Hellboy II: The Golden Army
- Street Date:
- November 11th, 2008
- Reviewed by:
- Joshua Zyber
- Review Date: 1
- November 23rd, 2008
- Movie Release Year:
- Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- 120 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated PG-13
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Throughout his career, Guillermo del Toro has regularly alternated between small, personal projects and big studio pictures. He followed his debut feature 'Cronos' (a strange, intimate twist on vampire mythology) with the horror thriller 'Mimic'. From there, he traveled to Spain for 'The Devil's Backbone' and then returned to Hollywood for 'Blade II'. The director's obsessions with dark fairy tales, fantastical monsters, and clockwork mechanical gizmos were a perfect fit for Mike Mignola's cult comic book about a grumpy demon hellspawn with a fondness for candy bars and big guns. The 2004 film adaptation of 'Hellboy' was witty, inventive, action-packed, and very entertaining. Unfortunately, the studio (Sony) found it difficult to market a movie in which the hero basically looks like the bastard son of Satan. The picture did only mediocre box office business, but found more of an audience on DVD. Cut to a few years later and del Toro was riding high on the success of 'Pan's Labyrinth'. A new studio (Universal) decided to pick up the 'Hellboy' rights and capitalize on the director's ascending fortunes, tailoring the promotional campaign for 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' almost exclusively around Guillermo del Toro's reputation.
Most of the major players from the original have returned for the sequel, including Ron Perlman as the big red demon, Selma Blair as his hot-tempered girlfriend, and Jeffrey Tambor as their dim-witted boss at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Even John Hurt makes a cameo flashback as HB's kindly adopted father. Doug Jones continues in the fish-man suit as Abe Sapien, this time providing the voice himself (David Hyde Pierce performed vocal duties the first time around). Missing entirely is Rupert Evans as Agent Myers, his character dismissed in a single line of dialogue. Newly introduced is by-the-book Agent Johann Krauss, a vaporous apparition (voiced by Seth MacFarlane of 'Family Guy') contained in a walking pressurized suit.
The plot of 'Hellboy II' posits that numerous races of mystical creatures (fairies, trolls, goblins, and more) have been living beneath the human world for millennia, abiding by an ancient truce to stay out of our way. Fed up with this complacency, the exiled Prince Nuada returns to seize his Elven father's throne and reactivate the long-dormant Golden Army, a fearsome force of thousands of indestructible mechanical warriors. To do that, he needs the three pieces of the Golden Crown. The first piece is easily stolen from a human auction house, and the second can be wrested from his father's hands. However, his twin sister Princess Nuala absconds with the final piece to the protection of Hellboy and the instantly-smitten Abe.
As a movie, 'The Golden Army' has a much grander scale than the first 'Hellboy'. Although modestly budgeted (at $85 million) by summer blockbuster standards, the film features some astoundingly elaborate production design that would make even Terry Gilliam blush, and countless mind-bending monstrous creations ripped from the deepest recesses of Mignola's and del Toro's imaginations. The action scenes are well choreographed and the movie has no shortage of visual effects, highlighted by an impressive city street battle between HB and a giant "Elemental" forest god.
What 'Hellboy II' lacks is the rich characterization of the first film. The plot is far too busy, leaving little time for any personal moments to flesh out the characters. Only one very funny drunken bonding moment between Hellboy and Abe reminds us why we were so invested in their fates in the last movie. The rest of the picture is spent running around shooting stuff and making lame wisecracks. Prince Nuada is a rather whiny, weak villain. His sister Nuala bears a striking resemblance to a young Michelle Pfeiffer, but the actress playing her is rather stiff. Abe is given next to nothing to do except pine after Nuala. Thanks to the movie's costume designers and hair stylists, Liz looks much sexier and tougher in the sequel, but sadly Selma Blair still hasn't learned how to act.
