Despite being rather unimpressed by the first Hellboy upon seeing it in theaters, by the time the director’s cut of the film arrived on DVD I was itching to own it. I’m not sure why, but in-between seeing it in the theater and having it in my hands, I had a mad desire to see the film once again. Since then I’ve watched the film on DVD numerous times and awaited the sequels announcement. With Sony eventually selling the rights to the series, I gave up hope that we’d ever see a sequel…until Universal came along. Like they did with the Firefly series, Universal gave hope to the Hellboy fans and allowed del Toro to make yet another masterpiece. Of course the box office receipts don’t scream “blockbuster”, but had it not gone up against the behemoth known as The Dark Knight, I’ve no doubt that it wouldn’t have prevailed to a greater degree. This isn’t to say the film bombed either; after worldwide totals were in, it made back more than its budget and turned a moderate profit, although not likely as large of one Universal would have liked.
After an ancient truce existing between humankind and the invisible realm of the fantastic is broken, hell on Earth is ready to erupt. A ruthless leader who treads the world above and the one below defies his bloodline and awakens an unstoppable army of creatures. Now, it’s up to the planet’s toughest, roughest superhero to battle the merciless dictator and his marauders. He may be red. He may be horned. He may be misunderstood. But when you need the job done right, it’s time to call in Hellboy (Ron Perlman). Along with his expanding team in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development—pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), aquatic empath Abe (Doug Jones) and protoplasmic mystic Johann—the BPRD will travel between the surface strata and the unseen magical one, where creatures of fantasy become corporeal. And Hellboy, a creature of two worlds who’s accepted by neither, must choose between the life he knows and an unknown destiny that beckons him.
So…about that line above where I mentioned The Dark Knight? Yeah, I’m guilty. The week Hellboy II came out I ended up on a tiny road trip and the week afterwards, The Dark Knight hit and from there the next five times I went to the theater was all dedicated to Batman. I felt guilty about not seeing Hellboy II in the theaters, but now having see it I can safely say…I feel really guilty now. If I could, I’d send a note to myself in the past to just go see it, as it was so visually stunning I would have no doubt dropped my jaw in awe at the screen. The only thing that makes me feel better is that I can give it a glowing review you can go buy a bunch of copies of it.
Within minutes of the film opening, I already grew incredibly excited. I’d waited for this film for so long and yet I just let it slip by me in the theaters. The opening to the film, with Hellboy as a child and young Professor Broom (John Hurt), became an immediate treat to watch as we not only got to see Hellboy as an adolescent, but we were also shown an elaborate portrayal of the legendary Golden Army that this film revolves around. While you may expect it to be shown in some fancy Braveheart style simulation, the budget constraints for this film required it to be something less, but at the same time so much more. The opening is literally told with puppets, but don’t let it throw you off—it’s so beautifully done and at the same time brutal with the amount of weapon penetration done between the mechanical baddies and the elves they’re killing, that had this been done live-action it no doubt would’ve earned the film an immediate R rating. As is this film straddles the PG-13 line quite a bit due to its extreme fantasy violence, I can’t imagine them getting away with much more than they did.
Shortly after this, and a bit of exposition between our characters to set up some of the backstory that’s gone in between the films, we’re given another fantastic piece that will not only blow your mind visually but also excite your ears. While I’ll cover the sound mix in depth in the Blu-ray portion of the review, let me just say that the 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix for this scene in particular is flat out fantastic. Between the visuals, the little freaky tooth fairy creatures and the amount of guns fired in this sequence, it’s easily one of the highlights of the film for me. Thankfully the film didn’t “peak” here, as we’re given plenty of other exciting pieces after this, including an amazing troll market full of other-worldly creatures that are just a delight to see. If you’ve seen del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, then you’ll see equally impressive creatures in this film, which may make the film seem more like del Toro’s outing than a Mike Mignola venture, but the more I think about it it’s a nice little marriage between the two.
Further evidence of the del Toro/Mignola collaboration is the Liz/Hellboy relationship which expands upon their little connection in the first film to one that takes a huge leap forward (versus the comic book version which doesn’t even have any hint of serious romance between them). It’s certainly an interesting element of the film and one that makes for plenty of drama and humor along the way. And humor is one thing this film isn’t lacking—while the first film had a few genuinely good laughs (Hellboy chucking rocks at the BPRD agent wooing Liz still makes me laugh just thinking about it), Hellboy II piles them on in a way that never gets tired or dull. Whether it’s Hellboy getting the crap kicked out of him from some lockers or Hellboy and Abe getting drunk, the film will make you laugh just as much as it will thrill you.
