Just in time for the 20th anniversary of the character's first appearance (way back in John Byrne's Next Men #21… unless you count San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2, which was Dark Horse Comics' comic con exclusive released in August 1993), Anchor Bay has reissued the two animated features that were first unleased on Blu-ray in 2007. This seems, however, to basically be the same disc just dolled up with some new packaging and a mini-comic tucked away in the case. Regardless, here's what to expect with these two animated adventures which originally premiered on the Cartoon Network…
SWORD OF STORMS:
Directed by Tad Stones, the man behind the Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command: The Adventure Begins feature, this first feature begins when an aged professor named Sakai (possibly as a nod to comic book artist and Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai?) who specializes in Japanese folklore gets his hands on an ancient scroll that winds up unleashing two Japanese demons named Thunder and Lightning. As Sakai reads the scroll, the demons possess him and use him to track down the sword that would seem to be the only weapon capable of defeating them. After Sakai attacks the sword collector known to own the piece, the Bureau For Paranormal Research And Defense calls in agents Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Kate Corrigan, and Russell Thorne.
All is going well until Hellboy, during the investigation, finds an old sword. He picks it up and is whisked off to another dimension where the monsters and spirits of feudal era Japan reign supreme. He learns that in order to return home he'll have to break the sword but if he does that, he'll free Thunder and Lightning. As Hellboy tries to figure out what to do, Sakai sends a veritable legion of Yokai monster after him while Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) must do battle with a dragon summoned to Earth by the demons to wreak havoc with our heroes.
Once you get used to the look of the movie (it looks neither like the original comic books nor the live action movies that Guillermo Del Toro made), this is a pretty decent action/adventure story. There's a good sense of humor to much of what we see and the art is fairly stylish if sometimes just a bit more exaggerated and a bit less atmospheric than maybe it could or should have been. It's fun to see many of the actors from the feature films reprise the characters and provide voice work for their cartoon selves and all of this goes at a good pace.
BLOOD & IRON:
Once again directed by Tad Stones, the second feature begins when Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Sidney Leach (Rob Paulsen) and Abe Sapien head out on an investigation to find out just what exactly is going on out in The Hamptons where the residents of a fancy mansion are apparently experiencing plenty of paranormal activity. Given that the billionaire who owns the place has a penchant for publicity stunts they take this with a grain of salt but once they arrive they find themselves involved Professor Trevor 'Broom' Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and discover that there are plenty of spirits about.
Hellboy and his team do what they can to do away with the hauntings and try to get things back to normal, while events from Bruttenholm's past soon tie into attempts to resurrect a vampires Hell bent on mass destruction in the name of eternal youth. Hellboy, of course, wants to put a stop to this, that's his job, but there are demons, werewolves and other assorted creatures of the night to contend with along the way. Nothing can be easy, it seems...
The reliance on flashbacks to explain the origins of the vampires gets a little old but otherwise, this one plays out nicely. There's some great creature design work here and the use of color as well as illustrated shadow and light can actually get fairly atmospheric in spots. Adding John Hurt to the cast of voice actors is a definite plus as he plays the professor quite well and seems to ‘fit' the character while once again we get the principals from the live action movies reprising their respective roles as well. The story here is a better tale than the one told in Sword Of Storms, it seems to allow the characters more interaction without sacrificing the plethora of bizarre set pieces and beastly denizens you'd expect and hope for from a good Hellboy story. It all comes together nicely, again with some appreciable humor even if the story itself is quite a bit darker than the first feature, which feels truer to the comic book stories that inspired it.
Both features are presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Detail is as good as the source material will allow for and colors are reproduced quite nicely here. Blacks are nice and solid while lines in the animation are nicely defined and while much of the running time in both movies is made up of action that takes place in darker locations, brighter primary colors are reproduced quite nicely, the red used to illustrate the titular character being a good example of that. There might be some minor compression artifacts in a few scenes but they're not obvious and they're few and far between when they do occur. Otherwise, things look fine here.
The only audio option offered for either of the two animated features is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, there are no alternate language tracks included here nor are there any subtitles or closed captioning options. The quality of the audio is fine, but it would have been nice to see this reissue offer an upgrade over the previous Blu-ray release by including lossless tracks for both movies. That didn't happen, but what's here sounds good. Levels are nicely balanced and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. There's a fair bit of fun surround activity evident throughout and the dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow.
Outside of menus and chapter selection, there are no extra features included on this disc, however, inside the Blu-ray case is a comic book reprint in which Hellboy's creator Mike Mignola tells the story of The Chapel of Moloch. The red DVD sized case (yes, it is in a DVD sized case, not a Blu-ray sized case) fits inside a nice looking cardboard slipcase. There was a DVD release in 2008 that was loaded with extras but none of those extras made it to the first Blu-ray release, and none of them have made it to this release either.
This Blu-ray release of the Hellboy: Sword Of Storms/Blood & Iron seems to be basically just a repackaged version of the Blu-ray that Starz/Anchor Bay put out in 2007, from the VC-1 codec down to the lossy audio track. The only difference seems to be the packaging and the inclusion of the mini-comic. If you don't have that past release and enjoy the Hellboy universe, there's fun to be had here even if the disc doesn't take full advantage of the format. If you've enjoyed the comics or the movies, consider this one casually recommended on the strength of the stories that are told despite the barebones nature and outdated technical specifications.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.