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The popular comic book comes to the screen at long last; can director Guillermo del Toro ( Mimic, Blade II) do the red devil with attitude justice? Read on to find out. But do be warned fellow readers; this here is not what I would call the most positive of review of a film that has been so leisurely adorned in the past. Tread with caution.

Hellboy
Film
After the success of Blade II, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s last picture, I was somewhat optimistic about him taking on the popular comic book entitled Hellboy. In the wake of such massively lucrative franchises as X-Men and Spider-Man and del Toro’s reputation as a stylistic filmmaker, I couldn’t wait to see this newborn comic franchise unfurl. Upon seeing the trailer, I knew that it wouldn’t be able to capture the same audience as some of its bigger brethren, but I remained enthusiastic. Ron Perlman looked awesome as the red-skinned hero and the visual chemistry Toro had seemingly woven into the very core of this film looked jaw dropping.

Sadly, I missed the film when it debuted in theatres and the only viewing of it I had was with this review copy DVD. Come to think of it, I am not in the least bit sad that I missed it at the cinema, and what you are about to read is one of only a few reviews that gives this superhero flick the thumbs down. Hold onto your hats, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

Firstly, and for those who have yet to see the film, let me talk a bit about the story of Hellboy. Opening on stormy island during World War II, a scholar named Trevor Bruttenholm leads a platoon of soldiers to a rumoured Nazi camp where a doorway to another dimension is about to be opened. Upon reaching this camp, the troops realise they are too late; the doorway has already been opened.

After a somewhat bland shootout to try and close the gateway, Trevor discovers that a creature has already passed into their realm, a red-skinned toddler with horns and an abnormally large club-like arm— Hellboy. Many years later during the present day, Trevor has enlisted a now grown up Hellboy to fight against the forces of evil in his secret underground organisation.

The fully grown Hellboy isn’t you average hero either; he comps on thick cigars, has a healthy appetite for fighting and has developed an acute love of cats. His drive for violence certainly comes in handy when the Nazis return, along with some disgruntled flesh-eating monsters about to spawn offspring and wreak havoc across the globe.

Sadly, this is where the dream ends for Hellboy. The film had a good concept and even some interesting setups, but it ultimately falls into, forgive the pun, a pit of eternal darkness. What appeared to be a stunning, visually creative blockbuster from the trailers ultimately comes off like a cheap daytime live action cartoon. The torrents of vivid visual effects promised are nothing more than cheesy, overblown and soulless creatures that are badly rendered and lacking in any kind of cosmic fun. I’d go as far as to say that the monster effects and designs cast my mind to the laughably bad Power Rangers series.

Hellboy
I hate to say it, but this was just one of a series of problems and hiccups the film faced. One minute it was either bogged down in one lame monster fight after another, or glued into sticky character development moments that were painfully slow. Extra woes can be attributed to the scribes, who seemingly failed to conjure so much as an interesting or gripping story. What they created was a story with a total lack of invigorating suspense or sense of danger which frankly felt out of place in this dark, gloomy world alight with mystery.

Moreover, its lumpy editing and uninspired direction, coupled with somewhat derivative storytelling traits and overbearing clichés thundered like an annual hurricane; all of which weighed all too heavily on my weary mind. I just did not enjoy this movie, and for the life of me I cannot fathom why it was greeted with so much critical applause. I guess there always has to be one who sees something differently, one who is the fish out of cold water; in this instance I am that fish.

Though by this stage it may seem like total doom and gloom, there were some good parts of the movie I feel the need to make a passing comment. For example, Abe Sapien, the aquatic-like creature was voiced beautifully by Frasier’s very own David Hyde Pierce. A touch I found to be somewhat inspiring. Ron Perlman’s makeup was also impressive, possibly to the extent of an Oscar nod. So too was Perlman’s embodiment of the titular character. Matter of fact, the only real reason for me to keep watching this movie was in part due to Perlman’s onscreen presence.

Guillermo del Toro raised some eyebrows when he undertook this project, not because he was once again focusing on a comic book series, but because he chose to make this in favour of the third Harry Potter film. Though I can never imagine the film being directed by anyone other than Alfonso Cuaron, it would have still been interesting to see it helmed by del Toro, even if this film was an absolute failure (in my humble opinion). Still, he put his creative niche first over the temptations of directing a guaranteed blockbuster, and for that I commend him.

