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Hellboy: Director's Cut

It seems that Hollywood has latched on to the double-dip as a way to squeeze more dollars out of the public, and the studios will continue to do so as long as consumers are willing to air out their wallets. Yet they still don't know exactly how to get them right; optimally the second DVD release of a movie should include everything or nothing from the previous edition, giving collectors a reason to own either one copy or both versions. Nonetheless, Columbia TriStar's follow-up to their original release of Hellboy (2004) — a "Director's Cut" — has numerous overlapping supplements, but not everything, leading those who staved off hoping to buy Hellboy only once with a mixed bag. The new three-disc set offers more supplements, but it doesn't contain the theatrical cut or the original commentary (by director Guillermo Del Toro and comic creator Mike Mignola) that accompanied it, nor the four UPA cartoons, while Disc Two is the exact same second platter included in the original two-disc release. That noted, fans who don't mind the overlap will find much to be enthused over. Hellboy starts with the titular character's origin: The presumed-dead Grigori Rasputin (Karel Rodan) is now working for Hitler in 1944, and he's opening a portal to hell to help win the war. But Roosevelt's supernatural advisor Trevor 'Broom' Bruttenholm (played by Kevin Traynor in '44 and John Hurt in modern day) is aware of Rasputin's plan, and with the help of the army stops Rasputin in time from unleashing anything major. But something did cross over: A young, bright red devil with a brick hand who loves candy bars and is nicknamed "Hellboy". Cut to 60 years later, and Broom is deathly ill, while Rasputin's followers have found a way to bring him back to life. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) — developmentally still in his twenties, though 60 years older — works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, tracking other monsters with the help of psychic fish-man Abe Sapian (played by Doug Jones and voiced by David Hyde-Pierce), in a very working-class-stiff sort of way. New to the team is the green John Myers (Rupert Evans), who's meant to help Broom but gets on Hellboy's bad side by being interested in Liz Sherman (Selma Blair); Hellboy silently pines for her, but he can't find the words and knows that he is not classically attractive. Trouble lurks as Rasputin has unleashed Sammael — a beast that, if killed, is replaced by two more. After a disastrous attempt to destroy the beast and its eggs, a tragedy occurs and the team is led by Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) — who doesn't like the freaks — to Russia, where it turns out Hellboy is meant to go to reveal his true destiny.

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The main element that makes director Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy work on screen is a love and affection for the material. At times Del Toro may be too enthusiastic; as such, like an overzealous cook found on a dream project, there may be too many ingredients in the stew (the plot strains to include too much at times; the film is a semi-religious action noir with a romantic triangle and some horror elements), the love and hard work makes it forgivable. The biggest hurdle with a film like this is believing in creations that obviously are fake, but Del Toro's enthusiasm makes it easy to invest in the world. And he's helped immeasurably by Perlman, who quite simply is Hellboy. Having spent the majority of his career buried under prosthetics, he's one of the few actors who can make a 6'5" red demon who likes beer, pancakes, and kittens believable, while also being unfamiliar enough to not come with any baggage. For an actor who's been in the business for 25 years, it must be strange to have such a chance to shine now. The rest of the cast is quite excellent, and Del Toro is able to give the hell-beasts the closest anyone (outside of John Carpenter) has come to putting Lovecraftian imagery on the big screen, while also delivering exciting action, and some strong Catholic-based pathos into the mix. Shot for $66 million (when most comic-adaptation budgets run in excess of $100), part of the wonder is how they got it all done for so little, but much of the credit must go to cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, who gives the film a rich look, and the color design of the film (in keeping with Mignola's art) is perhaps the film's greatest asset. Though it's understandable that films like this are rarely taken seriously by the Academy awards, Navarro's work here is so stellar that he deserves a nomination at the very least.

*          *          *

Columbia TriStar's Director's Cut DVD release presents the film in a spotless anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and thunderous Dolby Digital 5.1 audio with an additional ten minutes of footage that add little subplots cut from the theatrical release. Meant to top the previous set, the new version begins with an introduction by Del Toro (30 sec.), and includes a new audio commentary by the director, and an isolated score with commentary by composer Marco Beltrami. The first disc also comes with (from the first set) the two "on-the-fly" pop-up icon tracks, the first offering eight on-set visits (18 min.) — new are the pop-up factoids that accompany it — the second offering eight "DVD comics" drawn by Mignola, both sets of which can be viewed in the bonus features section. Also overlapping is the storyboard subtitle track that sporadically accompanies the film. The first disc also includes an Easter egg and DVD-ROM content. Disc Two is exactly the same: There is a 30-second introduction by Blair, and a section called "Egg Chamber." In it are three deleted scenes (5 min.) with optional commentary by Del Toro, "Hellboy: The Seeds of Creation" documentary (2 hrs. 23 min.) that extensively covers the entire production history, and then cast, crew, and character bios, with the latter offering Mignola-drawn histories, and in the text section, their likes, dislikes, and biographies (all supposedly written by Del Toro himself, though he's credited about half of the time). The next section is "Kroenen's Lair." First up is "Scene Progression Ogdru Jahad" (2 min.), which shows early storyboards with a Del Toro introduction. Next up is an "animatics" section with an introduction by Del Toro and four animatic samples viewable by themselves or in comparison with the final work (7 min.). Then there's "Board-A-Matics," which also features a Del Toro intro for more computer-animated versions of storyboards (8 min.). And then there's "Storyboard Comparisons," which offer four multi-angle segments (10 mins.). Next up is the "Maquette Video Gallery," which offers six characters in their prototypical forms. The "Bellamie Hospital" offers a still gallery for concept art, and the final art used, and two trailers and nine TV spots (9 min.). On Disc Three there's a 30-second introduction from Ron Perlman and then the video footage of the cast commentary for the theatrical cut, featuring Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Ron Perlman, and Jeffrey Tambor, but not the theatrical cut itself. In the section "Production Workshops" there's "Make Up and Lighting Tests" (7 min.) with commentary by Del Toro, "Visual Effects How-To's" (13 min.) featuring the effects guys discussing their work on the Bellamie Hospital and BPRD lift miniatures, Computer generated sets and Behemoths, and Liz's Fire. "Q&A Archive Comic-Con 2002" (23 min.) features Del Toro, Mignola, and Perlman answering questions about the film while they were in pre-production, while "A Quick Guide to Understanding Comics" (12 min.) features comic expert Scott McCloud recounting their history. While the "Galleries" sections features still galleries for "Conceptual Art and Production Stills," "Mike Mignola Pre-Production Art," "Director's Notebook," and "Comic Book Artist Pin-Ups." Also included are bonus trailers, and with the set is a booklet "Excerpt From the Diary of Grigori Rasputin" as done by Mike Mignola. Three slim keep-cases inside a paperboard sleeve.
—DSH



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