Film Reviews

HELLBOY

By • Apr 2nd, 2004 •

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Columbia Pictures / Revolution Studios presents a Lawrence Gordon/Lloyd Levin production in association with Dark Horse Entertainment
Running time — 121 minutes / MPAA rating: PG-13

In 1942 those occult-loving yet war-losing Nazis resurrect ‘mad” monk Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) to pierce a portal in the cosmic web to unleash a creature who will bring about Armageddon, as well as a torrent of other monsters. The End of Days monster turns out to be a baby who becomes the “son” of Professor Broom Bruttenholm (John Hurt), future founder of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

It’s now 60 years later. Professor Broom is very old. The monster, Hellboy (Ron Perlman), might be 60 some years old in human years, but in monster years he’s 25 (but looks 60). Hellboy fights monsters now and has become an elusively-sighted figure like The Reptilians and Bigfoot.

He’s huge, 6ft 5in feet tall, all crimson with horns, a tail, and a cement arm. He smokes cigars and lifts weights. He eats pizza and raises kittens. He shaves his horns down so he can “fit in” better. He is impervious to fire and electricity. He’s a demon from Hell who is now lovesick for a girl.

All I kept thinking about was the obvious: Monster or man below the belt? What was Professor Bruttenholm’s plans for Hellboy’s sexual awakening? And what about the “Nature versus Nurture” debate?

When will the demon instinct wave its fluffy tail?

Trapped in a basement apartment and not allowed out alone, why doesn’t Hellboy relate on a primal level to the other monsters? Simply put, what does Hellboy, nicknamed “Red” and “HB,” have against other monsters?

I do not know what Hellboy’s creator, Mike Mignola, has to say about all this. I am sure that the Hellboy comic books address Hellboy’s sexuality but to writer-director Guillermo del Toro these pesky philosophical questions are moot.

In del Toro’s cinematic telling, Hellboy is obsessively infatuated with pyro-freak auteur Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). While Hellboy is quite glib around Professor/Dad Bruttenholm and fellow monster Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), he is a schoolboy around Liz.

Abe Sapien. Let’s stop and discuss this character. Why does he speak with an arch-English accent? Why is Abe Sapien (nicknamed “Blue”) such a wimpy half/man, half/fish monster? Isn’t he lonely floating around in his tank or does he really prefer the exclusive company of Hellboy?
Rasputin’s ageless girlfriend brings him back to life and he goes after Hellboy to return him to his true demonic calling. (Nobody told him the Nazis lost.) Rasputin conjures up two creatures to do his bidding: Sammael (Brian Steele), a monster that cannot die, and Kroenen (Ladislav Beran), formerly a human, now a cranked-up, humorless machine in a mask.

When Hellboy’s FBI babysitter dies in battle, angry chief agent Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) brings in young FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans). Myers doesn’t have many questions. John takes a liking to Liz, and Hellboy, jealous, spies on them on their first date.

I really like Del Toro’s highly individualistic approach to movies showcased in “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Blade ll.” Del Toro has used Perlman in his first movie “Chronos” and in “Blade II.” There is nothing headier than creating your very own star against all sane advice. In a New York Daily News article, Del Toro defended his casting of the 54 year old Perlman as superhero Hellboy: “Hollywood should value charisma and character over beauty. And I like that Ron is a throwback to the hardboiled actors of an earlier generation, like Lee Marvin or James Coburn. Ron has that man’s man quality.”

There are some major problems with “Hellboy.” Selma Blair’s Liz is colorless, emotionless, and rather bland. Blair makes being beautiful and having special powers an insufferable bore. Why is FBI Agent-in-Charge Manning so angry with Hellboy? Can he do any better killing roaming monsters? Of course, if you can accept Perlman as Hellboy, and it is a big challenge, the movie’s technical precision and full array of animation, animatronics, CG, and matte paintings make it a fun, comic book superhero-to-screen addition to the genre.

Yet Del Toro ignores a cardinal rule of villains: The bad guy has to be smarter, tougher and more ruthless than the hero. Just being sent to Earth is not enough. Hellboy II needs a villain who can match Hellboy in strength and is superior in cunning and intelligence.


Credits:
Writer-director: Guillermo del Toro
Screen story by: Guillermo del Toro, Peter Briggs
Screenwriter: Guillermo del Toro
Based on the Dark Horse comic created by: Mike Mignola
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson, Lloyd Levin
Executive producer: Patrick Palmer
Director of photography: Guillermo Navarro
Production designer: Stephen Scott
Music: Marco Beltrami
Costume designer: Wendy Partridge
Editor: Peter Amundson

Cast:
Hellboy: Ron Perlman
Broom Bruttenholm: John Hurt
Liz Sherman: Selma Blair
John Myers: Rupert Evans
Grigori: Karel Roden
Tom Manning: Jeffrey Tambor
Abe Sapien: Doug Jones
Sammael: Brian Steele
Kroenen: Ladislav Beran

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