Director Guillermo del Toro proved himself the go-to guy in terms of cinematic faery with the moody and beautiful Pan's Labyrinth, so it is no surprise when that aesthetic is carried over into his second Hellboy flick. But it does lead to trouble when the overwhelming imagery threatens to reduce the title character to a supporting role in his own movie.
An exiled elvin prince seeks the three parts of a magic crown that controls the Golden Army of the title, a horde of indestructible goblin-built automatons that were designed for one purpose: to destroy humankind. This, of course, is the sort of thing the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development and Hellboy were put in place to stop.
A bare bones plot like that, however, provides many opportunities for creator Mike Mignola and Del Toro's imagination to shine, and the various FX crews to flex their muscle. Golden Army had half the budget of other heavy hitters in the Summer of '08, like The Incredible Hulk or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but that does not show in the production value. In terms of pure epic sweep and eye candy, Golden Army more than holds its own.
That, though, is where the problem arises; if the first Hellboy movie was Lovecraft noir, this second outing is more the occult version of Men in Black. Scenes where characters carry on conversations, unconcerned with agents subduing monsters in the background, followed by the same characters wearing ungainly eyeglasses made of old brass telescope parts... well, one expects Rip Torn and Tommy Lee Jones to come in and ask for their props back.
None of this is necessarily bad however. Men in Black is one of my favorite movies; I am known to love movies that actively throw stuff at the viewer just to see what sticks. I'm aware there are also folks who like their movies streamlined and uncluttered, and that is not a description of Golden Army. For fans of one-cool-thing-after-another, though, this is good stuff. There is some expansion in the characters, the fish man Abe Sapien is given his own (tragic) love interest, and the human member of the away team is replaced by another freak from the comic book - Johann Krauss, a medium reduced to ectoplasm manipulating an isolation suit, given plummy voice by Seth MacFarlane.
In all, that's everything one could want in a sequel; I simply find it odd that when I reflect on my favorite scenes in the movie, none involve Hellboy.
Take a look at that cover. Hopelessly prosaic, a closeup of Ron Perlman as Hellboy. It looks better in person, as it comes in a cardboard slip case with a lenticular effect that fades between Perlman and a Mike Mignola portrait of the hero.
Universal got a passing grade from me on the menu design of Hulk, but apparently they were just saving it all up for the menus of Hellboy 2. Overproduced, to say the least - each and every click of your remote will cause a different film clip to cascade forth, stills to zoom past a sublective camera, animations to animates and the viewer to eventually mutter "Just let me choose something, willya? " These show some artistry, and could not have been easy to produce, but good grief, people. Let me get to the content.
Speaking of content - Disc One is loaded with extras (so folks only investing in the single disc Widescreen Edition won't feel cheated). It will start off with trailers for the Angelina Jolie Wanted, the Jolie-less videogame Wanted: Weapons of Fate, the new Knight Rider TV series, the direct-to-DVD Slap Shot 3: The Junior League, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (dang, these sequels stick together, don't they?), as well as an anti-smoking ad and one pimping Universal's Blu-Ray discs.
Del Toro leads us on a video tour of the massive set of The Troll Market, an otherworldy bazaar supposedly hidden under the Brooklyn Bridge. This tour is necessary to show the sheer detail and artistry which goes unseen in the movie itself. Set Visits documents the filming of 7 FX sequences, and is available with and without del Toro commentary, just as there are 6 deleted scenes, similarly graced. Del Toro also has the first commentary track, which is highly recommended. The director is quite intelligent, forthcoming and witty in his commentaries, and I always look forward to them.
Not quite as marvelous is the second commentary track, featuring Selma Blair (the pyrokinetic Liz), Jeffery Tambor (human comic relief) and Luke Goss (elvin Prince Nuala). Though it has some good information, it is frustratingly spotty. Equally frustrating is an animated comic book, The Zinco Epilogue, which theoretically serves as bridge between the first movie and a theoretical third. It is simply going to confuse the living hell out of most viewers.
Moving onto Disc Two (whew), the major draw is In the Service of the Demon, a comprehensive making-of running 90 minutes, if you choose "Play All". Production Workshop is a bit irksome, as it yields only one option, detailing the "puppet theater" prologue (another example of the menu inflation I rage against). Pre-production Vault shows pages from del Toro's noteboks, and most have a hot spot linking to small video docs on the scenes alluded to in the notes - very cleverly done. This vault is also home to four Galleries - Creature Design, Mike Mignola artwork, Production Design and Production Stills. There is, at last, Marketing Campaign, which has a gallery of Posters, and a second gallery of possible posters, and man, they made a lot of those.
And, oh yes - for DVD-ROM users, there is a printable version of the screenplay.
And that third disc? That's right, it's the "Digital Copy", encased in a paper envelope jammed in the front cover. What, you thought you were getting more extras?
Dr. Freex, 11/29/2008