Hellboy II: The Golden Army [DVD]
Director : Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay : Guillermo del Toro (story by Guillermo del Toro & Mike Mignola; based on the comic book series by Mike Mignola)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien / The Chamberlain / The Angel of Death), John Alexander (Johann Kraus / Bethmoora Goblin), James Dodd (Johann Kraus), Seth MacFarlane (voice of Johann Krauss), Luke Goss (Prince Nuada), Anna Walton (Princess Nuala), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), John Hurt (Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm)
With Hellboy II: The Golden Army, writer/director Guillermo del Toro continues his fascinating oscillation between arty Spanish-language fantasy-horror films and balls-to-the-wall Hollywood fantasy-horror films. Coming off the critically adored and Oscar-lauded Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), he gives us an unapologetically smashmouth sequel to Hellboy, his 2004 adaptation of Mike Mignola’s cultish comic book series about a grumpy, cigar-chomping, red-skinned demon superhero (Ron Perlman) who fights the forces of evil with a combination of attitude and firepower. This is the kind of film where, if you’re not on board at the conceptual stage, it’s best to head to another theater.
Hellboy II assumes you’re up-to-date with the mythology of the titular protagonist and the gaggle of fantastical oddballs with whom he works at the U.S. government’s super-secret Department of Paranormal Research and Defense. These include his girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), who looks perfectly normal, but is prone to bursting into intense flames when emotionally aroused, and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a blinking fish-man who is the resident intellectual and general defender of common sense. The film also introduces a new ally in Johann Kraus (played by James Dodd and voiced by Seth MacFarlane), a spectral entity with a caricatured German accent who moves around in a clunky, but oddly elegant get-up that looks like a 19th-century deep-diving suit.
Their job is to fight against various supernatural threats to the country, which this time around involves Prince Nuada (Luke Goss, who in his make-up looks quite bit like a young Tom Cruise), a pale, white-haired member of an ancient race who wants to wage war against humankind by bringing to life the long-dormant Golden Army, a multitude of rattling mechanical warriors that are literally indestructible (when broken apart, they simply piece themselves back together). One of the film’s most striking and memorable scenes occurs at the outset when Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm (John Hurt), the scientist who raised Hellboy, reads to the adolescent demon the story of how the Golden Army came to be, which is imagined on-screen as a quirky-creepy puppet show in the vein of the Brothers Quay.
Like the original, Hellboy II works because Del Toro, who wrote the screenplay in addition to directing, finds a workable balance between CGI-laden mayhem and character development. Discussing “character development” in a film that is headlined by a red-skinned demon whose catchphrase is “Oh, crap,” whose love interest is a woman who can start fires with her mind, and whose voice of reason is an amphibious creature with gills on his neck may sound absurd, but that is precisely what makes the film work so well, assuming you’re willing to go with the flow. Del Toro finds the humanity amid the carnival sideshow mentality, especially in terms of Hellboy’s desire for public acceptance, which reflects both the fickle nature of our relationship to heroic figures and the universal need for connection. A subplot about Abe falling in love with Nuada’s twin sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), doesn’t work quite as well, although it still provides for an amusing scene in which he and Hellboy slam Mexican beers and sing along to Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You,” which somehow manages to be both funny and touching at the same time.
Without doubt, del Toro is the reigning master of merging the surreal and the popular. Hellboy II features some of his most outrageous creature creations, which range from hundreds of tiny, flying beasts whose seemingly benign labeling as “tooth fairies” belies their ravenous urge to shred and devour anything in their wake, to an ultra-creepy “angel of death” whose at first appears to be blind until she spreads her massive wings and unveils a host of blinking eyeballs. While a government agent (Jeffrey Tambor) is constantly trying to keep Hellboy and his minions under wraps, lest the government be forced to explain their existence, the group’s exploits in battling evil draw the kind of attention that can’t be ignored, especially when they involve fighting a wrathful, tentacled forest god hundreds of feet right tall next to the Brooklyn Bridge.
