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Our review of Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Blu-Ray), published November 10th, 2008, is also available.
"World, here I come."—Hellboy
Hellboy II: The Golden Army springs from the imagination of Guillermo del Toro fully formed with its own unique vision and style marking the meeting of the superhero genre with fantastic fairy tale. The film serves as the director's follow-up project to the amazing and critically lauded Pan's Labyrinth, and his passion for the big red demon seems to run just as high. There is nothing like this in the superhero world, and too bad the release was timed right around the arrival of the far more traditional The Dark Knight and The Incredible Hulk. This is more Lord of the Rings rather than Superman, and it's all dark and twisted like a grim fairy tale brought to life with an amazing blend of practical and CGI moments. In this review we look at the "three disc" Hellboy II: The Golden Army: 3-Disc Collector's Set, which might be just the first in a string of collector's editions if the last film gives us any indication of how many times the studio can dip at this well. Yet no worries, because this three disc set has plenty of material to keep fans satisfied until some mysterious director's cut or ultimate collection arrives.
Facts of the Case
Hellboy II: The Golden Army frees del Toro from having to establish the characters, and deals with an adventure that promises plenty of action sequences mixed with pure fantasy. A grudge match erupts between the human world and mythical beasts, all led by an evil elf named Prince Nuada (Luke Goss, Blade II). He wants to summon a legendary army of mechanical soldiers known as the golden army, which could destroy man's civilization, but he needs three separate crown pieces to do this. Trying to stop him is his twin sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton, Vampire Diary), who owns the final piece he'll need. Of course, Hellboy (Ron Perlman, Blade II) and his fellow members of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense have to take on the dark forces that threaten humanity. They decide to help the princess and fight her brother, but the temptation for them is to get back at the society that has shunned them. Back from the first film we get Hellboy's girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair, A Dirty Shame) and fish man sidekick Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, Men in Black II), but there are some new additions as well. Johann Krauss (physically acted by James Dodd, Layer Cake and voiced by Seth McFarlane, Family Guy) is an ectoplasmic "by the book" agent in a smoke filled work suit, and Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development) provides the human bureaucratic direction. The team has to take on tooth fairies, forest gods, and the urge to join the monsters in destroying the human race. It's an adventure that takes them through New Jersey, New York City, an underground troll market, Ireland, and countless underground chambers where creatures hide.
Guillermo del Toro developed this continuation with Hellboy's comic creator Mike Mignola, so the film feels true to the source material even if it is a different animal removed from the graphic novel plot lines that formed the first film. What works best here is the exposition was handled by Hellboy's first installment, and you can feel the director's freedom to open up the sequel to incorporate more of his vision of what he wants from the franchise. The action sequences are much more elaborate, the creatures are far more varied, and there is a dark beauty to every single shot that is a signature of Guillermo. Filmmakers that dabble in CGI adventure should take note, because Hellboy II: The Golden Army finds the right balance of practical and CGI effects to create a world that is both physically convincing and has weight and drama for viewers. Guillermo del Toro passed up the chance to direct Halo, I Am Legend, One Missed Call, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to do this sequel. It's a labor of love for him, and it shows in every frame.
The cast is also extremely committed to the film, and good thing most of the original crew is back. Ron Perlman turned down a role in Dragonball, and found himself working out four to five hours every day to get back in the full body red makeup of Hellboy. His performance is surprisingly believable, and easily one of the best superhero portrayals committed to celluloid. Selma Blair is back as Liz the girlfriend, and this round her fire color has changed since she has embraced her powers. Blair provides the right sass and spunk to play off Perlman. Doug Jones continues his character of the fish inspired Abe Sapien, and in the sequel he also gets to do the voice which is a nice move. Abe gets more to do this time, and he adds a lot to the film. The only actor not returning from the original is Rupert Evans (Agent John Myers) who had a scheduling conflict that prevented him from doing this film. He is replaced by Jeffrey Tambour, which works fine in the world of the sequel where the humans just don't seem to be anything other than interchangeable. Also new to the franchise is Seth McFarlane, who is a gas literally and figuratively as Johann Strauss, a being made of mist. Luke Goss and Anna Walton get to play twin elves around whom all the action centers.
Technically the DVD does not disappoint in terms of audio or visual presentation. The five channel Dolby Digital surround track is as active as they come with bullets and fairies whizzing by from speaker to speaker. Dialogue is presented as well as the bombast, and Danny Elfman's score sounds sumptuous and fully realized. The visuals are artifact free without scratches or dirt, and a delicate color palette is executed beautifully. Certainly preparation for a simultaneous HD release probably helped to insure that we get a stunning DVD transfer as well.
The amount of extras found on the set is dizzying, and even the director states on the start of the second disc that his intention is to show the viewer every aspect that went in to making the film. For young aspiring filmmakers this is a chance to take a course in Superhero Fantasy 101, and for the rest of us it will make you feel like you were a part of the crew before it is all done with. Here is a breakdown of everything you get inside Hellboy II: The Golden Army: 3-Disc Collector's Set:
In the box
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are three versions of the DVD set already floating around on this first release date, including a single disc and a three disc set in addition to this collector's edition. The only difference between this one and the three disc set is the inclusion of the booklet and the toy, which might separate this version only for the hardcore faithful who want the swag in addition to everything else. The toy and the book are fun, but they don't add much in the grand scheme of things. I could see consumers going either way on this one, and the real get is all the extras including the extensive documentary and the commentaries.
What's up with all these "three disc" collector's editions, which is really code for "we included a digital copy for you on a separate disc"? It's misleading, since that third disc is nothing more than a compressed file for your iPod, which savvy computer users already know how to create on their own. To add insult to injury, this one warns that it might expire in October of 2009, meaning you have less than a year possibly to get any use out of it. What is this? Didn't anybody learn anything from DIVX?
Including the journal and the Golden Army figurine, Hellboy II: The Golden Army: 3-Disc Collector's Set is the most exhaustive form of the sequel to be found on DVD. Fans of the franchise will definitely want to pick this up, and the less faithful among the Hellboy legions may settle for the single disc or three disc set. It's an amazingly well done flick, so you can't lose no matter how you slice it. Hellboy II: The Golden Army may not have made the box office of Iron Man or The Dark Knight, but it is certainly just as spectacular and inventive. You gotta love the effort and passion put in to this film, and it shows in every frame. Bring on part three already!
Guilty of being a great time and the template for how to do a convincing CGI
fantasy. Hellboy is free to go on singing the hits of Barry Manilow!
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• Printed Production Journal and Mini-Poster
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