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HELLBOY (PG-13) (2004)

Columbia Pictures/Revolution Studios

Official Site

Director: Guillermo Del Toro

Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin

Written by: Guillermo Del Toro; from graphic novels by Mike Mignola

Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Karel Roden, John Hurt, Rupert Evans, Doug Jones, David Hyde Pierce (voice)


One might become quite confused with the lack of controversy over a movie called Hellboy. The movie with a title that is not of G-rated MPAA standards features a superhero who is for all intents and purposes… the Anti-Christ, summoned to Earth to destroy and recreate it in an insane image. After all the hubbub over Mel Gibson and Janet Jackson’s star-covered nipple, I was anxiously waiting for the fanatics to come out of the woodwork and blast Hellboy like it was AIDS v.2.0. Yet that never happened. I suppose controversy in certain cases is merely more publicity—something else to put someone’s rear in the seat. But the total lack of controversy over the moral implications of Hellboy almost restores my faith in the intelligence of people whom I normally consider idiots (except you PETA: You’re still fools).

And here it is. After nearly six years of hard work, Del Toro has finally committed his labor of love and dream project to celluloid. Hellboy, based on the Darkhorse comic created by Mike Mignola, is loosely adapted from the original story, Seed Of Destruction, by John Byrne and Mignola. Unfortunately, Del Toro took quite a bit of artistic license for this film, some of which does not pay off. However, Hellboy retains the spirit of Mignola’s creation that first attracted me to the original comics. The story concerns the Anti-Christ, Anung Un Rama, or Hellboy (Perlman), who is brought to Earth by occultist Nazis and Grigori Rasputin (yes THAT Rasputin) to free the Ogdru Jahad from their prison and bring about worldly destruction… and tentacles. Got all that? After American forces intervene, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (pronounced “Broom,” played by Hurt) takes Hellboy under his care and raises him as a detective for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.). In essence, Hellboy is the story of a reluctant demon, a being with potential for great evil and destruction, who instead is more content with nachos, beer, and pancakes (“pamcakes” for us HB fans).

Sadly, the elderly Professor Bruttenholm is ailing, so he decides to hire a clichéd plot convention named Jon Myers (Evans) to make sure Hellboy will be taken care of after he dies. However, keen audience members will realize that Myers, a Del Toro-created character for the film, is really there so obligatory, annoying exposition will be heaped on us. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but newcomer Evans plays Myers in such a white-bread and plain-jane fashion that he is just not really engaging. It’s also a silly way for Del Toro to set up a love triangle between Myers, Hellboy and Liz Sherman (Blair), former B.P.R.D. agent and a seriously disturbed pyro-kinetic whom Hellboy has loved for years.

The main villain of this piece is Rasputin (Roden), a very thin and rather cheesy representation of the much more fleshed out character from the comics. There’s not much to Rasputin’s madness, and he just pops in and out of the narrative here and there, along with his Aryan assistant, Ilsa (Biddy Hodson). Fortunately, what Rasputin lacks as a cohesive villain, he makes up for with dastardly henchmen in the forms of the mute Nazi, reanimated corpse, Kroenen, and the ferocious Hell hound, Sammael.

Overlooking all that, Del Toro has truly retained and translated the look and feel of Mignola’s work on screen—the dark blackness of the backgrounds, slimy monsters, the H.P. Lovecraft and folklore references, but most of all the character of Hellboy. Ron Perlman totally nails the character better than I ever expected. Perlman brings pathos and nuance to the character under the fantastic Rick Baker make-up, a being born a demon struggling to be a man when it’s his fate to do otherwise.

Much to my dismay, Hellboy’s partner and fish man, Abe Sapien (physically acted by Jones, voiced by Pierce), despite an excellent blend of make-up and visual FX, fails to do justice to a favorite character. In the film, Abe is misused and misrepresented as a prissy intellectual who doesn’t fight and is wholly insignificant to the plot, taking backseat to the bland Myers. It’s disappointing, considering the role Abe played in the Seed Of Destruction story.

Despite Myers and Abe, Hellboy works as a great action and monster film mixed with the dramatic relationship between the fireproof Hellboy and fire-starter Liz. The moody and orchestral score by Marco Beltrami works to great effect, eccentric in a way that reminded me of classic Elfman and Goldsmith—a great improvement, especiall compared to the dull music of Del Toro’s Blade II, also composed by Beltrami. It’s a good thing that there are filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro who will do justice to great, obscure comic characters like Hellboy. The memory will make the future cinema releases of poison such as Catwoman and Constantine more bearable.

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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