With the new feature film Hellboy 2 joining the ranks of movie theater screens last week, Anchor Bay opted to release the pair of animated Hellboy features, Sword of Storms and Blood & Iron, together in a two-pack alongside a brand new animated Hellboy action figure, produced by Gentle Giant. While the figure is the only new thing about the set, the two discs prove to be as impressive as they were when they were originally released in 2007. Those who haven’t picked up the set will want to get in on the action, as Hellboy is quickly proving himself to be a formidable hero in both the home video and box office arenas.
From creator Mike Mignola and feature film director Guillermo del Toro come a pair of Hellboy adventures that blew away fans during their original debut. The two films, Sword of Storms and Blood & Iron, reunited the original live-action Hellboy cast in animated form, with Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones and John Hurt returning once again to voice the characters they first brought to life on film. Accompanied by such talent as Peri Gilpin, Grey DeLisle and Jim Cummings, the animated Hellboy films proved that the hero could work in more than one medium and mixed with the unique visual style of the characters provided by Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, the animated adventures proved to be unforgettable adventures for fans of the red demon.
Sword of Storms
While the review for Blood & Iron be reprinted from my May 2007 review as originally run here on WF DVD Report, I never actually got the chance to review Sword of Storms, which is almost entirely different in nature from the second film. It’s a bit odd reviewing them out of order, but it helps give me some more retrospective on Sword of Storms which I hadn’t seen since I bought the DVD back in February of 2007.
Sitting down to watch the film for the first time I remember being blown away by the visuals and just how great Cheeks designs translated to the screen. While others were skeptical of the proportions and visual style of Cheeks work, I loved it immediately and was quite pleased by how it turned out. Everything flowed naturally and from the opening frames to the closing ones, there wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy looking at the designs.
The two films are wildly different from one another in terms of story and tone. While Blood & Iron is more straight-up horror (as one would expect from a title like Hellboy), Sword of Storms put Hellboy on a much more mystical journey, with the only real “action” coming from Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien’s roles. It felt more akin to the live-action Hellboy film which I realize now was probably the intent, but it also threw about a unique flair with Hellboy’s journey and the various “weird” elements he encountered.
Of course what works best about the Hellboy series is the humor and there was no one better to play the role of the red demon than Ron Perlman. I’ve always been a fan of Perlman’s work but became even one even more so once he donned the mantle of Hellboy. Due to his previous experience in voice work, his work in this film came off the most professional and easiest; Selma Blair’s readings sounded stiff at times, but Doug Jones emitted the same feeling of confidence that Perlman’s readings had.
The story itself is a great mix of folklore, with the film starting out with a professor being possessed by Japanese demons Thunder and Lightning. Once the BPRD gets to play around with these new demons, however, things start to get crazy as Abe and Liz are thrown in a battle against a very angry dragon, while Hellboy is dispatched to a supernatural dimension that’s filled with all kinds of quirky ghosts and monsters that continually test his strength and will.
My favorite piece of the film was the floating heads portion, which was perfect if only because of the humor that Hellboy dished out. Also impressive was the female spider, which was mixed with really beautiful animation and choreography. Not to mention the film had a magnificent score composed by Christopher Drake. Some of the live-action Hellboy music was re-used here, but what Drake composed himself sounded wonderful as well.
Overall while Blood & Iron is more action packed and comic booky in nature, Sword of Storms is a much more laid back fare. What’s wonderful is that the Hellboy character works so well in both realms, so no matter which way you cut it, Hellboy is going to be entertaining. Highly Recommended.
I was impressed by it then and I’m still impressed by what Starz Home Entertainment did with this DVD. While I was disappointed by Blood & Iron’s extras, it’s easy to see why Sword of Storms got such better treatment—it was the first released and, therefore, had more “new” extras to offer up. The disc itself is housed inside a standard amaray DVD case and is accompanied by an insert with the chapters (on the flipside is a full size picture of the Hellboy design on the front of the case) as well as animated Hellboy comic titled “Phantom Limbs.” A shiny slipcover was included with the original release, but for some reason the new boxset gave only Blood & Iron a slipcase.
Video and audio for this release is fantastic. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer included here is absolutely beautiful to look at, with its bright colors and deep, rich blacks. The shading on Hellboy at night was especially nice to see as it’s not often you see a bright red character underneath the moonlight. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix is also great, with solid channel separation and plenty of subwoofer output.
Moving onto the extras we first have a commentary with Mike Mignola, Tad Stones, and Phil Weinstein that is wall-to-wall filled with information. Stones and Mignola chat the most and they make the most of their time, filling in die hard and casual fans alike on the production process and what it was like to get this project going. Along with being grateful to do the film, they also frequently praise the voice and production crew, as they should, for their work done on the series. It’s a really solid track that is good simply because the participants are genuinely excited about what they’re watching and also to inform the listener what went on behind the scenes.
