Terror soars to new heights when David and a young boy must land an airplane after the flight crew is disabled.
With four regular episodes under their belt, plus the two pilot movies, The Incredible Hulk’s creators seemed to have stumbled upon a formula: “What would happen if the Hulk were in this location, which is the worst possible place for the Hulk to be?” Last week that location was Times Square, a hubbub of noise and people. Putting the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) in that chaos is a recipe for mayhem, and people would surely turn in to watch.
This week the concept goes entirely the other way–an airplane! I can hear their pitch now: “Trapped in a confined space thousands of miles in the air, there’s nowhere for people to escape the Hulk! Worse, with Hulk’s penchant for running through walls, he could depressurize the entire cabin and fall thousands of miles to his death! It’s The Hulk meets Airport ’75! Ratings gold, I tell ya!”
Either that or the same production crew who saw Rocky in 1977 and thought “Let’s make that an episode of The Hulk saw Airport ’75 two years prior and followed the same pattern.
Thus we have the next episode of The Incredible Hulk: 747.
David (Bill Bixby) is still looking for a cure for the Hulk and he has found an article about a radio-neurologist named Dr. Charles who has done some cutting edge research in gamma radiation. Charles is about to start a long lecture tour across Europe, and he is leaving that very day at 5 pm. The problem is Charles is in Chicago and David is in San Francisco! David says he’s going to fly out immediately, and I wonder why bother? Given the amount of work and research I can imagine will be needed to cure Hulkism I don’t think even the world’s smartest neuro-radiologist could fix David by 5.
Nonetheless, David takes Columbia Airlines Flight 14 from San Diego to Chicago. Of course, the plane is doomed. It is carrying Egyptian artifacts, and the flight’s stewardess Stephanie and pilot Captain Phil are plotting to steal the priceless artifacts and parachute out of the plane. They will drug the pilots for the heist, but the pilots will awaken to safely land the plane.
While the writers and producers were likely thinking Airport with this film, even using some footage from Airport for establishing shots of the airport and airplane, I couldn’t help but think of Airplane! as David pulls up and a voice announces “The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. No parking.”
The ties to Airport continue as we are introduced to the passengers on the plane: A first-time-flying shoe salesman Mr. Leggit, an elderly couple sitting next to David called Mr. and Mrs. MacIntire, and Kevin, a precocious boy traveling with his mother. The boy is played by Brandon Cruz, who played Eddie Corbett, the son of Bill Bixby’s character in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.
After takeoff the stewardess proceeds with her plans to drug the pilots, slipping a special drug in their coffee. But when Stephanie is looking away that rascally caffeine addict Mr. MacIntire swipes a cup of coffee, one with the drug in them. The nurse tries to retrieve the coffee by telling MacIntire there was medication in the coffee, and David is immediately suspicious. Panicked, Stephanie just throws a bottle of prescription drugs in another cup of coffee and proceeds to poison the pilots. Once the two other pilots are unconscious Stephanie and Phil are free to continue their plan. Were it not for David.
When Mr. MacIntire passes out from the drug, David performs a surreptitious medical exam, then interrogates Stephanie about what medicine was in the coffee. Stephanie gets flustered and, not trusting the stewardess, David demands to speak to the pilot. Phil comes out and, feigning concern, he leads David down to the cargo hold under the strained guise of looking for a medical kit. Phil tricks David into stepping inside a locker that supposedly has a medical kit inside. Phil locks David in the locker, then proceeds to loot the artifacts in plain sight of his captive.
These are some wonderfully stereotypical artifacts too! A gold head of a pharaoh, some gold bracelets, all valuable I’m sure. But David overhears not only the names of the looters but also that they plan to parachute into Fremont Pass. To prevent David from telling the authorities this information Phil decides to push David out of the plane. There’s no way he could have expected…
Hulk-Out #1: David transforms inside the crate, and while Phil cannot see the actual transformation it shouldn’t take a leap of logic for the pilot to realize only one person was in that locker a minute ago, ergo David must be the Hulk. Not that Phil has much time for reasoning when the Hulk comes at him. Phil goes for a gun and shoots, but misses Hulk, instead hitting a fuel line. Hulk throws the pilot towards the open hatch, and Phil almost falls out. Phil screams for help and the Hulk, always a hero, goes to help the thief but slips on the fuel and falls out the airlock! It actually is quite an exciting moment to wonder how the Hulk will survive a 30,000 foot fall, but at the last second he grabs onto the hatch with one hand. Phil tries to knock Hulk loose, but using his free hand Hulk flings the evildoer across the hold and, roaring, pulls himself back in.
We then get a very funny scene of Mr. Leggit going to use the bathroom, opening the wrong door and seeing the Hulk. It’s played quite well and the laugh provides tension relief from the intense fight we just had. Leggit’s attempts to convince Kevin, Kevin’s mother, and the stewardess that the Hulk is aboard continues the amusement.
Meanwhile Hulk then transforms back into David with the animated green glow, and now the glow covers not only David’s face but also his arm. The arm actually worked to good effect, but the face is still awful.
