March 27, 2004
The success of X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) has opened the door for a new wave a comic book adaptations. In the past, studios have played it safe and only green-lighted adaptations of mainstream comic books with large followings. However, this has changed as of late with Ghost World (2000) and now with Hellboy (2004). Based on Mike Mignola’s comic book of the same name, it has a dedicated cult following at best so it’s a pleasant surprise to see a major studio take a big budget gamble with this title.
October 1944. The Nazis begin mixing science with black magic in a desperate attempt to regain the advantage in the war. The seemingly invincible Russian, Rasputin (Roden) has teamed up with the Germans and plans to open a portal to another dimension and bring about an apocalypse. However, Allied troops arrive and disrupt the procedure just in time. In the process, something came through: a red-skinned demon baby that the soldiers adopt and call Hellboy.
Present day. Rasputin has been resurrected and continues his plans to summon destructive supernatural forces that will result in the end of the world. Hellboy (Perlman) has matured and now works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) in New Jersey—under the guise of a waste management company (just like Tony Soprano on The Sopranos). Along with Abe Sapien (Jones), an amphibious humanoid (“the fish guy” as a guard puts it), firestarter Liz Sherman (Blair), and the token “normal guy,” John Myers (Evans), Hellboy tracks down Rasputin and tries to prevent him from fulfilling his nefarious goals.
Ron Perlman is perfectly cast as the cigar smoking, two-fisted action hero who eats Baby Ruth candy bars and loves cats. He does a great job of capturing Hellboy’s sarcastic, wise-cracking nature. Perlman gets to utter cool one-liners and looks fantastic in his make-up (thanks to legendary make-up artist Rick Baker). Often, what makes it to the movie rarely resembles what was drawn in the comic book. Not the case here—Perlman IS Hellboy. With this role (and hopefully more sequels to come), he is destined to become the cult film icon of the new millennium (much like Bruce Campbell was in the ‘90s). Perlman has got the drop-dead cool action hero shtick down cold. With his hulking, imposing physique, he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger with brains and irony.
Guillermo del Toro, a die-hard comic book fan and self-described film geek, shoots the action sequences much like he did in Blade 2 (2002), with crazy camera angles and fantastically choreographed fights. It’s like del Toro took panels right out Mignola’s comic book and made them move. He also has incredible production design at his disposal to create a fully realized world rich in detail and drenched in atmosphere. Del Toro is heavily influenced by Italian horror movies and not only references Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) but also the saturated primary colour scheme of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) to name just a couple of examples.
Hellboy is one of those rare comic book movies with depth. It takes time to develop its characters and the relationships between them. There is the touching father-son relationship between Hellboy and Dr. Bruttenholm (Hurt) and the romantic love triangle between Hellboy, Myers and Liz. While the film has the requisite slam-bang action sequences, it is not dominated by them. The film is not driven by them but rather by the characters and the story. And this is because del Toro has strong source material to draw from: Mignola’s comic book, in particular “Seed of Destruction,” which chronicles Hellboy’s origins. Both del Toro and Mignola’s works are steeped in the gothic and horror genres, in particular the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. The author’s influence is all over this movie as Hellboy trades blows with Cthulhu-inspired creatures that would make ol’ Lovecraft proud.
Fans of this movie are in for a real treat as the 2-DVD set is jam-packed with extras that will take hours to explore completely.
The first disc features two audio commentaries. The first is by director Guillermo del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. They talk about the nitty gritty details of the filmmaking process. Mignola explains the differences and similarities between the film and the comic book. This is a solid, informative track that is essential listening for Hellboy fans.
The second commentary features cast members Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor and Rupert Evans. They talk about their experiences working on the movie. It is more conversational and anecdotal, strictly a hit or miss affair, and not nearly as interesting as del Toro and Mignola’s track.
“DVD Comics” features eight new mini-comics drawn by Mignola that explain some of the more obscure references to the comic book in the film. One can check out the significance of Hellboy’s love of pancakes, Abe Sapien’s origins and Rasputin’s biography. These comics can be watched at certain points during the movie or on their own.
“’The Right Hand of Doom’ Set Visits,” like the DVD comics, can be viewed while watching the movie or on their own. There are eight of these brief featurettes that show del Toro and his cast and crew filming specific scenes from the movie.
“Storyboard Track” allows one to watch the movie with Simeon Wilkins’ storyboards in a corner of the screen.
“From the Den – Hellboy Recommends…” features four vintage animated short films from Columbia’s vaults, including a fantastic adaptation of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” narrated by James Mason.
Disc one is merely a warm-up for the bulk of the extras found on disc two.
There are three deleted scenes with optional commentary by del Toro. He mentions that two of them will appear on the extended cut DVD coming out later this year but in edited form so this is the only chance to view them in their entirety.
The centerpiece of this disc is an exhaustive two-and-half hour documentary that can be watched in various segments or altogether. Del Toro loved the comic book and how it blended the super hero and gothic genres. He also provides a great description for Hellboy: “Imagine if The X-Files was investigated by an X-File.” This is a detailed look at the making of the movie from the graphic novel to the movie itself with great attention paid to the make-up and visual effects. Amazing stuff!
There are standard cast and crew filmographies.
“Scene Progress: Ogdru Jahad” compares the first sketches done with the final product. Likewise, “Animatics: Board-a-matics” features four sequences from the movie and compares them with 3D computer models that allowed Del Toro to get an idea of how certain sequences would look. You can also compare the storyboards from four scenes with the finished product.
Up next is the “Maquette Video Gallery” that shows the sculptures created for six of the creatures from the film and allows one to see them from several different angles.
Finally, there is a collection of theatrical trailers and TV spots for the movie as well as loads of movie posters that were created and the ones that made the final cut.
As exhaustive and complete as this 2-DVD set is, del Toro has promised an even more in-depth edition coming out later this year. It will feature an extended cut of the movie and new supplements (including a brand new audio commentary by del Toro) that will go even deeper into the filmmaking process (if that’s possible!). In a classy move, Columbia even acknowledges this upcoming edition and includes a $5 off coupon with this current 2-DVD set. Studios rarely, if ever, warn consumers of double-dipping and del Toro has been very vocal in the press about it. Nice.