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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Hellboy: Blood and Iron
Hellboy: Blood and Iron
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // June 12, 2007
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted May 15, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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THE MOVIE:

The second installment in the Hellboy Animated series is an old-fashioned vampire story merged with an old-fashioned haunted house story. It's the kind of cross-pollination that Hellboy fans have come to expect in the character's adventures, and though Blood and Iron isn't as good as the first animated film, it's still pretty kick ass.

This time around, Hellboy (voiced by Ron Perlman, who played the big red one in the live-action movie) and his cohorts in the BPRD are investigating an alleged haunted house in the Hamptons that a hotel financier wants to turn into a sort of spectral-themed resort. The assignment is merely a political favor and nothing to really be taken seriously, so everyone is shocked when Professor Broom (John Hurt) not only puts his top guys on the case, but he elects to go along with them, as well. As it turns out, the hauntings have a connection to a mission from Broom's past, involving a witch (Kath Soucie) who was so obsessed with staying young, she sacrificed herself to the evil goddess Hecate (Cree Summer), becoming a vampire and bathing in the blood of countless maidens. Broom thought he had stopped her, but the dark Countess might have been resurrected in the very house where the spirits of her victims restlessly reside.

The Hellboy Animated series was conceived as a stopgap to allow more Hellboy stories to be told in between installments of the movie franchise. So far, there have been two animated films, and each have aired on Cartoon Network before making their way to DVD. The first cartoon, Sword of Storms, was a crackling adventure that made full use of the animation genre by going wild with inventing a myriad of beasts and ghouls to throw at Hellboy. By comparison, Blood and Iron is more down to earth. It's not as wickedly entertaining as the first film, but it's a little bit deeper.

The story for Blood and Iron was written by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and the movie's supervising director Tad Stone, and then turned into a teleplay by animation writer Kevin Hopps and finished off by director Victor Cook (a veteran of many Disney TV series, as well as helming next year's animated Spider-Man show). The picture is far more structurally sophisticated than Sword of Storms, moving back and forth between the present-day mission and flashbacks to Broom's original encounter with the Countess. This part of the story is told in backwards order, which removes some of the tension, obviously, but certain events are colored by the way we discover the causality and it also allows the creators to save a big surprise until the very end. On that first expedition, Broom was trying to free a Transylvanian village from the she-beast's deadly grip, and his teaming with the village priest raises deeper questions of good, evil, and religion than one is likely to expect from your standard Cartoon Network fare. This adds some spookiness to Blood and Iron that wasn't in its predecessor, which was more about action.

Unfortunately, the trade-off is that the build-up here is a tad bit slow. It takes Blood and Iron a little while to really get rolling. Though there are a lot of cool touches of paranormal phenomena in the house, there is also a lot of exposition and the subplot with the hotel financier is kind of unnecessary. The proceedings are further hampered by the animation being less consistent than the first time out. Some sequences look rushed, with rickety character movement and a noticeable downgrade in detail. It's still pretty good for television cartooning (and many of the other scenes have exceptional moods and modeling), but one hopes that it's not going to be the case that each new entry in the Hellboy Animated series drops down a notch or two. Otherwise, where will we end up?

Because once Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron lights up, it lights up bright. The final third of the film, when evil finally shows its face and Hellboy starts smashing bad guys, things are just as exciting as they were in Sword of Storms. In fact, I'd say when Hellboy takes on the werewolf, it's one of the best sequences yet. Locked in a room lit only by a fireplace, not only is the pacing and the fight choreography spot-on, but the atmosphere and lighting are brilliantly rendered. I don't want to suggest that Hellboy Animated films should only be about the big action, but I think we need to look at what works here. And why.

My feeling is that the fight scenes come off better in Blood and Iron because everyone involved really goes for it, whereas when it comes to the spooky stuff, it feels like they've held back a little bit. Much of the backstory is just there to be backstory, and I think these scenes could have been more than merely functional, they could have been really eerie and frightening.