Leggit’s rants cause the other stewardess, Denise, to investigate the hold and she finds David dressing himself with clothes found in the luggage. David tells Denise of the planned heist, which Denise of course doesn’t believe. Seeing pilot Phil unconscious on the ground she is more suspicious of David than her co-workers. She asks David what he hit the captain with and David, reaching, says “we’re in the hold, I hit him with whatever I could!” It’s quite a funny evasion.
But with Phil to reassure her that the heist would work the already skittish Stephanie cracks. She backs up David’s story, confessing her story to Denise, and tells David which medicine she used to knock out the pilots. Ever the doctor, David realizes the dosage she used was so strong the pilots will never awaken in time to land the plane. Worse, with the fuel leak, they cannot stay airborne…and there’s no one aboard who can land the plane! Denise and David radio the flight tower, who responds saying the plane needs to land in Denver–even if there are no pilots! They will walk David through the steps involved in landing the plane. Why David? Because he’s the star of the show, I suppose. In the 70’s perhaps it was still unthinkable that a woman could land a plane, even if Denise would be more familiar with a cockpit than David. And despite there being 100 other people on the plane, David was there first, so he must land the plane!
Fortunately he does have help. Denise and David hope an experienced pilot may be among the passengers, but they don’t want to cause a panic, so they make an announcement offering experienced pilots a tour of the cockpit. There are no experienced pilots, but Kevin comes up as he wants to be a pilot when he grows up. As Kevin’s father has a private jet he is the passenger most familiar with airplane instrumentation stays in the cockpit, helping David find the controls and instrumentation. Meanwhile Denise recruits Stephanie to come back to the light side and help prepare the passengers for a crash landing in the hopes that Stephanie’s recklessness didn’t kill them all.
Now I want to say that thanks to Airplane!, Snakes on a Plane and countless other movies and TV series this trope of an untrained layperson landing a plane has become a cliche, but back in 1978 this still would have been fairly novel. And while it may have recalled scenes from Airport ’75, that film didn’t commit to this plot line–Hulk does.
The landing goes fairly smoothly with David keeping his cool, but during the landing it’s found that the plane is leaking hydraulic fluid as well and David can’t pull back the yoke. Even with Denise pulling the stick won’t move, and the yelling by the ground control crew push David past the edge. At the last second David orders Denise and Kevin to leave the cockpit and we get
Hulk-Out #2: This ranks as one of the most inventive Hulk-Outs of the whole series. David needs to keep control to land the plane–if he transforms fully the plane will crash and they all die. So we see Bixby, face panted green, in partial transform. This is proof of something important–David can control his metamorphosis. It may take training and practice, but because it matters and he’s focused here David stays in mid-transformation for the entire landing, using the strength of the Hulk to pull the yoke but keeping some of David’s intelligence as well to stay in control.
It’s also a great coincidence that he’s talked through it by the ground crew on the radio. The air traffic controller, referring to the plane, keeps repeating the mantra “stay in control”, but that applies just as much to David’s control of his strong alter-ego.
Unfortunately David loses control just before the landing. Fully transformed, the Hulk follows the controller’s order to pull back the yoke saving the plane, but when the man on the radio asks Hulk to hit the brakes it just confuses the green Goliath.
As the plane is not slowing down on the runway Kevin knows something is amiss so he runs into the cabin to find Hulk. Kevin logically thinks David has left and Hulk came from…somewhere, but in mid-crash there’s no time for conversation. With Kevin’s instructions Hulk is able to push on the brakes. In a sweet moment, Kevin puts his hand on Hulk’s to pull back the throttle, and Kevin steers while Hulk brakes narrowly averting a total disaster.
With the plane landed and everyone safe the Hulk rages through the plane, not sure where to go and legitimizing Mr. Leggit’s rants. Finally Hulk knocks open a hatch and runs down the tarmac, knocking down a fence and racing to Denver.
As our episode ends, we see David calling Dr. Charles’ office to find that Charles has left for Europe, though he will be happy to see David when he returns. In three months.
Heartbroken, David dons a much heavier coat than he has in previous episodes (hey, it’s cold in Denver) and walks into town as The Lonely Man theme plays on.
While this episode repeats Final Round‘s idea of taking the plot of a hit movie and inserting the Hulk, 747 is a much better choice of movie to ape. A boxer versus the Hulk isn’t suspenseful, but the Hulk in the middle of a disaster film is! While the nefarious heist plot is a bit of a reach, I do like it better than something more violent than the plane being taken over by hijackers or just a random accident.
Plus in this episode Banner and Hulk’s relationship actually evolves. Now we have seen the Hulk is able to follow simple instructions, and David able to control his metamorphosis. It is a wonderful step that, if this series were airing today, could have been the first step on a journey of David gaining control of this new power. Unfortunately due to the nature of episodic television in the 70’s and 80’s characters were far more static, and such evolutions uncommon, so I don’t think this is the first step of David’s journey but merely a one-off occurrence that will not be referenced again for the rest of the series.
But no matter what the series has in store, this episode is the best to date. A solid recommend and I hope the quality can stay aloft as the shows continue!