Despite its modest budget, the film also manages to impress with its SF/X. Whether it’s the makeup and effects done on set or the limited CGI actually used in the film, Hellboy II is a real feast for the eyes. The big plant creature fight will leave your mouth agape as everything it touches is slowly coated in moss and flowers and the Golden Army fight itself becomes equally impressive at the end. I’m amazed at how well the CGI was married with the live action in this film, as it never looks genuinely noticeable, save for a few shots. It certainly has the appearance of a hundred-million plus budget, not the sub-ninety million it actually received.
The actors in the film all turned in terrific performances, with Perlman’s Hellboy and Jones Abe coming in with absolutely fantastic performances. Oddly enough the lack of David Hyde Pierce voice dubbing for Abe didn’t even did sound strange this time, although I may just be used to Jones voice after the animated Hellboy films. Tambor’s role as BPRD head is as entertaining as ever and Blair’s turn as hot-head Liz still remains as entertaining as ever. Her voice has such a naturally dramatic and graveling tone to it that she barely has to bend it any to become angry, sad or happy. Most of the time she actually just sounds exasperated, which is an odd mixture, but one that works for this film.
One of my favorite things about the first Hellboy film was its score, as Marco Beltrami’s theme and pieces (“Fireproof” standing as one of my favorite songs off of a film score release to date) fit the film perfectly. I was a bit disappointed to hear Danny Elfman would be replacing him for this one, but upon hearing what Elfman did with the film…I was genuinely surprised. It actually doesn’t even sound like Elfman’s usual work, which in of itself is a huge surprise, nor does it sound like a direct clone of Beltrami. In fact, for the most part, you barely notice the soundtrack during the film, which is both a good and a bad thing. Still, the heightened sequences where Elfman’s score does kick in is extremely welcome, as it adds a sense of tension in the air that fits this film perfectly.
I feel like I’ve barely touched the fantastic film that Hellboy II really is, but with already three pages in, I guess I should scale back lest I review every still of the film. It is decidedly much more goofy than its predecessor, but Hellboy II is a fantastic film all around, in terms of story, visuals, and acting. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you may even be a bit freaked out by teeth chomping fairies, but the outcome will be the same: you’ll be effortlessly entertained. If you enjoy comic book or fantasy films at all, this is a Must See.
This two-disc Blu-ray edition arrives with a very cool 3D slipcover (that morphs from movie Hellboy to comic book Hellboy) that may seem a bit weird in context of the film, but it’s actually one of the better done 3D images I’ve ever seen slapped to one of these slipcovers. Inside the casing are the two discs, one Blu-ray and one DVD (and yes, while the DVD does house the digital copy, it is also home to some bonus features, so don’t discard this one), and a few inserts that include the digital copy code as well as firmware notices and advertisements. Menus for the release follow the usual Universal “blade” system, although this is the first one I’ve seen in which the far left blade has changed; rather than be the simple silver textured piece, this menu appears to be some of the Golden Army’s body texture laid over it, so this menu is genuinely unique for this release. Kudos to Universal for pulling out all the stops with this release—they clearly gave it plenty of love and care!
The video is encoded with a rarely-used (by Universal) AVC codec, which cast immediate dread upon me at first. The last time I saw Universal use this codec was with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and that transfer genuinely lacked about every piece of detail one could imagine. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case, or rather isn’t always the case, with this release. By and large the film’s transfer is immaculate, spouting off levels of detail that make your eyes water they’re so gorgeous and del Toro’s visuals certainly don’t help matters, as we get to see the various models and creatures used for the film in stunning 1080p glory. Having said that, there are a few segments in the film that seem to lack detail, so this isn’t a perfect transfer by any means; it has its flaws, but it’s nothing that will deter you from busting this one out to show your friends.
