Sony // 2004 // 122 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 16th, 2004
It took director Guillermo del Toro over six years to bring the Dark Horse comic character Hellboy to the screen. One of the more quirky superheroes, Hellboy's underground appeal was tested via the mainstream audience when Columbia TriStar released Hellboy in early 2004. A minor hit that garnered critical reviews across the board, Hellboy is back from the dark underworld on DVD in a two-disc special edition.
In late World War II the Nazis -- cinema's most counted on villains to always be...well, really evil -- decide to open a portal to the dark side and summon the Seven Gods of Chaos (giant slimy creatures hovering in space inside enormous crystals), led by Hitler's psychic, Grigori Rasputin (Karl Roden) and a gas-masked "thing" named Korenen. U.S. soldiers and Prof. Bruttenholm, President Roosevelt's personal psychic (apparently it was all the rage to have a personal psychic back then), quickly thwart the Nazi's plans, though not before someone -- or "something" -- crawls out from the other side. What Bruttenholm and the soldiers find is a horned baby devil that they affectionately refer to as "Hellboy."
Flash forward decades later and Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has become our best defense against the forces of evil. Prof. Bruttenholm (John Hurt) has become a father figure to Hellboy, a red behemoth who loves cats, has a penchant for beer and pancakes and, despite his grotesque appearance, is a real softie at heart. Hellboy works for a special branch of the FBI dealing with paranormal activity. Fitting, since that's exactly what Hellboy is. His coworkers include Liz Sherman (Selma Blair, The Sweetest Thing), a woman who can start fires, and a fishlike alien named Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, voiced by David Hyde-Pierce). When Rasputin returns from the dead to continue his quest to bring about the Seven Gods of Chaos, it's up to Hellboy and his buddies to stop the historical madman before Rasputin ushers in the end of the world.
I'm not what you'd call a true "comic book fan," and yet I know more about comic books than most, due mostly to having a twin brother (yes, there are two of me running around out there) who is a fervent fan of everything superhero. Because of him, I know who the Watchmen are, I've paged through The Savage Dragon, and I know that Superman not only died, but also died in about six-dozen different editions that now fetch astonishing prices on eBay. When I heard that creator Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" would be coming to the screen, I actually got a bit giddy. It wasn't because I was familiar with the stories or the characters -- I just knew what the character of Hellboy looked like and couldn't imagine how they'd ever bring such a weird creation to the silver screen.
And then I saw Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy, and I understood everything.
Hellboy is one of the best comic book movies to be released in over a decade. It's a dazzling, horrific, funny, exhilarating ride that features large guns, even bigger beasties, and a heroic devil who likes pancakes and kitties. To say that Hellboy is an oddity is an understatement. Though the film shares similarities with such franchises as Batman and Superman, Hellboy is one of the most unique creations in the realm of superheroes. He simply cannot be categorized.
Ron Perlman, a character actor who has finally been given a chance to shine, quite literally is Hellboy. I can't imagine any other actor in the part. All square jaw and chomping cigar, Perlman brings a rare humanity to a character who is...well, not really human. Perlman's delivery of such patented lines as "Aww, crap" and "Mmmm, nachos" infuse the character with more zest than someone like Bruce Wayne/Batman or Clark Kent/Superman. Come to think of it, Hellboy is thus far one of the most three-dimensional and downright likable comic book characters to come along for some time.
Perlman is supported by actors who may not be instantly recognizable yet fit their respective parts to a tee. Mignola has said that John Hurt (who plays Hellboy's mentor father figure) looks most like his comic book counterpart. Hurt brings a certain dignity to the film with his worn eyes and Doc Brown-like hair. The attractive Selma Blair's character, Liz Sherman, feels slightly underwritten in comparison to the rest of the film (she only seems to be around as a love interest and nothing more), yet Blair brings pathos to the character that mixes well with Perlman's gruffness. Doug Jones (body) and David Hyde Pierce (voice) give a human quality to Abe Sapien, the webbed, slimy blue mutant who can see into the past by touching any object. Even the film's token human character, played well by Rupert Evans, finds his niche -- instead of being completely bland, the character of John Myers actually ends up as endearing.
I'm not sure as I always followed Hellboy. Was it aliens inside a crystal looking to take over the world via Rasputin's mechanical hand? No matter, as Hellboy is still an enjoyable action flick, even when I was slightly confused by all the geeky sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Director del Toro stages multiple action sequences, the best of which involve Hellboy's conflict with Sammael, a large Lovecraftian-like demon who looks like a cross between a giant gecko, a schnauzer, and an octopus.
Hellboy went on to generate good, if not great, box office returns. Del Toro truly understands the character of Hellboy and his respective universe. The action sequences are filled with well-constructed CGI set pieces, but never so much that it became cartoonish or silly. The film is a true wonder to behold, and a rare one that deserves a sequel. Let's hope all the principal cast members -- as well as director del Toro -- revisit this character for years to come. Recommended.