Plenty of Guillermo del Toro's visual genius is on display in 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army', but the story doesn't support it adequately. The film performed about the same as the first theatrically, not quite earning back its entire budget. As before, it will probably fare better on home video. There's much of interest to watch and savor in the movie, but on the whole the picture is frankly a little dull and is certainly not one of the director's stronger works.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' to Blu-ray in two separate editions. Both are 2-disc sets with identical video content spread across one Blu-ray and one standard DVD. The regular edition comes in a standard keepcase with a lenticular slipcover that changes appearance between the live action and comic book depictions of the character. A more expensive Collector's Set includes extra packaging bric-a-brac such as a poster, a reproduction of the director's sketch notebook, and a figurine of one of the Golden Army robots.
The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled and very slow to load in a standalone BD player. It also has a loud and annoying main menu screen that spoils one of the movie's best scenes and repeats in a very short loop.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Back when Sony issued the first 'Hellboy' on Blu-ray in 2007, that disc's razor sharp details and rich colors were near-reference quality for the format. Universal's release of the sequel is very similar in most regards, if slightly less impressive in direct comparison.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is presented in the movie's theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, just like the original. The robust colors, including del Toro's use of amber hues, vibrant blues, and deep red tones, are reproduced vividly. The contrast range extends to inky blacks, though shadow detail is at times a bit obscure. At its best, the picture has extraordinary sharpness and detail. Close-up shots of HB's skin reveal exemplary texture. However, image clarity is not always consistent. Medium and wide shots are generally less impressive and look a little filtered. The movie also has an abundance of CG effects that are disappointingly soft and blurry for a movie of this budget, especially the Golden Army robots themselves. The end credits text appears somewhat jaggy as well.
Make no mistake, 'Hellboy II' is a fine-looking disc. It just doesn't hit the same heights as its predecessor. I rewatched the original 'Hellboy' immediately afterwards and found it noticeably sharper and more consistent in appearance. On the other hand, the sequel has no problems with color banding, which is an improvement in its favor.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
If I went through a checklist to tick off various technical aspects of the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, it might seem deserving of our highest possible score. Certainly, the sound mix has hyper-aggressive surround activity from all four discrete rear channels and some punishing bass. Sound effects are sharply recorded and dialogue is always perfectly intelligible. But that doesn't really tell the whole story. It's a very good audio track, but something is missing.
The soundtrack starts loud and just gets louder as it goes, like all the channels have been cranked up to 11.5. Unlike the outstanding sound design of del Toro's 'Pan's Labyrinth', 'Hellboy II' lacks finesse. The mix is all about power, with little room for subtlety or nuance. The surprisingly bland score by Danny Elfman rarely exhibits much warmth. While the LFE channel throbs almost constantly, the low end is not very refined. Perhaps most distractingly, the ADR dubbing is poorly integrated into the sound mix. Lip sync may be adequate, but voices sound very disconnected from the visuals.
Once again, these criticisms must be kept in proper perspective. 'Hellboy II' has very good audio that most viewers will find plenty satisfying.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Regardless of which Blu-ray edition you buy, both share the same video supplements. All of the content from the comparable 3-Disc Special Edition DVD is here in one form or another, just consolidated onto 2 discs.
- Feature Commentary with Director Guillermo del Toro – The director is well versed in the art of the audio commentary. He delivers an intelligent, engaging discussion of his artistic intentions, his influences, his fetishes, and the themes and symbolism in the movie.
- Feature Commentary with Cast Members Jeffrey Tambor, Selma Blair, & Luke Goss – In stark contrast to the director's commentary is this superficial chat between members of the supporting cast. Ron Perlman is conspicuously absent. Selma Blair is particularly annoying. She actually starts the track by recommending that viewers listen to del Toro's commentary instead. I wholeheartedly agree.
- Troll Market Tour (SD, 12 min.) – Guillermo del Toro leads a walking tour of the film's most elaborate set, pointing out many obscure elements in the production design that are never seen by the camera. As he puts it, "There's a lot more detail than you can feature in a movie with a plot."
- Production Workshop: Professor Broom's Puppet Theater (SD, 5 min.) – The director provides a 2-minute video introduction, which then leads into a 3-minute exploration of the prologue sequence's evolution from thumbnail sketches to storyboards to completed footage. The latter section also has optional commentary by del Toro.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 5 min.) – Six scene extensions, also with optional commentary by the director explaining why he cut them.