If anything, Hellboy II is a parade of the bizarre and the fascinating that never quite wears out its ability to shock and provoke, which makes it all the easier to accept Hellboy as something close to normal. As he did in the previous film, Ron Perlman brings a dogged, world-weary likeability to his demonic character, infusing him with the heart of a kid while also playing with his cocky attitude and gruff demeanor. The fact that Hellboy can be said to grow during the film, maturing in the sense of taking on new responsibilities and seeing beyond his own needs and desires, is testament to just how much pathos del Toro is able to wring from what, in other hands, might be simply ridiculous.
|Hellboy II: The Golden Army 3-Disc Special Edition DVD Set|
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French|
|Distributor||Universal Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 11, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Presented in anamorphic widescreen, Hellboy II: The Golden Army looks great on DVD (and I can only imagine how good the Blu-Ray disc looks). As Guillermo del Toro discusses in his commentary track, he used a very deliberate approach to color palettes throughout the film, and the transfer on this disc reproduces them beautifully, from the cold, steely blue-grays of the auction house to the bursting, vibrant hues of the Troll Market. Many of the scenes are exceedingly dark, but the disc handles them well with inky blacks and crisp shadow detail that doesn’t look overly sharp. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is aggressive and active, with wide separation across the front soundstage, plenty going on in the surround channels, and a rumbling low end to underscore the many fight sequences.|
|Fans of Hellboy and the work of Guillermo del Toro will find themselves handsomely rewarded with this three-disc set, which elaborates on virtually every aspect of the film’s production. About the only things they left out are, well, the extra goodies that are available only on the Blu-Ray edition. |
The first disc has two audio commentaries, one by writer/director Guillermo del Toro and one by actors Jeffrey Tambor, Selma Blair, and Luke Goss. Del Toro’s commentary is a definite must-listen; the polyglot director elaborates better on his ideas and intentions than many native-English-speaking filmmakers, and it’s a real pleasure to listen to him. The actors’ commentary is much more mixed. While there are some amusing anecdotes, overall it’s a bit of flop with too much dead air. Also on the first disc are six “Set Visits,” which are 2- to 3-minute mini-featurettes that give us behind-the-scenes footage of the film’s production. The “Troll Market With Guillermo del Toro” featurette is a 12-minute guided tour through the enormous and intricate Troll Market set, and the Zinco Epilogue animated comic is a 5-minute animated short film written by Mike Mignola that serves as an epilogue to the film (and possible set-up for Hellboy III?). Finally, there are six very short deleted scenes (they total just over five minutes together), all of which have optional commentary by Del Toro.
The bulk of the second disc is given over to Hellboy: In Service of the Demon, which, despite its rather ominous title, is an in-depth making-of documentary that can be watched as 19 separate chapters or as one 2-hour-34-minute behemoth that includes additional footage that you see only when viewed altogether. The documentary is roughly divided into three sections: “Pre-Production,” which focuses primarily on various meetings in which Del Toro explains his visions while artists toil away at sculpting designs and making foam latex forms; “Production,” which comprises the bulk of the documentary and includes tons of footage from the film’s physical production, including excellent bits on practical special effects, costume design, and production design (the most fascinating is arguably the section on how the Angel of Death was created); and “Post-Production,” which looks primarily at Seth MacFarlane’s recording sessions and the various CGI challenges the filmmakers faced. As a whole, this documentary is an impressive record of how such a complex film was put together on a relatively restrained budget, and it is filled with all kinds of odd and fascinating tidbits (such as Del Toro explaining how he changed an “opium den” in the Troll Market to a place where creatures smoke hair in order to avoid a preemptive R rating).
Also on the second disc is a “Production Workshop,” which is basically a storyboard-to-final-film comparison of Professor Broom’s Puppet Theater sequence that includes three separate stages: a rough storyboard, a more refined storyboard, and the finished sequence. The “Pre-Production Vault” includes reproductions of Del Toro’s incredibly detailed notebook, which is filled with notes and sketches, as well as “video pods” you can select as you scroll through it. There are also four design galleries: “Creature Design,” “Mike Mignola’s Creator Gallery,” “Production Design,” and “Production Stills.” Two additional stills galleries, “Print Gallery” and “Poster Explorations,” contain international posters and unused poster designs, respectively. There is also a printable version of the script accessible via a DVD-ROM, and the third disc contains a digital copy of the film for easy upload to a computer or iPod.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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