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"We may be dealing with something larger here."—Professor Broom
Normally, animated series coming in the wake of popular films are a bad time investment. They have cheap animation, bad voice actors, and a production team more interested in cashing in than remaining true to the source material. Looking over the production credits for Hellboy: Blood and Iron, though, it's easy to get enthusiastic. The talent is here, and the quality shines through as a result.
Facts of the Case
A wealthy businessman just acquired a massive (and reputedly haunted) estate. Before opening it to the public as a haunted tourist location, he calls in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) to get some additional publicity for his brochure. While the bureau's director wants to send in some unimportant agents, Professor Broom (John Hurt, V For Vendetta) decides to take the big crew, and come along for the ride. He has a hunch about this one. When they arrive, the crew discovers that the house is indeed haunted, but there is something much darker lurking below, something that even Hellboy may not be able to face.
It's rare to find an animated spin-off series that involves much of the talent from the original live-action source. Here, Hellboy comic book author Mike Mignola and Hellboy film director Guillermo Del Toro are on board as executive producers. The story is pulled from the original comic series. The main voice actors are involved as well. Hellboy is voiced by Ron Perlman (Blade II); Selma Blair (The Fog) offers her voice as Hellboy's pyrokinetic sort-of love interest, Liz Sherman; and Doug Jones (Pan's Labyrinth) voices Hellboy's aquatic partner Abe Sapien (ironically, he was the man beneath the Abe prosthetics in the live-action movie, though Frazier's David Hyde Pierce provided the character's voice). A new team adapted and animated the story, but the tone of the film (and Mignola's comics) remains largely intact.
In some ways, Hellboy: Blood and Iron really does feel like a Saturday morning cartoon. The animation is full of shortcuts, but it's a far sight better than the cartoons I grew up watching in the 80s. The character designs are similar to those in the graphic novels, although the overall look is quite different. Mignola's Hellboy comics are noted for their inky blackness, high contrast, and vivid reds. The animated series doesn't look much like his art, which I do count a disappointment. The recently released The Amazing Screw-on Head is a better indication of what Hellboy animation should look like, though I'll gladly take this story over that one.
Indeed, the story is an improvement over the previous Hellboy animated feature, Sword of Storms. It's quite a bit edgier. A backstory involving a young Professor Broom enriches both the mythology of the series and the depth of the characters. The inter-dimensional Asian weirdness of Sword of Storms didn't gel with the largely European myths that Hellboy is built on. Blood and Iron's vampire story is much more familiar, with some werewolf lore and ancient god action tossed in for good measure. While it is rarely scary or suspenseful, the story maintains a breakneck pace, and the action sequences are uniformly excellent. Most of the joy comes from seeing the whole team leap into action this time, including a much more action-capable Abe Sapien. The only weak addition is a new team member who can detect metal -not the most useful skill when there's so much high tech equipment kicking around. Because Hellboy: Blood and Iron uses a suprisingly sophisticated and complex web of flashbacks, its storytelling style fascinates.
All in all, Hellboy: Blood and Iron is a worthwhile addition to the Hellboy franchise. I'm still most looking forward to Hellboy 2, but these animated features sate my appetite in the meantime. In the end, they are what they are. They aren't as richly drawn and imagined as the original Mignola graphic novels. They aren't as slick and cool as Del Toro's live action film. But they don't spit on the franchise that so many people have come to love and enjoy. They also haven't been dumbed down much for a younger audience. So long as your expectations are reasonable, there's enough enjoyment to be had here.
The technical presentation of this episode is strong, featuring a sharp anamorphic image, with no transfer flaws to be seen anywhere. The Dolby 5.1 sound transfer is also strong for a television source. The surrounds kick into action occasionally, and there is some solid bass content. Certainly, any limitations of the experience come from the animation itself, not the mastering of the DVD.
If it were for the episode alone, though, I'm not sure that Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron would be worth the price of DVD admission. The package has been heavily bulked up, though, as is expected with any DVD involving Del Toro. The best extra is a short comic book. It's not up to par with the original books, but it shows that interesting things are still happening with Hellboy over at Dark Horse. There are also plenty of extras on the disc. First up is a featurette that shows the flashback sequences in chronological order. The production featurette is also quite strong, revealing just how much involvement Mike Mignola had in the creative department. We also get a look at the first animated Hellboy short, a fun little action story called "Iron Shoes." Mignola introduces an E-comic version of "The Penanggalan," one of the short Hellboy comic stories. Finally, there's a commentary with Mignola and the feature's two directors, Tad Stones and Vic Cook. It's a good track, and they are realistic and critical about what's been created.
Thanks to a great DVD package, Hellboy: Blood and Iron is definitely worth checking out. While it doesn't represent the best this incredible franchise has to offer, it's much better than the first volume of the animated series, and comes with plenty of extras so we can all get our Hellboy fix while we wait for the arrival of the Golden Army next year, which can't come soon enough.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
• Hellboy Animated: The Yearning
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