- Zinco Epilogue Animated Comic (SD, 5 min.) – A proposed alternate ending that would tie the sequel back to the first movie. The scene is presented in animated storyboard fashion, with dialogue dubbed in by voice actors. The scene really has nothing to do with the plot of 'Hellboy II' and didn't need to be in the movie.
- Still Galleries – An extensive assortment of creature designs, production art, and photo stills. In the "Mike Mignola Creator Gallery," the author provides 36 minutes of audio commentary over his design sketches.
Disc 1 (Blu-ray)
- Prologue (SD, 30 sec.) – Guillermo del Toro provides another brief video introduction to the following documentary.
- Hellboy: In Service of the Demon (SD, 155 min.) – This exhaustive documentary runs half an hour longer than the movie itself. It covers almost every aspect of the film's production from the earliest design sessions with Mike Mignola to building the sets, the creature makeup, the VFX, costumes, and fight choreography. Basically, everything you could possibly want to know about the making of 'Hellboy II' is covered.
- Print Gallery & Poster Explorations – As if Disc 1 didn't have enough still galleries, Disc 2 contains another assortment focusing on poster designs and print ads. Oddly, the two sections appear to be mislabeled. Many of the print ads are quite clever and humorous.
- DVD-Rom – A copy of the movie's script is available in the ROM section of the DVD.
- Digital Copy – A portable video version of the movie compatible with either Windows Media or iTunes. The file can be downloaded from the disc with an activation code provided in the packaging.
Disc 2 (DVD)
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
- Comic Book Builder – An idea better in theory than in practice, the Comic Book Builder allows you to grab still frames of your choosing from three selected scenes, apply an assortment of pre-written dialogue quotes, and arrange them into a comic book page layout. Unfortunately, the execution is just kind of frustrating and lame. For one thing, you actually have to read and acknowledge a Terms of Service Agreement before starting. The basic elements of the feature will work in any Blu-ray player, but if you have a Profile 2.0 unit, you can share your designs online with friends. As if you'd really want to.
Will Work in Any Blu-ray Player
- U-Control – I can't tell you how irritating I find Universal's U-Control interface. In this one, you can watch the movie with four possible options: pop-up Concept Art, a picture-in-picture Scene Explorer: Schufften Goggle View (which provides alternate angles on VFX footage in various stages of development), branched-off video interviews from the Director's Notebook, and branched-off Set Visit B-roll footage. The problem is the amount of manual interaction needed to use the features. Much of this material overlaps and forces you to backtrack to rewatch the same scene with multiple different options. Some of this content is also available on the DVD edition in the supplement section separated from the movie.
Bonus View: Requires Profile 1.1
- My Chat – Connect online to text chat with friends while watching the movie using either an awkward on-screen keyboard simulator, your own laptop, or a PDA. At certain times, Universal may also host scheduled events, such as the chat with Guillermo del Toro that took place on November 23rd, 2008.
BD-Live: Requires Profile 2.0
The following hidden easter egg was located by reader Gordon:
- Outtakes (SD, 3 min.) – In the Extras menu, go to Gallery then highlight Production Stills and hit DOWN. Select the red BPRD logo to watch the actors flub their lines.
'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' is a decided step down from the first, much more entertaining 'Hellboy'. However, it does still feature enough of Guillermo del Toro's unique visionary touches to rate a recommendation. Helping things greatly are the Blu-ray's very nice video, audio, and bountiful assortment of bonus features.
- 2-Disc Set (Blu-ray/DVD)
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc (Disc 1)
- DVD-9 Dual-Layer Disc (Disc 2)
- Bonus View (Profile 1.1)
- BD-Live (Profile 2.0)
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- 480i/MPEG-2 (DVD Only)
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround
- Spanish DTS 5.1 Surround
- French DTS 5.1 Surround
- English SDH
- Spanish Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- 2 Audio Commentaries
- Deleted Scenes
- Still Galleries
- Digital Copy
Exclusive HD Content
- U-Control Picture-in-Picture Track
- Comic Book Builder
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