Sony’s decision to thrust Hellboy upon us now on Blu-ray Disc is a peculiar one at best. The studio could have waited until August, 2008, when Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is slated to invade theaters, thereby reaping the rewards of instant added publicity. Instead, they’re offering it over a year earlier, much to the applause of movie geeks and Guillermo del Toro fans, myself included. On one hand, this is a spectacular presentation of a highly underrated comic book-inspired film and a definite audio/video showcase title. On the other, seeing it again in its full high definition glory makes the agonizing wait for the sequel seem that much longer.
The world Hellboy creator and artist Mike Mignola created for his Dark Horse published comic was ripe for film, and what better man to bring it to life than the same man who pushed Blade II beyond the original. Unlike Blade II, del Toro remained faithful to the comic where the translation is almost literal at times. Certain scenes, such as Hellboy’s introduction, are effectively filmed to look as if they were ripped from a comic book page. This creative decision makes Hellboy look more like a work of art and less like a product of business.
Relying so heavily on the source material is also a weakness, though a small one at that. The audience is thrown into the film and its characters with little explanation as to what is going on in this supernatural setting, and must accept the world operates under these newly-defined rules with snippets of information dished out at a time. The villains, especially, are given little back story other than a passing remark here or there. It’s hard to fear the main villain when so little is ever known about him.
Even had Hellboy’s plot faltered, which while not polished isn’t B-movie material either, the colorful heroic characters are more than enough to draw interest and spark intrigue. Ron Perlman is Hellboy in the same respect that Hugh Jackman is Wolverine. There could have been no better casting decision or performance delivered. It’s impossible not to love the giant red beer guzzling, cat loving, cigar smoking, one-liner delivering monster fighter. What better compliment to Hellboy than Abe Sapien, the half-fish, half-man whose makeup and poetic movements are both brilliant and mesmerizing at the same time. The amazing makeup with CGI only utilized where absolutely necessary aids in making both of these characters astoundingly believable within the story’s framework.
Del Toro walked a fine line by clinging to the comic book as he did, nearly alienating those who have no previous exposure to the world of “Hellboy” by glossing over a fair amount of back story. He never crossed it, though, setting in motion what I hope will be a minimum of three Hellboy films that will eventually see the light of day.
The previously released standard DVD versions of Hellboy were nothing short of spectacular from an audio and a video perspective thanks to an obviously pristine master, so imagine the impact improved performance in both areas brings to the table. PCM 5.1 lossless audio takes the swirling surrounds and booming bass found in the combat scenes and Liz’s fire creation to another level of appreciation, all while the clever dialogue remains crisp and unaffected by the rest of the mix. Hellboy is a big movie with big action set pieces, and this improved mix makes it feel bigger than it ever has before.
Likewise, Sony has delivered yet another stellar 1080p video transfer, especially considering the numerous dark and murky locations much of Hellboy is set in. Del Toro made sure each of his major set pieces represented a major color hue that translates to stunning imagery. From reds to blues, to greens to stark whites and blacks, no color is left untouched. When combined with the fine detail such as Abe’s fins or Hellboy’s markings that retain their form in the darkest of settings, the result looks fantastic.
A number of the supplemental materials found on the massive three-disc special edition set have found their way onto the Blu-ray Disc version, though that standard DVD edition will remain the definitive source for Hellboy material. Those features that were ported over are presented in the same 480p video as found on the standard DVD, and still look amazingly well after viewing the 1080p feature film.
Sony was able to cram in the lengthy two-hour plus documentary Seeds of Creation which walks through the initial meetings to get Hellboy off the ground, right through to the premiere. In many respects this documentary is a film by itself and worth sitting through for valuable production insight. Also featured is a del Toro Feature-Length Audio Commentary chock full of more fun facts and information. As always, he’s a good sport about his films.
The remaining supplemental features are brief, offering a satisfying selection of Hellboy material from what’s found on the three-disc standard DVD edition. Included are three Deleted Scenes with optional Del Toro commentary, three Visual Effects Featurettes, Make-Up and Lighting Tests, and Scott McCloud’s Guide to Understanding Comics. Oddly missing is a theatrical trailer, though one for Sony’s new “Ghost Rider” Blu-ray Disc release is included in full 1080p video.
Sony’s already dazzling presentation of Hellboy on standard DVD is amazingly more impressive on Blu-ray Disc across the board, despite sacrificing a fair number of extras from the three-disc special edition DVD set for a single-disc BD release. Those missing featurettes and other goodies may eventually appear in a double-dip next year when Hellboy 2 is released theatrically and on home video, but until then, we should be grateful Sony decided to unleash the big red guy a year early from when his high definition debut made the most sense.
– Dan Bradley