Hellboy II: The Golden Army [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Shane Roberts & Noor Razzak (2nd December 2008).
The Film

Outcast elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) intends to break an ancient truce between the beings of the magic realm and the humans by reactivating the legendary Golden Army which is composed of invincible mechanical soldiers and take over the world. To do this he has to track down the three parts of the magic crown that controls them but Hellboy and his team from the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense), along with his sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), aim to stop him.

After seeing "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" for the first time a few months ago I had been initially disappointed. I thought the story was too predictable, there was too much talk and not enough action and what action there was was pretty unoriginal. I guess my opinion was tainted by my expectations because when I watched it again for this review I thoroughly enjoyed it. The first time around I was stupidly expecting a more standard Hollywood superhero movie, but having been a fan of writer/director Guillermo del Toro for over ten years I should have known better than to expect that from the guy who made "The Devilís Backbone" (2001), "Panís Labyrinth" (2006) and of course the first "Hellboy" (2004).

Heís added a lot more character development and interplay than you would usually get in this type of film, and while it does slow down the pace in places the quirky comedy and eccentric characters are so much fun you wonít care. Itís an excellent ensemble cast but each one also has some great one-on-one relationships, like the romance between Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Princess Nuala, the antagonism between Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) and Hellboy himself (Ron Perlman), the sitcom style domestic problems between him and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), and the genuine friendship between Prince Nuada and his henchman/bodyguard Mr. Wink (Brian Steele). With as much emphasis given to the running character arcs as the new plot, itís deliberately structured more like an issue of the ongoing comic series or an episode of a TV show so itís not so much a sequel as just the latest chapter.

As per usual with del Toro the film looks fantastic thanks to regular cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and exceptional production, costume and character design. Danny Elfman takes over as composer from Marco Beltrami who did the original and heís also a perfect fit for del Toroís style.

My only disappointment is still with the story and the action, del Toro kept his promise that the story for the sequel would feature elements of the fables and folklore that he and the fans of Mike Mignolaís comic series love so much, but after an interesting setup its just too simple and predictable and, apart from a superb scene where Hellboy fights a giant walking plant (The Elemental), too much of the action although well choreographed and shot is just not very original and therefore not very exciting.

All in all though, this is a lot of fun and is a great mix of fantasy and superhero movies from a visionary director whose love for the genre is infectious. Roll on "Hellboy III."

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 and in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been created using AVC MPEG-4 compression. This transfer from Universal is a sterling effort and can be considered reference quality material that can be used to show off your home cinema. The image is sharper than a razor and so detailed that it seems like you can reach into the screen and touch the characters, props and locations. The transfer truly presents this film with such a crystal clear image that fans can appreciate the level of detail put into the costumes, make-up design and sets, which are awe-inspiring and incredible imaginative. This is the type of film that HD was made for. Additionally the film's colors pop, blacks are deep, and the print is clean of anything dirt or flaws. "Hellboy II" is eye-candy and this HD image preserves that.

Audio

This film is presented with three audio tracks, in English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 surround mixed at as well as DTS 5.1 tracks in both French and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD track. The 7.1 track is aggressive and active, much like the image this audio mix can also be considered reference quality. I was impressed with the range and it's handling of shifts from subtle ambient noise to the heavy and bombastic action scenes. The transitions ate smooth and mixed well, it adds to the immersive quality. The film's score also adds layers to the mix, dialogue is clear and distortion free and directional effects feel natural. The mix is powerful and wonderful.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Universal Pictures has packed this release with a ton of quality extras that includes two audio commentaries, a series of featurettes, deleted scenes, interactive feature, image galleries, U-control features, BD-Live features, a feature-length documentary and a digital copy of the film spread across two discs. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE:

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Guillermo del Toro. Guillermo is the type of filmmaker that's also as much a fanboy as the people watching his films, but in saying that he also comes across as an intelligent, interesting and intriguing speaker that takes fans through the production of the film providing insight into his creative vision. The "Hellboy" movies are incredibly imaginative and the director takes us through the process of adapting Mignola's comic to the big screen but also in creating this new story for the sequel and taking elements from the comic. He provides a incredible amount of information that fans will eat up, I especially liked his comments about the characters and also the look of the film and his vision among other things. This is an excellent track worth listening to.