Hellboy is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. You won't be crying "aww, crap" when you see how nice this transfer looks. Columbia has done an awesome job of making sure this picture is in excellent shape. The flesh tones are accurately represented with Hellboy's red skin tones shining clearly on screen. The colors and black levels are all solidly rendered. There isn't any major defect in this picture -- grain, dirt, and other imperfections are noticeably missing. Overall, this is a great looking transfer with hardly a flaw to be found.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Much like the video presentation, Hellboy's 5.1 mix is a superb listen. There are multiple directional effects present in this track, all of which rumble and crash through both the front and rear speakers. In fact, the entire sound system is fully engaged throughout the film, especially during the final fight with Hellboy and his nemesis. Also included on this set are English and French subtitles.
Although it's well known Columbia and del Toro will be releasing an even bigger Hellboy set later in the year, this two-disc set is no slouch. Here's a rundown of what's been included on this set:
Disc one starts off with a video introduction by del Toro, which is brief and fairly pointless. Two commentary tracks are provided: the first is with creator/co-producer Mike Mignola and director/writer Guillermo del Toro, and the second features cast members Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, and Rupert Evans. Both of these commentary tracks provide viewers with a wealth of information on the film -- from casting choices to special effects to character ideas and beyond, fans of both the film and comic book character will want to sit down and listen to both of these tracks.
Next up are some Branching DVD Comics that are an on-screen look at various characters and ideas from the film, including: "Abe Sapien," "The Samaritan," "Pancakes," "Hellboy's Belt: The Talisman," "Hellboy's Scrapbook," "Rasputin: A Short Bio," and "Kroenen." A Storyboard Track included a picture-in-picture look at the storyboards for the film and the finished product. "The Right Hand of Doom" Set Visits is a way viewers can visit the set for various scenes in the film. Eight different featurettes are included, and the option of either watching these as the film plays or in a row is available.
Closing out Disc One, there is "From The Den," which includes short films and cartoons that Hellboy recommends (including "Gerald McBoing Boing" and others), as well as DVD-ROM features like a printable screenplay, the script supervisor's notebook, and excerpts from del Toro's director notebook.
Disc Two is where the meat of the supplements is featured. On this disc, you'll find various menus and submenus for the features. Starting off the disc is a rather boring introduction by Selma Blair.
Moving on to the menu, "The Egg Chamber" is a massive two-plus hour documentary on the making of Hellboy titled "The Seeds of Creation." This is a comprehensive documentary to say the least: everything from set production to special effects to character ideas to Mingola's original comic book are covered, and a whole lot more. Interviews with principals like Perlman, Blair, Evans, Del Toro, Mignola, and a whole lot more are included in this documentary, as well as behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot, the make-up chair, the initial meetings, and even though I didn't see it, I'm sure there's even footage of del Toro on the john. Yes, this doc includes that much stuff. Fans of the film will be more than happy with how exhaustive this feature is.
Also included in "The Egg Chamber" are a few deleted scenes presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (none of them would have added much to the final film), as well as filmographies and biographies on the cast and crew of Hellboy.
Moving on, "Korenen's Lair" is a batch of production items. Four animatics are included ("Hellboy & Sammeal: West Side Highway," "Hellboy & Sammeal Subway," "Hellboy and Abe: Underwater Chamber," and "Behemoth"), as well as five Board-A-Animatics ("BPRD Lift," "Bellamie Hospital," "The Bridge," "Hellboy Rooftop," and "Supported Beam Tunnel") and some Storyboard Comparisons ("Ragnarok," "Machen Library," "Hellboy & Sammeal: Subway," and "The Corpse"). The final item is a scene progression for Ogdru Jahad, the giant alien who is threatening to destroy earth.
Under a third menu (without a clever title) is a Maquette Video Gallery, which is basically footage of various models for various characters, including a Baby Hellboy, Sammeal, Ogdru Jahad, The Corpse, Abe Sapien, and the main baddie Behemoth.
One of the last sections is titled "Bellamie Hospital," which is mostly a gallery for promotional items. Under this menu you'll find various theatrical trailers, teasers, and TV spots; print related materials (posters, the final promo campaign, etcetera); and a few previews for other Columbia titles.
Finally, a weblink will take you to a website featuring various Hellboy merchandise.
Hellboy is definitely one of the better superhero/comic book movies to come along in the past decade. This two-disc set is mammoth and should take viewers multiple hours to wade through. You should be able to find this set for under 25 bucks, and it's well worth it.
Hellboy is freakishly good stuff!
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2004 Nominee
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Two Commentary Tracks
* Branching DVD Comics
* Storyboard Track
* "The Right Hand of Doom" Set Visits
* "From The Den": Hellboy Recommends
* "Hellboy: Seeds of Creation" Documentary
* Three Deleted Scenes
* Storyboard Comparisons
* Scene Progression
* Theatrical Trailer
* Teaser Trailer
* TV Spots
* Poster Explorations
* Final Campaign
* Maquette 3D Character Video Gallery
* Filmographies and Character Biographies
* Official Site