The Hulk that smashed its way into theaters this summer, Ang Lee's vision of the classic superhero, was not the only version of the comic book adaptation. After screenwriters Michael France, John Turman and Michael Tolkin each had delivered a draft, but before writer and frequent Ang Lee collaborator James Schamus completely changed the script into a shooting draft that met with Lee's tastes, David Hayter (X-Men, X2) wrote his version of The Incredible Hulk. Hayter doesn't get credit in any way shape or form on the theatrical release, nor does Michael Tolkin, but Schamus and France do for their efforts. However, the final film doesn't really resemble in any way, shape or form the draft Hayter wrote, based on the earlier work. There are a few - very few - lingering similarities, but most of that is attributed to the fact that the source material is the same. So of course the characters and themes are going to be similar. But this draft of The Incredible Hulk was a far different story, even though it still examined the origins of Bruce Banner's transformation.
In this story, Bruce Banner is working at the lab in Berkeley on the Human Genome Project. His lab partners include: Samuel Sterns, the team leader; Jennifer Sussman, Hematologist and Sterns' girlfriend; Robert Creel, a computer maintenance guy; and of course, Betty Ross, a fellow researcher, the object of Banner's affection, and daughter of one of the U.S. Army's top Generals. At the lab they're working with a one-of-a-kind Gammasphere, and largely thanks to Bruce they've just made a significant breakthrough in the project. Funded by the U.S. Military, they play host to a demonstration attended by Major Talbot, General Ross' right-hand man. They manage to successfully reconstruct damaged cells and heal a damaged frog, the demonstration a complete success, except for a distinctive green coloring to the regenerated tissue, something they're working to fix. All is going well, except perhaps Bruce's love life. The guy is rather oblivious to the fact that Betty shares his affection, and even her not-so-subtle hints go right over his head. Bruce sleeps alone. To make matters worse, the entire team is oblivious to the fact that Creel, the computer technician, has been meeting with wealthy members of the private sector who are very interested in the research that Sterns' team has been doing. His greed overwhelming his common-sense, Creel sneaks into the computers to copy all the data the team has collected, but something goes wrong, and his timing is nothing but bad. He sets in motion a chain of events that start the Gammasphere working, just when the rest of the team is working. They can't shut it down, and three of the researchers are inside the device. Realizing what's happening, Bruce rushes to save them, rescuing Betty but getting himself trapped inside with Sussman and Sterns when the Gamma Rays fire. But Bruce and the others survive the extraordinary experience, unharmed, but not unchanged.
The changes manifest themselves in different ways for the three survivors. Bruce seems fine, although his confidence is up and he finally works up the courage to express his interest in Betty. Sussman and Sterns, meanwhile, do the nasty and it gets� nastier. Sussman seems to have developed the ability to see the very structure of things, Sterns experiencing some sort of electrical connection with computers. As they� celebrate life, Sussman takes a turn for the worse. She spontaneously experiences the effects of exposure to radiation, leaving her mutilated and burned. When Bruce and Betty arrive, Banner's own changes begin to manifest themselves, as his anger toward the man responsible, Creel, takes over. He leaves in a fit of rage, and when we next see him, he's pounding on Creel's door, mostly to the annoyance of Creel and his frat roommate. But when the whole house begins to shake, things get serious. The roommate answers the door to something big and green. We don't see much of what happens, but the next day the house is trashed, and a trail of destruction in the city has the media and the police very curious. Bruce banner wakes up on a flattened bed, his door off the hinges, his clothes torn to shreds. It doesn't take long before he, Betty and Sterns are at the police station answering all sorts of questions, but it also isn't long before Betty makes a phone call, and her daddy, the General, is marching into the station and barking orders at the cops. Betty and Sterns have perfect alibis, but poor Bruce is rightly suspected of causing all the damage at the Creel residence the night before. The interrogation is tough, General Ross and Major Talbot watch the whole thing, including when Bruce Banner starts to get angry. The Hulk comes out, right there in the interrogation room, and smashes his way through the station and out into the streets. It's no secret who the hulk is, everyone who matters saw the transformation, and Betty and Sterns recognize Bruce's cloths (and a wallet he was given as a gift in the beginning).
