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Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Three-Disc Special Edition DVD Review

Hellboy II: The Golden Army movie poster Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Theatrical Release: July 11, 2008 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Guillermo del Toro / Writers: Guillermo del Toro (screenplay); Mike Mignola (characters)

Cast: Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien, The Chamberlain, The Angel of Death), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), Luke Goss (Prince Nuada), Anna Walton (Princess Nuala), John Alexander (Johann Krauss), James Dodd (Johann Krauss), Seth MacFarlane (voice of Johann Krauss), John Hurt (Professor Broom), Roy Dotrice (King Balor), Brian Steele (Wink)

Buy Hellboy II: The Golden Army from Amazon.com: 3-Disc Special Edition DVD1-Disc Widescreen DVDDVD Collector's SetBlu-ray DiscBlu-ray Collector's Set


By Kelvin Cedeno

We are in the midst of a Renaissance for superhero films. 2000's X-Men proved that the genre was not as dead as many had thought. This was further validated by the 2002 smash hit Spider-Man, a film which opened the floodgates for other comic book properties.
The summer of 2008 saw no less than four motion picture adaptations of comic book superheroes: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and The Dark Knight. Of these four, Hellboy was the dark horse. Having neither the brand recognition of Batman and the Hulk nor the star power of Iron Man, Hellboy II had to rely on the word-of-mouth garnered from the first film along with director Guillermo del Toro's reputation from the acclaimed Pan's Labyrinth.

Unlike other sequels of late, Hellboy II: The Golden Army tells a completely self-contained story that doesn't demand a viewing of its predecessor for comprehension. It introduces the idea that elves and men formed a peace treaty after a bloody war waged centuries ago. The elf prince Nuada (Luke Goss), not at all pleased with his father's decision, sets out to start a new war before his kind begins to fade out. To do so, he needs three pieces of the crown that controls the dreaded golden army, a militia of indestructible mechanical soldiers.

Hellboy (Ron Perlman) approaches danger with the help of a gun and some smug confidence. Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), feeling that humans are shallow creatures of destruction, tells of his plans to wage war.

Nuada's twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) has one of the missing pieces in her possession and is against her brother's ambitions. She is aided by the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), headed by the demon agent Hellboy (Ron Perlman). Having recently gone public with his existence, Hellboy struggles with his need for acceptance by a society that labels him and his partners as freaks. Things get tangled as his best friend Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) finds himself falling for the princess, and Hellboy's girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) has an unexpected burden that she's struggling to share.

By his own admission, del Toro states that his first few films were creatively stifled by their respective studios. He's said that not until Pan's Labyrinth was he finally able to run wild with his imagination, and that the success of that picture allowed him to do so again with Hellboy II. It certainly shows as this is a far more daring and whimsical film than the low-key, grungy affair of the 2004 original. It also comes across as more professional.

Its predecessor had its share of groan-inducing humor, and the more serious aspects (which were at times a little too peculiar) sometimes didn't gel so well with the broadness. The Golden Army's humor is usually more subdued and clever. When it opts for broadness, it does so at more appropriate times. The stranger aspects of this picture, such as the troll market set piece, have a fantastical quality to them that makes them easier to swallow than the more darkly supernatural elements of the first.

Abe (Doug Jones) and Princess Nuala (Anna Watson) find that they have much in common despite being different species. When pedestrians give Hellboy (Ron Perlman) a less-than-warm welcome, Liz's (Selma Blair) anger flares up in more ways than one.

Stronger plot and characterization come to the film's aid, as well. The original's villains were evil and had little personality or motivation beyond that. While Prince Nuada is undeniably the antagonist here, there are more layers and gray areas to him. This aspect helps fuel Hellboy's confliction between the type of other-worldly creatures to which he belongs and the normal humans he's spent his life with. The character of Liz is given large injections of spunk and self-assurance, allowing much growth from the dormant non-entity first introduced.
Abe's romance with Nuala equips him with more to do than just spouting off helpful exposition. All of these storylines feature more heart and depth than what was previously seen in the primary Hellboy outing.

That doesn't necessarily mean that this installment is without its share of problems. Del Toro focuses so much on the plot that when fantastical elements show up, there's little time to stop and truly soak it all in. Then there are elements set up, including the titular golden army, that aren't given fully satisfying pay-offs. Also, the ending is quite easy to figure out early on. Of course, most films do have predictable endings and as such, it's more about the journey that leads to that conclusion. Even so, that finale could've either been set up more subtlety or even been brought up and dismissed by the characters early on.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is still a step up from its predecessor. The characters are given more to do, the tone is more sophisticated, and there's plenty more eye candy, even if there's little time to dwell on it. The use of mostly practical effects rather than excessive CGI gives the fantasy a nicely organic feel, and the filmmakers should be applauded spending the modest $85 million budget wisely as the results are lavish. It's a picture that's able to stand on its own, and while it might be too off-kilter for some, there's plenty to enjoy for fans of high-end fantasy.