Also included as a bonus while watching the film is “Follow the Fox”, which will pop an icon up on the screen at times so that will trigger short featurettes about the scene you just saw and/or are watching. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes photos and production art included in these featurettes and include commentary from Mignola, del Toro and a mixture of animation staff. These extras are all available via the extras menu, so those who don’t want to look for the fox icon while watching the film can come back to these later. “Origins” (2:30) talks about the inspiration for the story, “A View From the Top” (5:30), delves into the origins of the “Heads” sequence, “Tale Spin” (2:50) talks about the spider woman segment, “Prop Prefecture” (2:30) goes over the construction of the set designs and artifact spirits and finally “Samurai Songs” (3:00), where composer Christopher Drake walks us through the composition of the films music.
Moving onto the other featurettes we first have “To Hell and Back” (9:45), which acts as a mini-Hellboy documentary where Mignola talks about his work on the Hellboy comic, along with input from his colors Dave Stewart, editor Scott Allie and publisher Mike Richardson. “A New Breed” (5:20) interviews Sean Galloway about his designs for the animated Hellboy, while “Conquering Hellboy” (6:30) shows off the voice recording sessions for the various actors of the film, including Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Peri Gilpin and Phil LaMarr.
Finally we have “Keepers of Hellboy” (42:30), a Comic-Con panel from 2006 with a host of Hellboy talent including del Toro, Stones, Galoway, Weinstein and Matt Wayne. There’s a lot of talk about the animated efforts themselves as well as a bit of production art as well.
Overall Sword of Storms is a packed DVD and deserves to be owned by any animation or Hellboy fan. Those only slightly interested in the character may want to rent it first, but if you’re a fan of superhero animation, then Sword of Storms doesn’t disappoint. Highly Recommended.
Blood & Iron
I’ve had a curious journey with Hellboy over the years. When the live action film came out, I was extremely eager to see it and after seeing it on opening weekend I came out of the theater disappointed. The movie just didn’t work for me and I was ultimately disappointed. Still, when October rolled around and a three-disc Director’s Cut came out, I ended up buying it and finding a new found respect for the film. It wasn’t even the extended cut of the film that did it; it was just that I had time to accept what the film was and found many things to love about it after that fact.
When the animated Hellboy films were announced, I was even more eager for these than the movie. With the inclusion of Guillermo Del Toro and Mignola on these as well, I knew the animated films would at least match up to what the live action film had to offer. Despite the movies airing early on Cartoon Network, I withstood and waited for the DVD release of Sword of Storms before sinking my teeth into the film. I am very glad I did, as the experience in DVD quality with surround sound is definitely the way to experience the movie for the first time and the load of special features that were packed onto the Sword of Storms DVD was nothing short of amazing. After seeing Sword of Storms and hearing from the crew that the next film, Blood and Iron, would be even better, I had high hopes. I should have known better than to go into a film with high hopes as they’re always dashed. That’s not to say that Blood and Iron is a waste of time. Quite the contrary; it’s a great piece of animation and storytelling it’s just that the overall package falls a bit flat.
Blood and Iron is much more of a horror tale than Sword of Storms was. Anyone familiar with the story of Elizabeth Bathory will know exactly where the film is going from the start and know that they’re in for more than just a “kids” tale. The amount of blood in this film is shocking, I don’t think I’ve seen so much in an unrated cartoon before (the animated Spawn not withstanding—that at least came with a warning though) and between the bathtub of blood, the killing of hundreds of young women and the one flashback scene with a dead mother and blood over the baby’s crib is just…well, it’s wrong and it fits the tone and mood of Hellboy so perfectly.
My main issues with Blood and Iron isn’t the violence level or the story—those are all perfect. It’s more in the animation, which can range from beautiful to very slow and jerky. The biggest example of this is in the opening scene with Hellboy in the sewers—I had been concerned that the entire movie was going to look like this (I later learned that scene wasn’t originally in the film and instead was a request from the studio to include Hellboy from the start of the film, which explains the somewhat rushed appearance of the animation). In addition, after listening to the commentary, there are quite a few little animation nuances that didn’t shine through like they should have, mainly body language that gave off the wrong impression to the viewer. To the crews’ credit, however, they more than willingly point out the flaws of the film, I just wish there weren’t so many technical errors on the film—it makes it feel extremely rushed.
Another issue is the dialogue. While Professor Bruttenholm is given ample screen time, the rest of the BPRD is not. Hellboy is not shown off in any great light in this film and when put in a story with the rest of the BPRD in tow, he rarely shines. He has the usual great one liner’s, but that’s really all he ever says. It’s not until the final fight in the film do you seeing any real glint of character progression. Granted, we know who Hellboy is from the live-action film and Sword of Storms, I just don’t feel that the title character should be relegated to the passenger side. If anything, the biggest complaint I have is simply the lack of Hellboy.
All of the complaints aside, the film does stand well on its own. I don’t have any issues with the storytelling itself and the story flows well, although the serene “all hope is lost” bit in the third act of the film feels slightly out of place in a film that has such a short run time—mainly because even though we’re supposed to believe that all the hope for the heroes to conquer all, we know they have to because the film is going to end in twenty minutes.
