Countdown to 'Hulk': Screenwriter Michael France talks 'Hulk', 'Punisher' and Beyond

Tue, June 17th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

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In part one part

one of our exclusive interview with "Hulk" screenwriter

Michael France, France talked about how his interest in comic books led to his

work on the new movie, and what elements from the comic he tried to work into

his version of the script. In part two, France comments on the WGA ruling and

also tells us a bit about his take on "The Punisher" and some other

upcoming projects.

CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE

While many writers have worked on the script for "Hulk", it was

only recently that the Writers Guild of America reviewed all the various

iterations of the script and determined that France, John Turman and James Schamus all

deserved screen credit for writing it.

Naturally France is pleased with the ruling.

"John Turman and I contributed a great deal to the final film, and that

fact has been lost in a lot of the coverage of this movie. There's been some

pretty inaccurate talk about the development of the screenplay -- intimations in

some media that Schamus and Lee didn't use any scripts written prior to their

arrival on the film. It's not true.

"It's gotten so bad," France joked, "that my wife won't come

to the premiere because she's afraid James Schamus will be given credit for our

twins."

France continued, "Seriously, James Schamus did a significant amount of

work on the screenplay -- for example, he brought in the Hulk dogs from the

comics and he made the decision to use Banner's father as a real character in

the present. But he used quite a lot of elements from John Turman's scripts and

quite a lot from mine, and that's why we were credited. The Hulk is a

challenging property to adapt, and a great deal of that hard work was done

before James Schamus came on the project. It's gratifying that this was

recognized, and that we will have our screenplay credits on the film. We earned

them."

THE OTHER HULK

While the human underpinnings

of fantastic characters are a hallmark of Marvel comics, France also found those

themes present in "The Incredible Hulk" TV series, some episodes of

which are now available on DVD.

However, France admits that as a youngster

watching the show on TV he didn't have a proper appreciation for it. "What I wanted to see was

'Tales to Astonish:' the Hulk

throwing tanks in the desert, which was not possible on a TV

budget and is really just barely possible now on a feature budget.

"Now that I look back on it, it's really an amazing show," France

said. " It would have been really easy for them to just

camp it up and almost turn it into a sitcom. The fact that they handled it so

realistically is amazing."

France also says he has admiration for Kenneth

Johnson, who shepherded the Hulk through his TV career.

"He wrote that line: 'Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.' That's the

one that's in every commercial. The fact that Kenneth Johnson, Bill Bixby and

Lou Ferrigno all did such a great job on that show is one of the main reasons

the Hulk still exists in the public mind. There are many people who remember the

show but who've never read a comic in their lives."

CRIME AND "PUNISHER"

Of course the next big comic character that France has worked on that will be

coming to movie theaters is "The Punisher." Almost as if history was

repeating itself, Jonathan Hensleigh is set to make his directing debut

following France's work on the movie. However, this time France actually

completed a script, which served as Hensleigh's starting point.

As with "Hulk," France made some changes in order to find the human

character beneath the fantastic.

"There have been so many B movies that

have been done with a with a simple 'you-killed-my-family, prepare-to-die' vigilante plot line. I had to find a way to get around

that by going a little deeper into the character," France said. "When I did mine I changed the origin a little bit by making Frank an FBI

agent who went undercover in the mob and he had a psychological problem

in that when he went undercover and had to be a bad guy, he was liking that a

little too much. In a sense it was like the Hulk/Banner problem. On the one

hand, Frank Castle was a very ordinary family man. On the other, he found he was

a little too comfortable acting like a psycho. So the most interesting struggle

in the movie is how those two sides of him play off of each other.

"For the sake of saving his soul, basically, and preserving

his family, he decided to quit and get out of it. That's when his family gets

wiped out and finally he emerges full-blown as that bad guy trying to do good

things."

One change that has fans scratching their heads, is the choice to move The

Punisher from New York City to Florida. France, a resident of St. Pete's Beach

in Florida, admits that his script was set in Miami. However, after France's

work on the project, the filming location and the setting became Tampa.

MORE COMICS TO FILM?

France remains a fan of comic books and hopes to continue to work with them

on the big screen.

"They're terrific source material. They're visuals and you can do things as

you try to adapt them that aren't done in conventional action movies or science

fiction movies," France said.

During the WGA arbitration for "Hulk" France and Turman read each

others drafts and became mutual fans. Subsequently the pair have started talking

about trying to find a project to work on together. Both are intrigued by

another Jack Kirby creation: "Challengers of the Unknown."

"It's one of those things that would be very conducive to movies. One of the

problems with the comic thing, which thankfully wasn't a problem on 'Hulk,' is

justifying the costume. That's something that we could dispense with pretty

easily in 'Challengers.'"

However, another Marvel mainstay and Kirby

creation that would present the costume problem remains another wish list

property for France: "Captain America."

"I'd love to do a World War II

'Captain America,'" France said. "I'm also getting involved with a

terrific CrossGen comics series, and I hope to get that set up soon."

THE ORIGINAL SUPERHEROES

With

"Punisher" and "Fantastic Four" closing in on production, we

asked France what's next.

It seems he and "Daredevil" producer

Gary Foster are developing a new movie that would based on Greek Mythology.

Although we learned that the name of the project is "Titans," France

would not divulge much else.

"It's a new take on a very old Greek myth," France promised.

"We're

taking some angles on this that nobody has ever done, which is remarkable

considering how many movies have been made about this."

The project grew, in part, out of France's love of the old Ray Harryhausen

films.

"I want to really excite young fans of

this material with the movie the same way comics just lit me up when I was

a kid, that sense of fun and imagination

and excitement that were in the Ray Harryhausen pictures," France said.

"It's a lot of fun

working on it and it also gives me an excuse to watch Ray Harryhausen movies

about fifty times with my son."

"The Hulk" opens in theaters everywhere this Friday.

 
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