Now everyone is searching for the big green Hulk that surely must be a threat to the city of San Francisco, including the military. But Betty is the only one who knows Bruce well enough to know where to look for him, and she tracks him down to his cabin in Coffee Creek. There he's become a man again, a man terrified at what he's become, and may not be able to control; a man contemplating ending it all. Sterns, meanwhile, has tracked down Creel to Empyreal Biotechnologies, the private sector corporation he's selling the team's research to. They've created their own Gammasphere, and Sterns needs it to save his own life, offering to show them how to use the data Creel has stolen for them in exchange. He seems suspiciously calm and cordial for a man dealing with the lowlife responsible for his girlfriend's death, and indeed he has other plans. Using his newfound superhuman intelligence and ability to interact with electronic equipment on an energy level, he manipulates the situation and computers alike at Empyreal, and bombards everyone there with Gamma rays. As before, the outcome us unpredictable, and the process kills everyone (about three evil corporate types) except Creel, who manifests�abilities of his own. He is able to assimilate the characteristics of any thing he touches (ala the T-1000, but not quite so skilled), but he's also left about as dumb as any of the inanimate objects he bonds with. He essentially becomes Sterns' strong-arm lackey. Meanwhile, Betty makes matters worse for Bruce when she agrees to turn him in, thinking it's to protect him. She arranges it with Major Talbot, and takes Bruce to a diner where, just as he discovers he can control his transformations (almost losing his cool with a father who hits his son in the diner), he's hit with a dart. Betty quickly realizes her mistake as she and Bruce are transported back to the city in separate helicopters, which she realizes are not military. Talbot has sold out too. And as soon as Bruce regains consciousness and gets wind of what's happening, and sees Betty struggling with the Major in the other helicopter, all hell breaks loose. The Hulk comes out, tearing one chopper to shreds and jumping to the other as the first crashes and burns. Clinging to the outside of the chopper, Hulk rips through the windshield to retrieve Betty, baling out as the chopper crashes into a building in San Francisco, falling a hundred feet to the ground and batting away debris as it rains down without getting so much as a scratch. But despite his heroic efforts and his motivation of self-preservation, the army arrives to take him out, Apache helicopters chasing him through the city and back to Berkley, where he is ultimately knocked out and captured when he gets cornered in the Greek theater.
Hulk / Banner is taken deep underground, his new home in the bowels of a military base designed with thick enough walls to endure a nuclear blast. Despite Betty's pleas, General Ross has no intention of letting his daughter see Bruce, and every intention of keeping him here until he receives orders to the contrary. But little does he know, the powers that be, those who outrank him, have more devious plans. Bruce has immediate company in his new quarters, a scientist named Meleck, working for the government, intent on studying Bruce's condition. Banner doesn't want his work, or his condition studied, convinced that what he's done is "unleash a force by which one man can destroy a city with his bare hands." But as Meleck puts it, "Exactly. We're the United States Army. We'd like to see more." Meanwhile, Sterns and Creel break into a Nuclear Power Station, the only place Sterns can find enough power to run the Gammasphere again in order to correct the damage done to his body. He's dying, despite his "gift", and he wants the best of both worlds, to keep his newfound abilities and his life. He needs Bruce to pull it off, though, and gets ahold of Betty, tasking her with getting Bruce to the nuclear station, the only way to reverse the process and save both Banner and himself. She doesn't have to get very pro-active to get started, it's only a matter of time before Bruce gets pissed, and becomes the Hulk again. Despite the ominous setup of just how reinforced the walls are and how many tanks, guns and armed soldiers are in place to stop him, the Hulk makes his escape to the desert above, taking out some tanks, helicopters and walls in the meantime. Betty is the only one who manages to follow him as he bounds across the desert, after she commandeers a Humvee. She tracks down Bruce, together the speed back to the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge, after a small adventure at the toll both and once the Hulk gets rid of a couple of rather inconvenient cops on their tail (further evidence that Bruce can now control the Hulk, call on him only when he needs him).