A second feature-length audio commentary is included with cast members Jeffrey Tambor, Selma Blair and Luke Goss. While the director's track is excellent, this one is the opposite. It's not an engaging track, as the cast talk about the film, working with each other and they comment on the scenes. It's rather boring and uninteresting and provides a stark contrast to the previous track. Skip it.

"Troll Market Tour with Guillermo del Toro" is a featurette that runs for 12 minutes 22 seconds and features the film's director taking us through the incredible set created for one of the most memorable scenes in the film. The troll market features a stunning array of creatures, costumes, props and production design elements and Guillermo walks viewers through the set and points out details that would normally be missed on camera.

There are six deleted scenes which feature optional audio commentary by the film's director Guillermo del Toro and runs for a total of 5 minutes 4 seconds. These scenes can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option. In the commentary the director explains why the scenes were cut from the final version of the film and these scenes include:

- "Blackwood's Auction Video" a B.P.R.D agent finds a handycam with footage of the auction attack.
- "Coffee Break" Manning takes a coffee break and catches a news segment.
- "Minty Aftertaste" Liz and Manning talk about kissing Dr. Krauss' ass.
- "On the Beat" Liz explains that trolls are scared of canaries.
- "Prince Nuada Silverlance" an extended clip of the prince showing odd his fighting style.
- "Big Baby Montage" is an alternate cut of the scene.

"Animated Zinco Epilogue Comic" is a featurette that runs for 5 minutes 14 seconds and is an epilogue that if used would have tied the two films to each other, the scene is basically in storyboards cut together with dialogue, it's an interesting scene but narratively it doesn't fit with the story of the film and would have stood out had the filmmaker's used it. Although it's cool that the disc producer's included this for fans to see.

"Production Workshop: Professor Broom's Puppet Theatre" featurette runs for 4 minutes 41 seconds, this feature starts with an intro by the director talking about the use of puppets for the storybook sequence when viewers are introduced to the golden army. The feature shows a progression from thumbnails to storyboards to final scene and also can be viewed with optional audio commentary by director Guillermo del Toro as he explains his vision for the scene and how proud Mignola was in designing the puppets.

"Comic Book Builder" interactive feature is a cool feature that allows fans to make their own comic book by selecting frames from the film. You can also share your creation in the online community on BD-Live (this requires profile 2.0 players) but the feature itself can be access on profile 1.0 players or greater.

There are 4 image galleries that include:

- "Creature Design" which features 174 images on 18 pages.
- "Mike Mignola Creator Gallery" (with audio commentary by creator Mike Mignola), this is a slideshow that features the comic book creator's original drawings.
- "Production Design" features 83 images on 9 pages.
- "Production Stills" features 14 images on 2 pages.

The disc also features some Blu-ray exclusive extras, primarily U-Control features (Profile 1.1 and higher):

- "The Directorís Notebook"
- "Scene Explorer"
- "Set Visits"
- "Concept Art Gallery"

These features go unreviewed at this stage as this reviewer currently has a profile 1.0 player.

BD-Live features are also present for profile 2.0 players only and can access online content:

- "My Chat"
- "My Scenes Sharing"
- Sneak Peek of "Wanted"

Finally fans can bookmark their favorite scenes using the My scenes Bookmarks.

DISC TWO:

"Hellboy: In the Service of the Demon" documentary runs for a staggering 2 hours 34 minutes 51 seconds. This feature which is longer than the film itself covers just about everything you ever wanted to know about the film's production from the development stage to scripting, story boarding, getting the cast together, shooting, post-production and release. It's incredibly in-depth and detailed and delves viewers into the process head first providing you with unparalleled access. It's worth the price of admission alone and is one of the best making-of's I've seen this year. The interviews are excellent, the behind-the-scenes is extensive and the amount of information delivered in this time is overwhelming. it's the best feature on this set bar none.

Also on this second disc is a Marketing Campaign supplement that features:

- "Print Gallery" that includes the various print campaign ads created for the film's release.
- "Poster Explorations" that includes the various posters that were commissioned for the film's marketing.

Rounding out the extras is a Digital copy of the film (for Mac or PC).

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in a Blu-ray case housed in a cardboard slip-case with a 3-D lenticular cover.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: A

 


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