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Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/11/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/9/2008

When directors are asked why they make movies, or more specifically, for whom their movies are made, there are usually a variety of answers, most of which come across as pompous and unbelievable. Behind all of the "art for the sake of art" and "I make the kind of movies that I'd like to see" answers, most director's must want to please someone with their films. And that "someone" usually falls into two categories; critics or the moviegoing public. There are few directors who can capture the imagination of both. Guillermo del Toro is that rare exception. By blending action, horror, and art films into his resume, del Toro has seen box-office success and an Oscar nomination. Incredibly, he's blended those two worlds into a comic book adaptation with Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army begins not longer after the events of the first film. In that movie, we met Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a demon who was found during World War II by Professor Broom (John Hurt). While keeping his hidden away from the world, due to his red skin, horns, and tremendous right hand, Broom raised Hellboy in the way of humans. Today, Hellboy is employed by the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, where, under the direction of Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), he and his fellow monster hunters -- Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a young woman who can control fire and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a fish-like creature who is psychic -- help to keep humanity safe. As the film opens, we see a flashback to Hellboy's childhood, where Broom tells him a story of how the elves once went to war against the humans. In order to guarantee victory, the Elfin King has a "Golden Army" created. However, the Army was unstoppable and they took many lives. Regretting his decision, the King withdrew the Army and agreed to peace with humankind.

Meanwhile, in the present, Hellboy is getting pressure from all side. Manning begs him to stay out of the public eye so that their work can remain secretive. Liz, who has an on-again/off-again relationship with Hellboy, is asking him for some space. During this, the B.P.R.D. is called to the scene of a massacre at an auction. Following the clues, they learn that Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), heir to the Elfin throne, has come out of self-exile and plans to once again wage war on the humans. While Hellboy, Liz, and Abe attempt to learn more about the prince and his plan, Manning decides that Hellboy is too much of a loose cannon and brings in Johann Krauss (played by James Dodd with voice by Seth MacFarlane), a guy in an old-fashioned diving suit to help. Hellboy must attempt to overcome all of the strife around him in order to do what he does best -- beat up the bad guys.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army follows del Toro's Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, and it's fairly clear that he enjoyed the success of those films, both commercially and critically, and wanted to somehow combine the two. But, how do you combine the story of a big, red demon comic-book character, and a drama set in a magical realm? I don't know, but somehow del Toro has done it. And because of this, the movie works on two levels.

First and foremost, this is a comic-book action movie. Despite the fact that Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an original idea from del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and is not taken directly from a comic, it still retains the spirit of the books. From the opening scene which depicts the elves versus human battle (utilizing puppets, which is much cooler than it sounds) to the final fight, this film has several action set-pieces which are very well-done. The fight choreography and editing give these scenes a frenetic pace and Hellboy's cynical sense of humor, even when fighting a giant plant, keeps things light.

While Hellboy certainly touched on the supernatural, the sequel moves towards the fantasy realm, and incorporates characters and ideas which would have felt right at home in Pan's Labyrinth. The movie features many magical creatures which aren't necessarily monsters (as seen in the first film), but simply fantastical entities which live in their own world. The imagination involved in these ideas and in the look of the creatures themselves helps to move Hellboy II: The Golden Army out of the typical sci-fi action film genre. Following this idea, the film contains some serious ideas as well, as both Hellboy and Abe must face the trials and tribulations of being in love.

If Hellboy II: The Golden Army has a weak link, it's the villain. As we know from Disney and James Bond films, a movie can live or die by its villain. When he's first introduced, Prince Nuada certainly seems like an intimidating and dangerous character. Then, throughout the film, he keeps showing up and giving Hellboy advice and coming off as way too sensitive. Even after he caused chaos in the streets, not once, but twice, I still didn't have strong feelings towards him. He certainly pales in comparison to the clockwork Nazi dude with the knives from the first movie.

Columbia Pictures, who distributed Hellboy, passed on the sequel, allowing Universal to pick up the film. This was Columbia's loss, as Guillermo del Toro has created a truly fascinating film. The action will impress comic fan boys (although the final fight scene is too long) and the fantasy elements may attract those who normally don't go for comic book movies. (And perhaps this shows how del Toro is gearing up for The Hobbit). For me, the most impressive part of Hellboy II: The Golden Army is the use of real sets and latex creatures. In a world where CGI has gotten out of hand, it's good to see that a director sill understands that audiences will react to something which is actually there.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army goes red on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The transfer reveals an image which is very sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source material. Although this film is dark at times, the image is never too dark and the action is always visible. The colors look very good, especially blues, reds, and greens. The image has a very nice amount of detail, thus allowing us to see every wrinkle on the various creatures. However, the actors skin is never waxy. There is a nice depth to the image as well, giving some scenes a 3-D look. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I've written before about how impressive the audio on Universal Blu-rays is, and this one is no exception. The stereo effects are amazingly detailed and we hear every tiny creature moving through the film. The stereo separation is excellent, as the action moves from right to left and back again. Surround sound effects are nearly constant and they truly immerse us into the action scenes. The subwoofer is wall-shakingly good, and every punch and explosion is punctuated. Overall, a nice demo disc for your home theater.

The Hellboy II Blu-ray Disc contains a number of special features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Guillermo del Toro. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY featuring Jeffrey Tambor, Selma Blair, and Luke Goss. In "Troll Market Tour with Guillermo del Toro" (12 minutes) the director takes us around the massive set, pointing out the elaborate details. He mentions the influences for certains looks and props. "Production Workshop" explores the opening scene in which puppets were used to illustrate a flashback sequence. We get finished footage side-by-side with storyboards -- this can be viewed with or without commentary by del Toro. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary from del Toro. These scenes are all brief and don't really add anything...save for Jeffrey Tambor fighting a coffee machine. "Zinco Epilogue Animated Comic" (5 minutes) offers comic-book panels with minimal animation which tells the story of what happened right before the film. "Comic Book Builder" allows the viewer to create their own Hellboy comic. The Disc offers four galleries, "Creature Design", "Mike Mignola Creator Gallery", "Production Design", and "Production Stills". The "U-control" functions on this Disc give us four options, "Schuffen Goggle View", "Director's Notebook", "Set Visits", and "Concept Art Gallery". All take advantage of picture-in-picture mode.

The Hellboy II Blu-ray Disc comes packaged with a DVD which includes more special features. Following a 20-second introduction from del Toro, we go into "Hellboy: In Service of the Demon". This 2 1/2 hour documentary offers a very in-depth look at the making of the film. To say the very least, the piece offers a ton of on-set footage and comments from the cast and filmmakers. Beginnnig with pre-production, we see concept art for creatures and locations. This leads to the three-dimensional creations of those ideas. From that, we learn about the costumes and make-up. Next, we see the creation of the creatures and how they were brought to life. The creatures which weren't built were rendered in CG, as we learn here. As the film features many fight scenes, the stuntwork was quite important. Next, we se the sets and props. Every major scene is dissected here. We then see the actors doing voice-overs, including Seth MacFarlane. Finally, we see how visual effects were used to put the finishing touches on the film. "Marketing Campaign" offers a slew of poster and movie art examples.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long