Of all the superhero films I have seen over the years, Hellboy is one of the absolute worst. Unfortunately there is a proposed sequel in the works, I don’t mind saying I likely won’t be attending that showing if and when it comes.

So, I come to a tepid conclusion, do I recommend the film or not? Well, for me this is a tricky one indeed. Due to the film being so well received I am going to have to say that you probably owe it to yourself to check it out, if you haven’t done so already. Be cautioned however, though my words may mean total fluff to the majority who have an interest in this flick, do remember I was one of the ones who previously anticipated this as much as anyone. Frankly, I was shocked that I came out of it with such a sullen reaction.

Hellboy
Video
While the film might have been pants, Columbia sure did provide a great little transfer. In the few inspired visual moments Hellboy has, one can expect to be treated to excellent colour levels and shadowing, as well as near perfect presentation. Aspect ratio wise, Hellboy was filmed in a 1.85:1 frame and is pretty damn polished considering most of the film is dark.

Hellboy himself is a treat to behold. His deep red skin, complete with mysterious markings is perfectly handed by the DVD, and there are no traces of bleeding in sight! As previously mentioned the CG in the film is pretty weak, and truth be told the strength of the transfer highlights it perhaps more than it needed.

Audio
As somebody who appreciates the fine art of quality audio, I was delighted at the every brilliance of Hellboy’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Crisp dialogue, thunderous bass and some excellent uses of surround embroider this very disc. The often heavy music can also be heartily commended. Both the uses of it and the power it sometimes has can be breathtaking.

Mundane action sequences aside, the heavy LFE and directional audio is graced with lavish bucket-loads of clarity. Basically, all you need to know about Hellboy is that it has hellishly good sound, and makes for a great pre-summer demo disc.

Extras
Booting up the first disc reveals a pretty slick, albeit hard to navigate menu system, encrusted with some genuinely thematic visuals and decals inspired by the film. First up is an introduction from del Toro which is quite similar to the Peter Jackson intro from the Lord of the Rings DVD’s.

Two audio commentaries populate this first disc; the first is a filmmakers dream come true as del Toro and Hellboy creator/producer Mike Mignola openly reveal the creation of the film. The second features some of the cast; Ron Perlman, Selma Blair among others. Though this commentary is not as good, it is still worth a listen.

Hellboy
Up next is a series of comics written and produced exclusively for this very DVD. Of note, del Toro actually wrote these comics and Mignola is credited with designing them. Though the film didn’t do it for me, this feature is one of the best and most creative I have seen on any DVD in quite some time.

‘The Right Hand of Doom: Set Visits’ is a collection of behind the scenes featurettes that cover various aspects of production. This feature has a nifty little option that presents you with a ‘Hellboy hand’ during the film, in which you can hit select on your remote, which will then take you to the relevant set feature. You can of course watch them individually by entering the Index screen.

To ring out disc one, Columbia lumbered a storyboard track, DVD-Rom content and finally a bizarre feature titled ‘From the Den’ which encompasses four strange short films. Call me crazy, but I found these to be oddly captivating, not least the weird ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ short.

Disc two opens with another Introduction, but upon entering ‘The Egg Chamber’ you will discover deleted scenes, the ‘Seeds of Creation’ feature and a ‘Filmographies/Biographies’ feature that serves no purpose whatsoever. The main documentary however, is very impressive, not to mention huge! Due to the vast number of selectable sections, the ‘play all’ tab really comes in handy with this one.

‘Kroenen’s Lair’ has four separate features: scene progression, animatics, board-a-matics and a storyboard comparison.  

The ‘Marquette Video Gallery’ has a number of model creatures you are able to view as they rotate on a virtual platform. You are able to zoom into various parts of each model too.

‘Bellamie Hospital’ is basically just a promotional archive featuring trailers and print campaigns. Finally, ‘ Hellboy Merchandise’ features some weblinks. Not really worth mentioning, but there is also a menu you can access featuring some trailers for other Columbia pictures.

Hellboy
Overall
Overall, the Hellboy DVD is something of a mixed bag. I thought that the film stunk, yet the presentation and extras of the DVD is absolutely first rate. I am sure most people will probably like the film, it is, after all, a marginally good popcorn flick—I am just one of the few who didn’t quite ‘get it’ per se.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a good pre-summer demo disc, then I can say with an unclouded mind that Hellboy is a very commendable DVD to own in this regard. The transfer is great, but the audio is even more impressive. Add to that some lofty extra features and you have yourselves a great DVD.


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