

France says

he has no hard feelings over the situation, though. "They wound up

bringing me back in a couple of years later when the Hensleigh version did not

get made," France said.

In 1999 the comic fan and screenwriter

began his proper tour on the project, turning in work that would ultimately be

part of the final film. His plan was to put more focus on Banner and the

psychology of the character.

"I wanted to go back to the real roots of the comics. There was

something else that I wanted to try, that I knew hadn't been tried in the recent

development of it and I didn't know that it had been tried at all," France

told C2F/CBR News. "That was, I

knew about the comic material that had been done in the eighties when Peter

David wrote storylines that involved Banner's family past, that he had an

abusive father and that really impacted on his psychology. That background made

him afraid of the anger that he's buried inside himself. I wanted to make him

afraid of his own anger even before he developed his little Hulk problem -- so

that when the Hulk does appear, it's that much more devastating. It's his

nightmare of who he really is, blown up ten feet wide and fifteen feet high..

"I wanted to get into that. I knew that the key of doing this thing would be

to get into Banner's character, instead of just the spectacle of it.. I wanted to look for ways of dealing with the human character aspects of it so I

brought in the family background from the comics."

This same element had appeared in the earliest drafts penned by John Turman,

although France didn't know that at the time. While the studio had not been

receptive to the inclusion of Banner's father (played by Nick Nolte in the

movie) during those first drafts, they were now willing to reconsider.

"That's just something that happens in development. For whatever reason

they weren't ready to hear it when Turman started his screenplay, and I think maybe

because they'd gone down a couple of blind alleys very recently, everybody was ready for that

approach when I came on."

DA BOMB?

France

also knew that the origin of the character would have to be tweaked. Most modern

audiences know well that getting exposed to massive doses of radiation typically

doesn't lead to beneficial side effects, so the gamma bomb story from the comic

books had to be reworked.

"A larger concern that I had was that Banner was basically building the bomb

to end all bombs and it seemed to me that a guy who had the background that he

had, who faced cruelty as a child, that he would want to use his skills and

intelligence to make the world a better place instead of just trying to build

better bomb craters," France told C2F.

"So I changed his background and made him a civilian scientist who was

looking at peaceful, beneficial uses for gamma rays."

France's research on the subject revealed that there are actually serious

scientific endeavors afoot to harness gamma rays for beneficial purposes, such

as medical treatments.

"So I thought it would make sense for him to be a guy working in the San

Francisco scientific community. I had him invent a gamma generator called the

Gammasphere -- and I also had Banner looking into gamma assisted ways of

changing cells from the inside out, as a way of developing a cancer cure. Those were some of the mechanics of changing the origin that I

brought to it," France said.

HUMANS AND VILLAINS

Another France

contribution that ended up in the final film was one of the super villains.

While the Leader, who appeared in many early drafts, isn't in the movie, another

character from the comics does make an appearance, though in different form.

Without giving too much away, France brought in this character and he appears in

a substantial role, albeit in altered form, in the movie. "If you know the

comic, you'll recognize the character but I think you'll be surprised how he's

used.

While the fan

in him wanted super villains and a story that was true to Hulk's "Tales to

Astonish" run, France began to realize that the human components were more

interesting.

"At a certain point when I was doing the script I suggested to Marvel that we

make the movie half as expensive and twice as good by just forgetting the super

villain stuff and dealing with that. It would be the Hulk versus the military

and basically the Hulk versus Banner. He's gotta deal with these problems."

Just as the decision to include the father was rejected and later accepted,

the studio dismissed France's suggestion to discard the super villain plot.

"For whatever reasons they didn't want to hear it when I said it, and again,

this is just something that happens in development, they did want to hear it

when James Schamus and Ang Lee came on."

At the time of the interview, France had only seen trailers and TV

commercials but had not yet seen the movie.

"I'm completely blown away by how well they've been able to render the action

sequences. The whole scene where he breaks out of the black ops base, in the

desert and he fights the helicopters, a lot of that stuff is taken from my draft

and it just blows me away to see it on the screen," France enthused.

Again, it's the character work in the film that France is most excited

about.

"It's funny, because when I started writing the script...at

first, as a comic fan, you get excited saying, 'Wow! I could have the Hulk

throw tanks in the desert,' but once I started writing it I got more interested

in the character material with Banner, and the tragic aspects of his romance

with Betty and the fact that Banner is desperately trying to push down his

anger. I got much more interested in the battle between Hulk and Banner than any

external fight -- and I'm very happy that that part of my work carried through

to the final film.

"That

anger -- that dark side of Banner -- is very literally his secret identity. It's

part of him that he's trying to hide. Usually when you talk about a comic book

character, the secret identity is the costume he puts on at night, but this is

something that's a part of him that he's burying."

Click here to read part two of C2F/CBR News' exclusive interview with Michael France!

 
CBR News

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.