Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron (US - DVD R1)
Gabe goes on another animated adventure with the stone handed man
When Hellboy, Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien are assigned to investigate the ghost-infested mansion of a publicity-hound billionaire, they uncover a plot to resurrect a beautiful yet monstrous vampire from Professor Broom’s past. The BPRD agents will fight hard to destroy the evil Hungarian Blood Countess, harpies, hellhounds, a giant werewolf and even a ferocious goddess, to stop Erzsebet's plan of rebirth, and free the souls of the damned.
When I reviewed the first Hellboy Animated I said it was good but suffered from what appeared to be growing pains. Pretty much every decent to great animated series ever made is weakest at its outset. I was willing to cut slack, and I was happy to know that the cast and crew was hard at work on another chapter in what is meant to be an ongoing series of STV films.
I was right. Blood and Iron isn't an exponential improvement on Sword of Storms, but it is another step in the right direction. Like Mike Mignola's comic, the creative team behind the series seems to be changing up the style of each story (though I suppose only two movies isn't quite enough to make a case on). Last time it was adventures in Japanese folklore, this time it's a trip to Europe, a slightly more familiar place for Westerners.
This time the story is a lot tighter, but in all fairness the first film had quite a bit of filler due to misunderstandings on run time available. Keeping the leads together seemingly simplifies things, but Tad Stones and Kevin Hopps challenge themselves by adding a rich series of flashbacks in the backwards style of Memento. Though according to the special features the script again ran twenty minutes short, and the flashbacks an afterthought, this time the filler is a lot more organic. It's pretty sophisticated for a made for TV animated film, but this isn't exactly kiddy stuff. Blood and Iron is a lot more violent and bloody than Sword of Storms was. I suppose it isn't possible to make a kid friendly film based on Elizabeth Bathoroy, but without getting too graphic they cover all the bases, including blood bathing, torture, and the murder of thousands of innocents.
As a little aside, I got this DVD in the mail the same weekend I got BCI's release of Paul Naschy's Vengeance of the Zombies, and I almost watched the films back to back. If I had I would've ended up watching different versions of the same story in a row. Both films feature the rebirth of a mythical representation of Elizabeth Bathoroy in modern times. Just though I'd share that.
The audience is expected to know these characters, and that really is how it should be, we shouldn't need a recap every time our heroes take on a new adventure. In this universe, which is different from both the comic and live action film versions, Professor Broom is still alive, and this feature belongs to his character. Hellboy and his friends take a back seat in the overall story, but aren't exactly fodder either. Joyously the filmmakers got John Hurt to revise the character, and he's surrounded by an all-star voice cast, including the returning Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, and Peri Gilpin. A good script and great cast helps to smooth over some of the film's lesser animation.
This release looks a bit better than Sword of Storms, and appears to be a progressively flagged transfer. Animated edges are crisp without the usual edge enhancement, even though the line weight changes constantly. Colours are vibrant, and generally lack noise, with the noticeable exception of red, especially the hues used as shading on Hellboy himself, which are pretty distressing. It's too bad red is such a difficult colour to deal with, because these guys will have to continue to deal with it throughout other animation releases. The other most common hue, black, looks great, which goes a long way as this is a particularly dark episode. The general prettiness of the transfer gives away some of the more graceless animation (especially lower frame rates), so it's a bit of a double edges sword.
I don't have EX capabilities, but this Dolby Digital track was still more than enough to impress. When presenting low-budget animation as a serious feature film, a great soundtrack goes a long way. The surround channels here are lively, if moderately spaced. The score is a lovely take on Marco Beltrami's music used in Del Toro's live action version. The vocal work is great (though Selma Blair still doesn't sound like herself) and always crystal clear. The only thing I could ask for is a little more bass.
I was very impressed by the extras on Sword of Storms, and wondered where the producers could go on disc two. Not very surprisingly this disc features a slightly lesser collection of special features, but besides the previous releases' round table discussion (which was awesome), the two discs are pretty even.
Things start with the audio commentary, which features our two directors and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Tad Stones is the series leading force, and he fills in most of the commentary. Victor Cook interjects often enough, but Mingola kind of has to be forced to talk. Like the other commentary this one is full of self deprecation, and entertaining most of the way through.
Next up are two brief featurettes. The first is a quick compilation of the production, and includes a few words with live action film director and animation producer Guillermo del Toro. The other featurette is all about the Memento styled flashbacks. The admittance on the part of the filmmakers was a bit of a bummer for me personally, because I was hoping that I was the only reviewer that would say something about it in my review. Personal pride aside, the featurette is a little repetitive if you've already watched the commentary, but it's informative if you haven't.
Besides a bunch of trailers for other Starz releases, we get two shorts. The first is in the style of the animated series, and as Mignola tells us on his intro, mostly just an extended fight scene, but it's fun, as bonus animation usually is. The second short is a slightly animated comic, drawn in Mignola's style. It's a very creepy little story based on a very creepy Indian created mythical creature, the Penanggalan. This was cool for me because I had just learned about the creature myself in a book I was reading. Learn more about how icky the Penanggalan is by clicking this wiki-link.
One thing noticeably missing from the extras section of this DVD is the supposed follow up to the Sword of Storms featurette To Hell And Back: How Mike Mignola Created Hellboy (Part 1). The 'Part 1' led me to believe there would be a 'Part 2', and I wanted it. Maybe it was just a cruel joke.
Better than its predecessor, but still open to improvement, Blood and Iron is fine animated entertainment. It isn't quite adult yet, and doesn't blend the comic book and mature themes as well as the Timm/Dini DC series, but we're on the right track. The DVD is pretty much equal to the previous release, but seems to have misplaced an extra. I await more animated Hellboy adventure with a gleaming smile on my face. Hopefully these DVDs sell well.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 12th June 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish
Extras: Director/Writer Commentary, Tales From the Tomb, Reversal of Fortune: Professor Broom's Story, The Iron Shoes, E-Comic, Mini-Comic, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tad Stones, Victor Cook
Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Hurt and Peri Gilpin
Genre: Adventure and Animation
Length: 75 minutes
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