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Blu-ray Review: Planet Hulk

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The Marvel animated feature line is continuously growing as it explores the massive universe launched by the mind of Stan Lee. The more popular characters like Wolverine, Iron Man, and the Avengers have seen releases, though others such as Dr. Strange have gotten their fair shot as well. Many of these features are retellings of origins or adventures already put into print, and it's along those lines that their latest film draws its inspiration.

Planet Hulk is an animated retelling of the popular storyline from the Hulk's comic, which was also later turned into a successful graphic novel. For the most part it's pretty faithful to the original storyline and both newcomers and fans of the Hulk alike will be able to appreciate it. For this direct to video title, Lionsgate has opted for both standard definition DVD and Blu-ray disc releases. Before we get into the technical bits, let's talk about what Planet Hulk is all about.

The film opens rather abruptly with Hulk being launched into space by Iron Man and the other heroes. Basically he's just too darned uncontrollable and powerful for his own good and they officially kicked him off Earth. His new home is to be a lush, vegetated planet with plenty of game and nobody to hurt, so he can live out his days in peace not bothered by anyone; at least that "was" the plan. Things change, however, when Hulk breaks free from his shackles and smashes the spaceship, altering the plotted course into a wormhole and launching him to another part of the galaxy.

The event spits Hulk out onto a remote planet called Sakaar. He finds himself weakened by the journey and overpowered easily by the troops of a tyrant known as the Red King. Soon enough Hulk becomes a gladiator fighting for his life in an arena for sport along with some other local aliens. It's clear he's no ordinary combatant and naturally the big green machine puts on quite the show for the spectators and the king himself. He joins a brotherhood with the other gladiators, but for the most part he's really just out for himself.

Eventually it comes to bear that Hulk may just be the hero of prophecy who will either save the populace and restore the beauty of their world, or destroy it. Does he want to deal with that though? Wouldn't Hulk just prefer to beat the crap out of something? The way the film works in this storyline is handled perfectly. It's nicely balanced and the progression is paced so the pieces come together smoothly. It can feel a little heavy-handed at times, but overall it was nicely implemented.

From start to finish Planet Hulk is a nonstop action affair with all sorts of fight scenes and badass moments. The Hulk really tears it up here and because of the manner in which most of the fights are handled you don't necessarily know how it's going to end. The film does a good job of keeping you guessing and dropping breadcrumbs of prophecy along the way, so as a standalone piece it's quite good. In fact I'd argue that this is the best of the Marvel animated lineup. Everything just clicks and that is a testament to the original storyline. Whether you're a diehard fan of the Hulk or are simply familiar with the character, Planet Hulk kicks all kinds of ass and should be considered highly recommended.

On Blu-ray Planet Hulk receives an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The film is presented in 1080p with AVC-MPEG4 encoding. If you've been following the lineup of Marvel animated films then you undoubtedly know there's been some disappointment with the presentation quality. There's a lack of attention to detail in most cases and the quality of the animation generally isn't up to snuff. That's unfortunately the case here, and the 1080p presentation of the Blu-ray really highlights some of the problems with the picture.

For starters the color palette is rather subdued and nowhere near as vibrant as it should be. There's a lack of fine contrast and the picture just doesn't "pop" quite as much as it should. Adding to that is the fact that the motion is blurry and there are compression artifacts and banding within the characters. With that being said there are moments where these flaws are not as pervasive (for instance the backgrounds and CGI are spotless). The problems with this release lie entirely with the characters and animation, which is unfortunately a large part of the film. Overall it's not a terrible looking transfer, but it's nowhere near as good as it should have been for its 1080p presentation. In fact I'd say the high definition highlights some of the flaws.

Included on Planet Hulk is a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track for English (and 5.1 Dolby Digital track for Spanish). The quality of this track is mixed as well with dialogue ringing through loud and clear with fine directionality, but the action was kind of a letdown. The fights here are brutal and as such they should have overpowered the soundstage, however that's not necessarily the case. Some moments do filter through nicely, but others are drowned out by background noise such as the crowds, score, or ambient effects. Ultimately I'd say the balance of this track could have been shifted slightly to have given it more effect, though as it stands the quality is sharp enough and the use of channels is acceptable.

A slew of bonus features make their way onto this release. For starters a digital copy for your PC is included on the second disc, and there are a couple of music videos as well (Astonishing X-Men and Spider-Woman respectively). Other lighter features packed onto this disc include some trailers, two motion comics (again X-Men and Spider-Woman), a five minute preview for Thor: Tales of Asgard, and a very weak "Wolverine vs. Hulk" episode from Wolverine and the X-Men.

For the stuff that pertains to Planet Hulk we get two audio commentary tracks that are bother worth listening to. The first features Supervising Producer Joshua Fine and Screenwriter Greg Johnson talking about the production of the film. They go into a lot of detail about some of the stuff that made it into the final product as well as some of the pieces that were omitted. The second commentary features Director Sam Liu, Character Designer Philip Bourassa and Key Background Painter Steve Nicodemus. This track is more about the technical aspects of the film and offers a different perspective from the first commentary offering.

Aside from these commentary tracks two featurettes are offered here as well: "A Whole World of Hurt: The Making of Planet Hulk" and "Let the Smashing Commence! The Saga of Planet Hulk". In "World of Hurt" the team talks about the production of the film and we get some glimpses of the process. It's worth watching and nicely focused on the project as a whole. The second feature looks at the team that put together the comic book version of this tale and examines some of the artwork from that series.

Planet Hulk is a fun movie. It is fast-paced, full of action, appropriately dark, and the story keeps you strung along right to the end. Story-wise I'd say this is probably Marvel's best effort and it is the most entertaining of the animated line-up. With that being said the production of this film has some problems and it just doesn't look or sound as good as it should have. The audio fairs much better than the video, which is a shame considering this is the Blu-ray release. The solid list of bonus features is a welcome addition, however.

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