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HELLBOY:  DIRECTOR'S CUT

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Karel Roden, Rupert Evans, John Hurt
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 132 Minutes
Release Date: October 19, 2004

“Remind me why I do this again.”

“Rotten eggs and the safety of mankind.”

Film ***

It seems that just about every single comic book creation is getting their big break on the big screen, from Spider-Man to Daredevil to The Punisher, etc. In fact, comic book characters are so populating films right now that even the lesser known creations are getting a chance to make their mark. Case in point, Hellboy.

I must confess that, up until about a year or so before this film came out, I had no idea who or what Hellboy even was. For someone who claims to know his share of comic book hoopla, I did feel kind of embarrassed. But then again, Hellboy happens to be the product of Dark Horse Comics, perhaps the one comic book distributor I fail to keep up with. It's clear, though, that this particular comic book creation has a serious legion of fans. Otherwise, they're wouldn't have been a strong desire to have a movie adaptation made.

It goes without saying that having visionary master Guillermo Del Toro (Blade II) on board to direct and adapt a screenplay for the movie certainly did the fans a whole lot of justice. Del Toro, a director with a gift for painting truly eerie atmospheres, is the ideal choice for a movie like this. The result is a visually spectacular action adventure, which carries an added bonus of sheer campiness.

The movie's story takes its time setting itself up, as demonstrated in the masterful opening of the film. It opens during World War II, where it turns out that a group of Nazis are attempting to conduct an experiment of horrific proportions. With the help of demented scientist Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), the Nazis' goal is to open up a portal to the dark side to bring forth the feared Seven Gods of Chaos.

The plot is then foiled when U.S. forces, being aided by President Roosevelt's personal psychic aid, invade. The experiment goes awry just as the portal is being opened, resulting in Rasputin being sucked in the portal and disappearing. It is also discovered that something came from the other side; that of a red demon baby with a tail and a pair of horns.

The scientist takes the infant in; raising him to become a big part of what will become a secret organization battling extreme paranormal activity. Cut to the present, where the same scientist, Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt), has indeed done just that by establishing the secret Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. The very little demon boy has now grown into a larger than life presence named Hellboy, the agency's lead operative.

Hellboy is played magnificently by Ron Perlman, whose very physical structure indicates why he was the ultimately perfect actor for the role, even if he had to endure endless makeup in the process. Perlman also makes the character into something unique, by injecting both sarcastic wit for great one liners, as well as putting a good depth of humanity to Hellboy, since he was after all raised in a human fashion.

The central plot involves the sudden return of Rasputin, who has been brought back from the other side by way of a ceremony performed by two of his Nazi cohorts. As part of his return to Earth, Rasputin has cut a deal with the dark gods; in exchange for immortality and unlimited powers, he will open a gateway to Earth. In order to do so, he must first convert Hellboy to the cause.

Although he's 7 feet tall, big and red, and doesn't necessarily fit in, Hellboy, or Red as he is preferably known, can't even think to betray his life. He has two specific reasons for it; his love for Prof. Bruttenholm, who is very much his adoptive father, and a secret but undying affection for Liz (Selma Blair), a fellow agent whose possesses the power to ignite fires whenever she gets excited. Since Hellboy is technically “fireproof”, they would make a perfect couple.

Of all the action displayed in Hellboy, the real kicker is Red's extended battle with that of a slimy, reptilian like creature that's been brought to life out of a museum artifact by way of the Nazi enemies. The two have to fight each other on more than one occasion because this creature can reproduce. Their duel on a subway train is a superb, pulse-pounding moment.

Mixing in a way over the top plot scenario with fantastic visuals, gargantuan action packed thrills, and an a brilliantly uncanny performance by Perlman, Hellboy is top-notch eye candy done with pure craft and vision. Credit the gifted Guillermo Del Toro for painting a visually distinctive look to match the eccentric characters and their dimensions. Del Toro and Perlman have already signed on to make a sequel in 2006. I for one will be ready for it.

Video ****

I had a huge feeling that this movie would make quite an impression on DVD. Boy, was I ever more right, and then some. As of now, Columbia Tri Star's top notch job on Hellboy is THE BEST video offering of the year thus far, surpassing that of another CTS release, Big Fish, from earlier this year. The look that Del Toro has given the film is delivered magnificently onto the format, blasting the visual senses in nearly every single scene. Image sharpness is at a pure hundred percent level, and colors are nothing short of remarkable, especially since Del Toro uses much distinctive coloring in many of the movie's sequences. An awesomely mind-blowing visual feast which illustrates DVD performance at its best.

Audio ****

In short, a perfect match for the video performance. CTS' 5.1 mix ranks among the very best sounding discs so far in 2004. The level of range given to this sound mix is incredible and very impeccable. The sound of the movie itself is big and furious, and so is the sound of the discs, which injects a strong sound enhancement if I've ever heard one. Right from the opening sequence, the quality simply never lets up for a second, as music, technical effects, and dialogue all get sharp as a blade delivery through the channels. High marks all the way!

Features ****

Just when I thought the good people at Columbia Tri Star could never surpass the previous 2-disc offering, here comes a glorious 3-disc package that even surpasses that release.

Disc 1 features a brand new commentary track by Guillermo Del Toro, as well as a video introduction by the director. Also featured is a composer commentary with isolated Score, branching DVD comics drawn by Mike Mignola, the "Right Hand of Doom" set visits and factoids, and a storyboard track.

Disc 2 features a video introduction by Selma Blair, a much detailed documentary titled, "Hellboy: The Seeds of Creation", deleted scenes with optional commentary by Guillermo Del Toro, character bios written by the director, motion board-a-matics, Animatics, multi-angle storyboard comparisons, a Maquette Rotations Gallery, Trailers and TV Spots, filmographies and poster explorations.

Disc 3 includes a video introduction by Ron Perlman , as well as cast video commentary with Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor and Rupert Evans, production workshops, makeup and lighting tests , a Q&A archive for Comic-Con 2002, A Quick Guide to Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud, director's notebook, photo galleries, Mike Mignola's Pre-Production Art, conceptual art galleries, and Comic Book Artists Pin-Ups.

Also featured in the package is an exclusive collectible booklet, titled "Excerpt From the Diary of Grigori Rasputin", by Mike Mignola.

Summary:

Hellboy has made his red mark on DVD twice this year, and there's no question that this 3-disc Director's Cut release is the superior of the two releases, as hard as it was to surpass the original 2-disc set. This superbly crafted, visionary film is without a doubt one of the DVD highlights of the year!

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