When I was growing up the local soda shop was the place to pick up the latest comic books. Now, comics have become so popular that they warrant a store of their own. Not only that but it would appear that these establishments have become the new research centers for the rising young film studio executive to research their latest projects. When the cost of these comics was ten cents they where comic books, now that they cost over $20 they have become graphic novels and the fodder for numerous screen plays. Among the latest entries in this trend is Hellboy, they story of a man-beast from hell that fights for the American way of life. The story begins in World War II, Hitler is obsessed with the super natural and paranormal and has commissioned a group of Nazis, lead by noted mystic Grigori Rasputin (Karl Roden), opens a portal to the netherworld and is pulled into it. In response to the Nazi’s plans FDR forms an American counter force led by Prof. Bruttenholm (John Hurt), the personal psychic to the President of the United States. He would act has a kind of paranormal homeland security advisor. Now there is someone that would be entertaining to watch during Senate hearings. Bruttenholm comes into possession of a little red baby complete with horns and a tail that fortunately can be pacified with a Baby Ruth candy bar. We flash forward to the present day where a pair of remaining Nazis Ilsa (Bridget Hodson) and the plastic surgery addicted Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) plot to summons the nefarious Rasputin back from the other side. The baby has grown into Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a seven foot tall creature who lives in a secret FBI facility. His roommate of sorts is Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a fish-human hybrid born on the day that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Of course, in typical comic book format the Nazis do succeed in releasing an evil beast, complete with tentacles, teeth and slime into the unsuspecting world. Called in to assist Hellboy and Abe is Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a slightly built young woman that starts fires with her mind when upset. I thought my daughter with PMS was dangerous but Liz takes mood swings to a whole new level. While the plot is pretty standard comic book faire the treatment of the characters elevates this story to a notable level. First of all Hellboy is a devote Catholic, complete with rosary beads. He is also in love with Liz, bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘star crossed lovers’. Hellboy is more than a misshapen creature, he a being of intelligence, wit and more personal baggage than most. He is the typical anti-hero, the misfit desperate to fit in. To this end he files down his horns as if that would make a seven foot tall red creature less noticeable anyway other than here in New York City.
For a film like this the cast is extremely important. You need actors that are able to express various facets of their characters personalities while still maintaining the feel of a comic book. Fortunately, such a cast was achieved. This role was perfect for Ron Perlman. After his signature role on the television show Beauty and the Beast where he portrayed a man of monstrous appearance with the soul of a poet. He brings a lot of that to mind here. Hellboy is internally conflicted. His religious convictions often conflict with the tasks before him. In contrast Selma Blair plays Liz as a pretty young woman barely in control of incredibly destructive powers. To balance out these characters a barely recognizable John Hurt plays the father figure for this strange clan. He offers the audience a semblance of normality in this strange world created on the screen.
Director Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to the genre of comic films, after all he directed Blade II. He was so devoted to this project that he passed on the chance to direct the third installment of the wildly successful Harry Potter franchise. The fact that this was a labor of love for del Toro comes across in the direction of this film. For one thing he sticks fairly well to the source material from Mike Mignola. Del Toro knows this is a comic and treats the film accordingly. The film has the look and feel of the comic rather than trying to force more on this film that it can handle. This is a form of respect to the audience and is appreciated. The pacing of the film is maintained by switching between Hellboy fighting evil monsters and more tender moments with Liz. There is also enough time given over to expository material permitting the actors to help us understand the various aspects of their character’s personalities. The staging of the scenes was well done. Each frame could easily have been ripped from the pages of the graphic novel. The film does not make the mistake so very common to comic book films, it does not take itself too seriously and does not make that demand upon its audience.
This two disc set is excellent. Besides the standard Dolby 5.1 audio and anamorphic video, both extremely well done, there are extras that really are enjoyable. For one thing there are eight DVD comics by Mike Mignola utilizing seamless branching the way it should be used. The usual making of featurette is replaced by Hellboy: The Seeds of Creation, a 27 part epic of every aspect of the creative process that turned the comic in to this film. The storyboards are presented throughout the whole film by means of picture in picture, a bit over the top but its nice they thought of it. Another option is called The Right Hand of Doom: Set Visits, which permits you to branch off at selected scenes for additional information. It was similar to the ‘Green Fairy’ feature on the Moulin Rouge DVD. Of course Columbia did not forget the ever popular commentary tracks. There are two featuring the director and cast members. In all this is an enjoyable ride. No, it will never be on any top ten lists of greatest films but it succeeds in what it set out to do, entertain. It does this better than most of the comic related films out there.