It seemed like an awfully big risk: despite the legions of comic fans, I can't say I predicted big things for this screen adaptation of "Hellboy" - the trailers looked goofy and despite the fact that I consider Ron Perlman ("Alien: Resurrection") a good actor, I wasn't sure that he could get audience interest to cover a $60 million dollar picture. Pleasantly enough, the picture is actually pretty entertaining, despite the fact that it does go on a while longer than it probably should have.
The picture opens in Germany in 1944, where Rasputin (Karel Roden) and nazi soldiers are attempting to open a portal to another world in order to try and achieve enough evil power to try and win the war. Forces, accompanied by Prof. Bruttenholm (John Hurt), are able to close the portal, but before they can, Hellboy (Perlman as an adult Hellboy) escapes into the world. Prof. Bruttenholm (John Hurt) runs a cell of the government investigating paranormal findings, and he decides to become a father figure to Hellboy.
Sixty years after, signs show that Rasputin has returned to once again attempt to take over the world, so it's up to Hellboy, empath Abe Sapien (voiced by David Hyde Pierce), and firestarter Liz (Selma Blair) to try and stop him from taking over the world. When Bruttenholm finds that he doesn't have much time left, he summons FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) to try and become Hellboy's new handler. It doesn't exactly go well.
Hellboy does go over familiar ground in a lot of respects: there's another supervillian trying to take over the world, another bureaucrat - Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) - to try and sabotage the work being done by Hellboy and his fellow crimefighters and there's even something of a love triangle between Hellboy, Meyers and Liz.
However, while the picture doesn't veer too far away from the norm in theory, the look and the performances make up for a lot of the familiarity. Perlman is terrific as the cigar-chomping, beer-drinking, wise-cracking Hellboy - a great performance full of terrifically-played one-liners. Blair's sad eyes and effective sort-of gothic look work well, and the remainder of the supporting performances are generally very good.
The look of the picture is a superb recreation of a "comic-book" feel. The production design, cinematography and effects all give the film a great atmosphere. There's still a few little faults: the film didn't need the love triangle between the three main characters, and it still could have probably stood to lose a few moments beyond that - at over two hours, the film is noticably a bit much, although I can't say it ever really wore out its welcome.
This DVD edition of the film provides the director's cut of the picture, which adds more character-building scenes. While the running time seems to be the same, there is about 13 minutes of new scenes seen in this cut, making me guess that some scenes have been recut, with this new footage replacing material in the theatrical cut. This edition is unrated, while the theatrical edition is PG-13.
VIDEO: "Hellboy" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is really quite superb - even with the film's almost consistent low-light situations, the picture offered a rather stunning amount of detail and clarity. Sharpness and definition never let up throughout the show, either.
The imge generally seemed free of flaws. A little bit of edge enhancement was spotted in the image once or twice and maybe a couple of slight instances of compression artifacts were spotted. Otherwise, everything appeared spotless - no print flaws or other concerns. The film's rich color palette looked outstanding, with no smearing and vibrant, well-saturated tones. The new footage appeared to be the same quality as the rest of the film.
SOUND: "Hellboy" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Columbia/Tristar. The film's sound mix remained a fine example of a good action film sound mix. Surrounds were used consistently to provide some perfectly enjoyable effects work, which remained enveloping and immersive. Audio quality was excellent, as effects were often backed with fine helpings of low bass information, while dialogue and music remained crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: This new director's cut is a 3-DVD edition, with some new supplements and some supplements returning from the prior release.
The first disc's main supplements are two commentaries: one from director Guillermo del Toro, who has recorded a new commentary that goes along with this new director's cut of the feature. The director goes deeply into the themes and concepts behind the story, as well as the look of the film and technical bits about the production. The director also points out some of the changes that are in this director's cut. Also new is a commentary from composer Marco Beltrami, whose comments come in-between instances of his work on this isolated score track (in Dolby Digital 5.1.)
Yet, that's certainly not all that can be found on the first disc: the DVD offers viewers the ability to view newly-done comic book work in-between scenes in the movie and also, additional on-set featurettes. One can also view storyboards along with the film (there are more storyboards included on this feature on this new DVD edition). These features are optional and can be turned on/off.
Also included are an introduction by the director and DVD-ROM features, including a printable screenplay, director's notebook and script supervisor's book.
That's certainly not all, though: pop in the second disc and you'll find the "Seeds of Creation" documentary, which runs, quite impressively, nearly 180 minutes. This (very) extensive "making of" featurette provides a look into absolutely everything one could want to know about the movie. Director Guillermo Del Toro, creator Mike Mignola and many members of the cast and crew discuss the film's production, talk about creating the visual look of the film and characters, chat about the visual effects and also, talk about trying to effectively adapt the comic book story and feel to the screen.
Aside from the major documentary, we get three deleted scenes, storyboard-to-scene comparisons, filmographies, animatics and character bios.
Disc three starts off with an introduction from actor Ron Pearlman, then features a commentary from actor Ron Pearlman, actor Jeffrey Tambor, actor Rupert Evans and actress Selma Blair. The commentary is a relaxed affair, with the actors providing a fun, but low-key chat about working together and shooting on location. While this was an audio commentary for the original release, it is a video commentary this time around, as we get to see the actors chat in the recording studio, while the film plays in a box in the lower corner of the screen.
"Production Workshops" are short featurettes that offer interviews and behind-the-scenes clips regarding some technical aspects of the production. First off, we get lighting and make-up tests, with audio commentary by director Del Toro. After that, we get three visual effects featurettes - "Bellamie Hospital", "Computer Generated Sets" and "Liz's Fire".
We also get a 23-minute "Q & A" session with director Del Toro, artist/producer Mike Mignola and actor Ron Pearlman. Done at the Comic Con, the featurette has the three discussing to comic fans how the comics are going to be translated to the film, both in terms of story and in terms of the look of the feature. Funny and entertaining, Del Toro leads the discussion and really provides a good overview of how he set out to create the optimal translation of "Hellboy" to the screen, even chatting about how some of the people working on the film were people who merely approached the director with their work in a store.
"A Quick Guide to Understanding Comics" has Scott McCloud providing an interview that gives a good overview of the history of comic books.
Finally, a group of galleries are offered: "Conceptual Art and Production Stills", "Mike Mignola Pre-Production Art", "Comic Book Artist Pin-Ups" and "Director's Notebook".
Rounding out the final disc are previews for other Columbia/Tristar titles: "Labrynth", "Dark Crystal", "Underworld" and "Mirrormask".
Final Thoughts: It goes on a little long, but Perlman's performance is terrific, the film looks amazing and the picture is entertaining more often than not. Columbia/Tristar's director's cut DVD edition provides a new cut of the film, as well as several new supplements. Audio/video quality is excellent once again. Recommended.