Buy Hellboy 2: The Golden Army - 3-Disc Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English DVS)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 11, 2008
Three single-sided discs (2 DVD-9s & 1 DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.98 (Reduced from $34.98)
Black Keepcase with Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 1-Disc Widescreen DVD, 1-Disc Full Screen DVD, DVD Collector's Set, Blu-ray Disc, and Blu-ray Collector's Set

VIDEO and AUDIO

Hellboy II: The Golden Army arrives in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, true to its theatrical exhibition. While not flawless, the transfer satisfies. Colors are warm and rich, and the image is free of any print defects. The only issue stems from sharpness. Some scenes appear a bit soft while others show edge enhancement, notably on the subtitles. These don't present a major concern, but are enough to keep an otherwise lovely transfer from excelling.

There are no complaints with the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track. Dialogue is clear and often presented directionally rather than glued to the front speakers. Danny Elfman's score is rich and expansive without being cumbersome. The real highlight, though, is in the sound effects. There are very few quiet scenes, so effects ranging from gunshots to city ambience keep the surrounds alive and enveloping.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Despite a lean $75 million domestic take, Universal has treated Hellboy II to an absolutely fantastic 3-Disc Special Edition DVD. (For a savings of a few dollars, single-disc versions only hold Disc 1's extras.)
The supplements begin with an audio commentary by director Guillermo del Toro. Commentary tracks with a single participant have a history of getting stale very quickly. This is happily not the case. Del Toro is clearly enthusiastic about his work, and keeps the track lively and informative. There's an abundant amount of information from both technical and artistic points of view in this excellent commentary.

Another track is to be found, as well, this time with actors Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, and Luke Goss. Understandably, this commentary doesn't delve as deeply as del Toro's considering they didn't have to wear quite as many hats as he did. Interesting behind-the-scenes information does come up, though, usually thanks to Tambor, who prods the other two participants with questions. Praise does come up frequently, but what the track lacks in meat it makes up for in entertainment as the three bounce well off each other. In a nice touch, a subtitle track of this commentary is supplied.

Brian Steele is given some ventilation inside of his dense Mr. Wink costume in one of the set visits. Some excavators discover more than they bargained for in the "Zinco Epilogue." Hellboy pulls out "Big Baby" in split-screen montage that’s not so much deleted as it is re-edited.

Next come seven "Set Visits." These offer B-roll footage of the filming of different key set pieces, uninterrupted by talking head interviews. The clips presented are "The Chamberlain" (2:36), "Wink vs. Abe" (2:54), "Hellboy vs. Wink" (2:52), "The Elemental Egg" (2:25), "Big Baby" (1:29),"'H' is for Hotel" (3:03), and "Disintegrating Royalty" (2:32).
All of these offer fascinating glimpses into the production process and really convey the repetitive, fragmented nature of filming a scene.

"Troll Market Tour with Director Guillermo del Toro" (12:22) seems like an answer to complaints of how breezed over this major sequence was, were it not for the fact that this was obviously shot before the film was edited. Del Toro takes the viewer around the various sets that comprise the market, explaining the intentions behind certain designs and odd items. Much of this isn't seen in the finished picture, which makes this tour all the more valuable.

"Zinco Epilogue Animated Comic" (5:14) is a curious inclusion. As the title suggests, this clip is a comic featuring some limited animation and voice work. In it, explorers who dabble in the dark arts come across the site of the first film's climax. Some surprises coupled with the fact that this is called a Hellboy II epilogue seem to suggest some seeds are being planted for a third installment. No context is given, though, so it isn't clear if this was intended to be shot in live-action as a post-credits sequence, or if it was simply an afterthought for this DVD.

None of the six deleted scenes (5:02) offered are as substantial as the deleted scenes reinserted for the director's cut of the first Hellboy. Most of them are simply self-indulgent gags, one of which is rather painful to watch. Del Toro's optional commentary explains both the scenes themselves and why they were deleted.

The last bonus feature on Disc One is actually an Easter egg: an outtakes reel (3:03). It features the usual flubbed takes and lines and is overall amusing thanks to some cast antics.

Disc Two is, naturally, where the bulk of the features lie, starting with a "Prologue" by del Toro (0:22) welcoming the viewer.

Guillermo del Toro conducts a very casual meeting with his crew in the pre-production portion of "Hellboy: In Service of the Demon." The production section of "Hellboy: In Service of the Demon" sees our four protagonists confronting Nuada in a part-greenscreen golden army chamber. Seth MacFarlane (of "Family Guy" fame) demonstrates his vocal prowess once again as Johann Krauss in the post-production part of "Hellboy: In Service of the Demon."

The main attraction of this disc is the massive documentary "Hellboy: In Service of the Demon" (2:34:41). Unlike other DVD documentaries, this isn't a collection of featurettes that can be played consecutively. It's a constantly-running feature presentation, broken up only by the logical "Pre-Production," "Production," and "Post-Production" categories and 19 chapter breaks akin to that of a film.

"Pre-Production" runs approximately 25 minutes, most of which is devoted to a sit-down meeting between del Toro and his crew.
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In it, he shares his visions for the characters for the first time while creator Mike Mignola occasionally chimes in. This section doesn't feature a single interview, giving it a real fly-on-the-wall feel.