And why wouldn’t you want to use this title to show it off? It comes stacked with a 7.1 DTS-HD MA track, a track so powerful that I’ve only seen a few other studios attempt it (Lionsgate and New Line). This is the first 7.1 I’ve seen out of Universal’s gate, which again leads me to believe that they wanted to do all they could for this Blu-ray edition of Hellboy II. I’ve had a 7.1 setup for some time now but I’ve rarely had the chance to use it and Hellboy II marks the first film I was actually able to review completely (previously I had an A/V receiver that I thought decoded the PCM that the Playstation 3 sends out, but later found out it didn’t so I upgraded and this is officially the first 7.1 release I’ve come across since I installed the new unit) and hot damn does it sound amazing. The channel separation alone is enough to show this off as demo material, with the aforementioned tooth fairy sequence causing all kinds of channel activity to toss about in the room. I’ve never heard so much chatter in the surrounds before and the bass level throughout the film was just epic. Every bullet fired resonated in the room and each indestructible fist pound Hellboy tossed out was felt. Hellboy II may just be my new demo disc (sorry The Matrix!).
So the film is great, the video and audio are spectacular, what about the extras? Universal doesn’t disappoint in that area either, as we start off out of the gate with two full commentaries. The first is with director Guillermo del Toro who remains as passionate and fascinating to listen to as ever. I’ve listened to his commentaries before and am never left unimpressed by any of it; he covers every little nook and cranny there is to talk about and the man just makes some of the best damn commentaries ever. The second commentary is completely cast filled, with Jeffrey Tambor, Selma Blair and Luke Goss taking part. This is a lot more laid back than del Toro’s track, but it’s still entertaining all the same.
Moving onto the extras, there’s a bit of bad news: they’re all in 480p. I kind of wish they would’ve just left the majority of the extras off of the Blu-ray disc, as the PS3 kind of goes wonky with 480p content and doesn’t upscale it right (or maybe it’s just my TV acting stupid, I don’t know. All I know is upscaled DVDs look a thousand times better than 480p content coming off of a Blu-ray disc). In any case, we don’t have a whole lot to check out on this first disc regardless. First up is “Troll Market Tour with Guillermo del Toro” (12:22) which, as it sounds, is a tour of the troll set, while “Production Workshop” shows off the puppet battle, with an intro (1:29) and a storyboard comparison (3:12) with optional commentary by del Toro. Deleted Scenes (six total, 5:04) are included, but there isn’t a whole lot to pick from and “Zinco Epilogue Animated Comic” (5:14), Comic Book Builder, and a Gallery wrap up the main extras. There are three bonus U-Control Blu-ray extras which include “Schufften Goggle View”, which shows off early VF/X work done on the film and takes you through how it progresses from stage to stage, “Director’s Notebook” shows pages from del Toro’s infamous notebook that he keeps for each of his films (what I wouldn’t give for a replica one of those) and “Set Visits”, which are small pieces of behind the scenes footage. A “Comic Book Back-Story” guide is also available if you wanna read up on some of the characters appearing on-screen and there’s a host of BD-Live features as well, but they aren’t active until street date so I can’t check those out yet.
Moving onto the second disc we get the aforementioned digital copy. Remember when I said that this second disc contains “some” more bonus features? That’s a bit of an understatement, as this one houses not only a Disc 2 intro by del Toro (0:23), but also “Hellboy: In Service of the Demon” (2:34:51), a two and a half hour documentary on the making of the film. I don’t need to tell you how exhaustive this piece is, as it covers every little detail of the film. Usually when a documentary is longer than the film it’s covering, you begin to wonder if it’s a little bit wordy, but I wasn’t bored by a single bit of it here—if you enjoyed the film, then this one is absolutely worth checking out. It’s split into chapters for easier viewing, but if you hit “play all”, there’s “bonus footage” that is cut into it.
Finally we have a series of galleries titled “Marketing Campaign,” “Print Gallery,” and “Poster Explorations.” Inserting the DVD into your PC will enable access to a printable copy of the actual script used for the film. Sadly while the DVD edition reportedly has an easter egg of bloopers on it, I can’t find any such reel on this release, on either the Blu-ray or DVD portions.
Fantastic 1080p video, brutal 7.1 audio and a del Toro scripted and directed film. This is the recipe for a perfect Blu-ray and Universal may have just pulled it off. This is definite demo material for the techno-savvy and anyone who enjoys a good round of humor and action will not want to miss this one. Must Own.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army arrives on single (full and widescreen), three-disc DVD and Blu-ray on November 11th.