They reach the power plant, and Bruce gets strapped down for the procedure, still trying to figure out how Sterns is going to pull things off, there just doesn't seem to be enough power to do what he's proposing, to revert the process. Sterns can only insist that in his new heightened state of intelligence, he's got it all figured out. But Bruce was right to be suspicious, Sterns hasn't got enough power, and by the time the procedure is initiated, his former team leader's confession may come too late to do anything about. He intends to create a meltdown, the only way to generate the power he needs. He still insists the process will work, but undoubtedly it will cause the death of thousands. Well, needless to say, the Hulk comes out, and first must battle the mindless, seemingly unstoppable Creel, fighting their way to the reactor core, where Creel becomes further mutated by the intense heat and radiation, growing as big and strong as the Hulk himself, but made of iron. The battle ends there, with Hulk shoving Creel head-first into the reactor core. Meanwhile, Sterns is preparing for his salvation, and Betty can only watch. But Bruce shows up at the last minute, and changes the sequence in the computer. Instead of reversing the process and making him stronger, the Gamma Rays rip through Sterns, and he explodes into a "miniature star-shower". Problem, the nuclear reaction can't be stopped, but Bruce isn't about to let thousands die. He says his goodbyes to Betty, sends her to safety, and lets the Hulk out to face the core. As San Francisco shakes and rumbles, Alcatraz crumbling and the Golden Gate Bridge collapsing, the Hulk smashes at the rods in the reactor core, finally and desperately ripping out the core assembly itself and burying it deep into the bedrock with all his strength. The imminent explosion becomes an implosion and the city is saved, but the power plant and presumably the Hulk are destroyed.
The story ends with Betty grief stricken, but watching reports on television -- eyewitnesses of the events of days past. And the sightings continue into New Mexico, where a Woman claims her life was saved by a giant green man after she had a car accident. Hayter opens the script with this scene, a car crashing, an off-screen Hulk rescuing the trapped occupant. He brings it back here, and also revisits a clue left earlier in the script, Bruce's wallet, left at the scene of the accident, visible on the television interview . When Betty sees it on TV, she knows this sighting is real, and Bruce is alive. The script ends in traditional Hulk fashion with Bruce hitchhiking down a lonely highway.
There were a lot of mixed reviews of Ang Lee's Hulk this year. For every comic book fan and movie critic that raved it was the best thing to happen to superhero movies in years, just as many yawned at it, unsatisfied. It's fun to read about and speculate on what could have been, but I'm convinced the Hayter script wouldn't have made any better a movie. There were elements to it that worked far better, like the ending, the characters used, the bookend scenes in New Mexico... I couldn't tell you how faithful it is to the comic book origins, not being well versed in Hulk history. I can say that the script that was never used still suffers from a lot of the problems that many people had with the movie. The Hulk, for instance, doesn't even appear in his full glory until around page 57, a full half-way through the story. The scale of the action in Hayter's rewrite is about a quarter of what ended up in the movie, save for the ending, which is really the biggest loss. It would have been great to see the effects of the nuclear meltdown on screen. I'm not sure what's to blame, if every attempt at adapting The Hulk to film is trying too include too much from a different medium, or if it's not using enough of the successful material from the comic book. Between this draft, the Hulk shooting script and the final cut of the film, I don't think there's really been a level of success reached in terms of making a movie that will really please a wide audience. Certainly not to the same degree Spider-Man and X-Men accomplished the transition to the screen. Hayter's rewrite of Michael France and John Thurman was different, and like-minded fans may have much preferred his take, but it was no closer to pleasing everyone than the Hulk on screen in 2003.
Hayter is next taking a break from writing to executive produce The Bad Guy for Paramount Pictures. Michael Tolkin has done writing for Dawn of the Dead and The Punisher. John Turman is writing Iron Fist (starring Ray Park). Michael France also worked on the screenplay for The Punisher, and is now writing the story for Fantastic Four.