"Production" inevitably fills the larger portion of the documentary, about 94 minutes' worth. This section takes a more traditional approach with a mix of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and artwork. Surprisingly, nary a finished film clip is shown. Every major scene is featured in some way, showcasing the extensive creature makeup and costuming along with green-screen and wire-work. It doesn't try to gloss over just how difficult a process making Hellboy II really was.

"Post-Production" wraps up the last 36 minutes. Here, the process of automated dialogue replacement (ADR) is shown, including Seth MacFarlane's vocal work as Johann Krauss. Digital effects work on things such as the golden army is also explained. The only disappointment in this section is a lack of coverage for both Danny Elfman's scoring and the editing process. Even so, this documentary taken as a whole is astoundingly comprehensive and blunt. It's easily one of the better documentaries created for a single film.

The "Director’s Notebook" presents del Toro’s concept art of Prince Nuada and King Balor, and selecting them leads to a video clip with more information. Concept sketches of the plant god can be found with Mike Mignola commentary in the galleries. A somber and pensive Hellboy is one of the many unused advertisement designs in the Poster Explorations gallery.

"Production Workshop: Professor Broom's Puppet Theater" (4:43) is essentially a storyboard-to-film comparison for the opening prologue, which tells of the war between humans and elves through CG puppets. Sketches by both Guillermo del Toro and Mike Mignola are presented above the finished film. Unfortunately, the seldom-used angle feature isn't implemented here to allow closer look at the storyboards. A commentary track by del Toro is included that's once again very enlightening.

"Pre-Production Vault" contains two galleries. The first is a "Director's Notebook." After an introduction by del Toro (0:45), 11 pages of his concept art done are showcased. Several of these lead to behind-the-scenes video clips.
These include pieces on Johann Krauss (2:12), Cathedral Head (2:32) the elves (2:58), the golden army chamber (1:35), the face-root plant (0:53), and Wink (1:20). All of the clips show just how much thought and history the director puts into his trademark designs.

The second half of the vault is simply called "Gallery." This is broken down into "Creature Design" (174 stills), "Mike Mignola Creator Gallery" (67 stills), "Production Design" (83), and Production Stills (14). The wealth of artwork on display here is excellent, though the presentation isn't. Each gallery is presented as a running slideshow that, while one can skip forward and ahead, doesn't allow access of the pause button. The gallery for Mignola's artwork also features a video version (36:21) with commentary by Mignola himself. Like del Toro, Mignola clearly puts a lot of care into his artwork as he explains his approach engagingly.

"Marketing Campaign" again features two galleries. The first is a 16-still "Print Gallery" of posters and advertising. More fascinating is "Poster Explorations" (57 stills), a collection of advertising artwork that was never used. Many of these are actually more stylish and attention-grabbing than the print materials seen by the public. Frustratingly for a section called "Marketing Campaign," no teasers, theatrical trailers, or TV spots are included.

Disc 1’s main menu features a montage of film clips overlaid on a plant-filled New York street. Disc 2’s main menu places its selections over the troll market and a concurrent map.

Finally, a DVD-ROM feature that allows access to a printable version of the film's script. Only playable on DVD-ROM, Disc 3 merely holds a digital copy of the feature film itself.

Disc One opens with trailers for Wanted, Wanted: Weapons of Fate video game, "Knight Rider," Blu-ray discs, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, and Slap Shot 3: The Junior League. In true Universal fashion, these ads must be manually fast-forwarded. They can't be skipped either through the chapter search or by pressing the menu button.

The DVD's menus uphold the same quality as the supplements. Disc One is predominantly set in the world of man, with its main menu exhibiting a montage of clips over the street the plant god has terrorized. Disc Two is set in the world of fantasy creatures, with the main menu taking place over an animated troll market. Animated transitions bridge the menus together, and most of the submenus feature exclusive animation (all of them contain score).

The set comes housed in a standard black Amaray case. Discs one and two are held within a tray and the case itself, respectively, while the digital copy third disc is in a white envelope placed in the insert section. No chapter or bonus material listing is included. The case itself comes inside a lenticular slipcover is which Hellboy's face is transformed from the Mignola comic art to Ron Perlman in makeup.

Liz (Selma Blair) and Hellboy (Ron Perlman) share a much-needed tender moment together in the midst of chaos. In the film's prologue, the war and subsequent peace agreement between humans and elves is told with puppetry.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hellboy II: The Golden Army has its own distinct flavor amongst the sea of recent superhero films. It minimizes the problems found in its predecessor and expands on that picture's strengths.
The DVD provides solid video with excellent audio and an exhausting array of supplements that make it one of the strongest sets of the year. Fans of either the first Hellboy or both films are encouraged to pick up this DVD or the concurrent Blu-ray disc. Those new to the franchise who enjoy more fantastical superhero outings are recommended to rent the first one for continuity's sake. It's not essential to see it before hand, but it makes some character motivations slightly clearer. No matter which route one takes, this film and its supplements are worth viewing.

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Reviewed November 10, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Lawrence Gordon Productions, Dark Horse Entertainment, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.