Even so, I very much enjoyed Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron. It's always a pleasure to peek in on Mike Mignola's uniquely twisted imagination, and his smart-aleck, accident-prone hero is charming enough on his own, he can keep just about anything from getting too bogged down. If they make a third--and watch Blood and Iron through the closing credits for an awesome hint of what they're going to do if #3 is greenlit--I'll still watch it with zero hesitation. Any complaints I have are the complaints of a fan, and I just want Hellboy to be its best. Based on its track record, the series best is pretty damn high, so slightly less is still pretty great.

THE DVD

Video:
The picture quality of Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron is stellar. Drawn at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the immaculate anamorphic transfer has a great color balance and shows off the artwork in all of its glory.

Sound:
One again, the main movie can be heard in either a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, a 2.0 English track, or a 2.0 Spanish track. The audio is exceptional, hitting all the right levels for the dialogue and action. There is also Closed Captioning.

Extras:
Though it would have been easy to skimp on the extras for a second DVD in a series, the producers have loaded Blood and Iron with plenty for the Hellboy fan to dine on. It's not as complete a package as Sword of Storms was, but it's still head and shoulders above your average studio effort.

The most extensive, of course, is the audio commentary featuring Mignola, Stones, and Cook. It's a spirited commentary and fairly honest about production obstacles and even things that the participants might have been less than happy with in the final product. They also detail origins of the story taken from real folklore and the inspiration of Hammer horror films, comparisons to the comic book, and identifying the contributions of different crew members.

Outside of the main feature, there are several short programs:

* "Reversal of Fortune: Professor Broom's Story" (20:20): This is essentially all the flashbacks from the movie reordered in their proper chronological sequence, with an introduction by Mignola and Stones. I found this kind of unnecessary as an extra, but some folks might dig it. Some folks also like the idea of watching Memento in chronological order, too.
* "Tales From the Tomb: A Look Inside Blood and Iron" (12:55): You're standard making-of, featuring interviews with Stones, Mignola, writer Kevin Hopps, character designer Greg Guler, producers Lloyd Levin and Guillermo Del Torro (also the director of the live-action Hellboy), and others. A good amount of time is spent on the pieces of the comic book series Wake the Devil that formed the backbone of the Blood and Iron script. Production art, panels from the comic books, storyboard-to-final-animation comparisons, and footage from story meetings are also shown to illustrate development.
* "Iron Shoes" (3:36): Mike Mignola introduces what is a short piece of test animation done for this quick story centering around some characters from English folklore. It's a fun bit of action/comedy. I like it. Also, it features some voice work from Dan Castellaneta.
* "The Penanggalan" E-Comic: Another Mignola introduced feature, with a title not even he can pronounce--though the creature it references is based on real mythology. This is called an "e-comic," and what it is, essentially, is one of Mike's comic book stories set up like a DVD art gallery, where you use your controller to select each page of the story, and then the disc scrolls panel to panel for you, pausing in spots to give you time to read the balloons.

Trailers included are Stan Lee Presents Condor, Karas the Prophecy, and Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms. In addition to being on the extras menu, these play as the DVD loads up.

For the fans of Hellboy's comic book origins, a full-length comic book by Jim Pascoe and Ben Stenbeck is included in the DVD case. This comic has a cover by Eric Powell, creator of The Goon, and an exclusive pin-up by Mignola and colorist Dave Stewart. Further decorative devices include a sturdy chapter insert with a blow-up of the Hellboy profile from the DVD cover and a shiny outer slipcase.

It's a little too bad, though, that the DVD for Blood and Iron doesn't also have the innovative DVD-Rom features that were on Sword of Storms. It's funny, because if you read my original review of that disc, I was suspicious of loading it into my computer at first...and now I miss having the option!

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I love the character of Hellboy, and I really dig the idea of there being more cartoon features starring the big dude, but Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron doesn't quite live up to the reputation of the franchise. I like spooky, but I wish it had gone spookier. Beyond that, though, it's still an entertaining supernatural adventure, starring a crew we've all come to know and love across the various media. Though inconsistent, a lot of the animation is awesome, and Mike Mignola's idiosyncratic imagination is still the main driving force, which means it's not possible to ever go entirely wrong. Plus, when Hellboy starts beating up on things with his big stone hand...well, it's pretty damn cool. Recommended, because when it works, it works oh so well.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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