Despite the sometimes jerky animation, there are some really great sequences in the film. Immediately coming to mind is the knife spinning scene in the kitchen with Hellboy, the fight with the werewolf creature and Hellboy in the bright red room, the ghosts leaving bloody hand prints on the windows and the fire fight with Liz and the wolves. Those scenes shine as an example of what this film could have been if the budget was just a bit bigger and if the time aspect had not been there. The lightning in the final fight is also amazing, with the light and shadows giving off some very Mignola-like lighting on Hellboy and Hecate.
Overall Blood and Iron comes recommended despite its handful of flaws. It’s very possible I’m just overanalyzing the character and film because I’ve grown so accustomed to whom the character is in the comics and the animation complaints could just me being used to higher end animation budgets. Regardless, Blood and Iron is a fun romp that any Hellboy fan should find entertaining.
Packaged nearly identical to the Sword of Storms release, Blood and Iron comes with a foil reflective cardboard sleeve, a chapter insert (with a portrait of Hellboy on the reverse side that mirrors the cover shot) and a 32-page comic. The comic is rather cool as it shows what goes on after Blood and Iron —an “epilogue” of sorts. Disc art matches Sword of Storms in style and design and the menus are rather tame in layout, especially the main menu with the simple small font lettering denoting each area of the disc.
Video and audio on this release is superb. While I noticed some usual animation transfer issues with Sword of Storms, I noticed nothing in Blood and Iron Even during the fight that was completely lit in red didn’t show any forms of ghosting, interlacing or compression. While the audio can sometimes muffle dialogue in particularly noisy sequences, it packs a nice punch in the surround and bass department. Liz’s fire, once again, sounds awesome in 5.1
Like the film itself, Blood and Iron falters a bit in the special features area when compared to Sword of Storms. Sword of Storms has the benefit of being the first in the series, so it has all the “how these films came about” type stories, while Blood and Iron merely shows off the production of only itself. Still, this isn’t a bad thing—we get to see the inspiration and some of the production for the film, but the talking heads are largely centered on Mignola, Stones and Vic Cook. We don’t hear from many others (if any, I can’t honestly recall) and there are no words from the voice actors. On top of that, what I thought would be the more in-depth look at the film turned out to just be a clip show of all the flash back sequences in sequential order. Not bad and it acts as a little story on its own, it just seems kind of odd to include as an extra.
One of the cooler special features though is the “Iron Shoes” animated short. Much like how Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman had the “Chase Me” short, “Iron Shoes” is a quick clip that shows Hellboy on a mission and taking out a monkey like creature in a tower who kept killing tourists. It’s short but it was a lot of fun to watch—I could watch a whole DVD of just these random and quick stories.
Up next is The Penanggalan, a short story by Mignola that was a lot of fun to watch. It seemed to pause on text for too long of a time and then not long enough on others, but altogether it was fun. It should have been a DVD ROM feature though, as it’d be a hell of a lot easier to read blown up in resolution than it would on a 480p image.
Finally is the commentary with Mignola, Stones and Cook. Again, like Sword of Storms, this commentary track is wonderful. They constantly point out their flaws in the movie and what they could have done to improve it, but they are also careful to point out what was difficult to pull off and just what simply looks pretty. Cook is silent for most of the track which allows Mignola and Stones to chat it up for nearly the entire track. Listening to the track also points out things about the animation I never picked up on. Above, when I mentioned that some of the animation portrayed the wrong characteristics, in particular is the scene where Sydney Leach picks up Hellboy’s gun and struggles with it—in animation this comes off as he’s scared to fire the gun, but really he can just hardly hold the thing up. The final flashback sequence is also played out differently after listening to the commentary, as the papers spread across Bruttenholm’s desk reference “The Right Hand of Doom” and the scene seems as if this meeting is taking place after Hellboy was discovered, when, in fact, Hellboy has yet to even show up in Bruttenholm’s world.
Even with the shortcomings, Blood and Iron makes for a great DVD and a fun animated story. While it’s a bit gory for kids, anyone over thirteen should have no issues watching it—aside from the few bouts of minor cursing and the blood pools in the film, there’s not much here to scare children, although the atmosphere of the haunted mansion may give some kids sleepless nights.
Overall, Blood and Iron comes Highly Recommended. It’s fun, pure and simple, and anyone remotely interested in Hellboy owes it to themselves to check the film out.
The Box Set
So is anything new about the two-pack and figure box set? Well as previously mentioned…nope. DVDs are the same and everything simply comes wrapped in a big plastic bubble with the Hellboy figure strapped in with twisty-tie hell accompanying. If you don’t already own the DVDs then the figure, which is supposedly a “limited edition”, is a nice bonus when picking this set up. There are quite a few animated Hellboy figures already on the market however, so it’s really up to the individual and how badly they want to get the figure. The discs themselves are available a lot cheaper by themselves then they are with this set, so it all just comes down to the figure, which is quite awesome, I must say. Nice accessories, great sculpt, solid paint job, and a nice display stand to boot (complete with clear plastic stand so Hellboy can actually “stand” on those tiny feet).
Newcomers: Highly Recommended.
Previous owners of the animated Hellboy films: Recommended if you really want the figure, Skip It otherwise.