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DVD Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Blu-ray)
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HBHellboy II: The Golden Army
Blu-ray Edition
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss
Universal Home Entertainment
Release date: November 11, 2008

When looking at visionary director Guillermo del Toro’s film versions of Mike Mignola‘s Hellboy, it important to remember one key point — this ISN’T the same Hellboy universe that Mignola created being put onto film. It differs in tone, story, and execution, and that’s not a disservice to the world that Mignola has created; in fact, it’s at his insistence. You see, one stipulation to Mignola allowing the Hellboy character to be used in different mediums is that each medium stand on its own as a different version of Hellboy. That means that the comic differs from the animated movies, and the animated movies differ from the live-action films. Certain key points remain the same: Hellboy is a demon summoned to Earth to bring about its destruction, he denounces his “destiny” and works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, and he is friends and partners at the B.P.R.D. with the fire starter Liz Sherman and the amphibious Abe Sapien.

But from that point on, the three different sets of tales shift. And so it is only with the ability to divorce oneself from the masterful comics that Mignola has crafted that one is truly able to enjoy the other versions of Hellboy being presented.

I love Guillermo del Toro’s work as a director. I thought that Mimic was moody and effective, if a bit flawed. The brilliant The Devil’s Backbone is the only modern horror film to genuinely creep me out. The first Hellboy film, while flawed, presented this fantastical world with such sincerity that it was easy to overlook the flaws. And then del Toro released Pan’s Labyrinth, easily one of the most visionary, ambitious, beautiful, and haunting films of the past 30 years. It is my opinion that, in generations to come, this film will be looked at as one of the most astonishing cinematic accomplishments of all-time.

But we’re here to discuss the Blu-ray release of Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Is it Pan’s Labyrinth? No. Nothing is, or could be. In some ways, following that masterful film hurt HB2. Expectations upon del Toro where just too high to deliver something akin to what he’d just done. But what people failed to realize is the emotional toll a movie like that has on a director. To take HB2 in that same directions would have ruined the film. All of the fun, playful energy that Ron Perlman brings to Hellboy would have been lost. So it is my opinion that del Toro used HB2 to cleanse his pallet of the heaviness of Pan’s Labyrinth. Scenes like Hellboy’s encounter with Johann in the locker room, or the infamous Barry Manilow scene are testaments to this.

I didn’t have the chance to catch this film in the theater. The high price of tickets, a babysitter for the kids, and dealing with increasingly inconsiderate filmgoers tends to keep the wife and I away from the theater these days. Besides, with a large screen plasma and a Blu-ray player, there isn’t much reason for us to leave the house to truly enjoy a film anymore. So I got to go into the movie fresh. Did it work for me? Yes. I can happily say that I loved it. Ron Perlman once again perfectly captured the slightly immature, but bighearted hero. He is constantly torn between his sense of duty, his love of Liz, his immature, self tendencies, and his desire to be accepted. Of course, this conflict isn’t played heavy — if anything, it’s used as comedy fodder. And it works because of Perlman. Hellboy was the character he was born to play and it fits him like a big, red glove.

I’m not going to launch into a review of the plot of the film as that’s been done in countless places since the theatrical release of the film. There are fantastical creatures out there and Hellboy has to save the world from there. There, now you’re up to speed. The details merely add to the fun.

There are two important changes from HB1 to HB2 – the expanded role that Abe gets to play and the addition of Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame). Abe is central to the plot of the film, driving it forward. Johann is merely there to add another element to the B.P.R.D. team and to put a thorn in Hellboy’s paw — he creates some fun character moments for the big red lug. It’s great to see Abe have an expanded role. He’s a terrific character who still isn’t used to his full potential, but who is nicely built upon in this film. And since Doug Jones‘ terrific voice work for the character in the animated films, it’s extremely nice to hear him reprise the role he so expertly embodies with his deft physicality.

One of the many strengths that del Toro brings to his films is his ability to almost invisibly blend special effects into his stories, and HB2 is no exception. From the elemental plant god to the Troll Market to the Golden Army itself, the effects never delve into the “look what we can do” effects of so many other films — they simply serve the story. And in that, they strengthen it and make themselves more believable. Eat your heart out, George Lucas. The veritable cornucopia of creatures on display throughout the film dazzles. If it wouldn’t have driven my wife insane, I would have paused the Troll Market sequence and gone frame by frame just so I could see the brilliant make-up, set dressing, and effects work on display.

Special Features

No Blu-ray review would be complete without a thorough look at the Special Features. After the wide array of special features on the HB1 DVD, I was expecting the same, if not more, here. And thankfully, once again, del Toro and company do not disappoint.

By far my favorite feature was the Troll Market Tour led by del Toro himself. Hearing him speak is to know what having a true love of the art of filmmaking is. The depth to which he and his art department went in creating the troll market is astounding. The background details that you’ll NEVER see when viewing the film simply boggle the mind. But without them, the scene would have never sold the way it did. And it’s that attention to detail that makes del Toro such a visionary.

The deleted scenes feature, on the other hand, falls a little flat. We’re only presented with a handful a scenes, each a small character moment. When viewed without the commentary, it’s hard to see what the scenes would have been cut. But with the commentary by del Toro on, we learn that each and every scene (save for the “Big Baby Montage”) was cut because of “˜tempo’. What I gathered from this was that everyone felt the movie was running long as it was, so the smaller character moments had to go. While this feature was fine, I would have preferred to see a wider array of deleted scenes.

One of the cooler features is the animated comic epilogue written by Mignola. While the art isn’t typical Hellboy fare, it serves its purpose well enough. But what’s cool about the epilogue is that it hints at some really cool things to come with we ever get a Hellboy 3 — namely, the return of Rasputin and a giant robot infused with the head of Korenen.

Another cool feature is the storyboard to finished sequence comparison of the Puppet Theater sequence. Here we get to see Mignola’s terrific designs come to life in this ingenious way to tell the back story of the Golden Army. According to del Toro’s introduction, it was originally intended to be a full live-action sequence. But budgetary constraints forced del Toro to re-evaluate how the sequence would be created. The outcome is pure del Toro magic!

There’s another interesting feature where you can go through the film, capture frames from the movie, and create your own comic with them. I’m talking panel layouts, captions, the whole nine yards. After you’re finished you can upload and share your comic creation with others. This proved to be a fun little distraction for a while. I found myself really enjoying searching for the perfect frame to capture. While it’s little more than a silly distraction, it’s a cool addition to the package as a whole.

On the 2nd disc is the Making Of”¦ documentary Hellboy II: In Service of the Demon. Just like the Making Of”¦ documentary from the first film, we get insights in the production from the actors, del Toro, Mignola, and various members of the crew. If you enjoy the art of filmmaking at all, you should love this. It offers insight into the mind and process of del Toro which alone is worth the price of admission for me.

At this point in the release of Blu-ray discs, there isn’t much point in discussing the sound or picture quality. Both are, as usual, top-notch. It’s really only worth discussing those things on Blu-ray releases of older films. With newer films such as this, the transfers are impeccable.

What these reviews come down to are simply this — is it worth your hard-earned money to buy this Blu-ray release? I think so. If you’re a fan of del Toro, or the first Hellboy film, or dark fantasy, or fantastical characters and set pieces and sequences, then this movie does not disappoint. So pick it up, pop it in, and forget everything going on in your life for 2 hours. If you do, you’ll have a blast.

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