Hellboy appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Very little negative interfered with the flick, which gave us a terrific visual program.
Sharpness looked excellent. At all times, the movie remained crisp and distinct, and I noticed virtually no examples of softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no distractions, and only slight signs of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, they seemed totally absent during this clean and fresh presentation.
The DVD replicated the stylized palette of Hellboy terrifically well. The hues always appeared vivid and distinct, and the movie handled all the tones with aplomb, as the scenes remained tight and lacked any signs of bleeding or noise. Black levels looked deep and rich, while shadows appeared appropriately heavy but never became excessively dense. Chalk up this picture as a winner.
As was the case with Blade II, Hellboy featured absolutely excellent audio. The soundfield offered an exceedingly active environment. All five channels received almost constant use, whether for the very vivid action sequences or just to provide generally spooky music and ambience. The different elements seemed nicely delineated and placed within the spectrum, and they blended together smoothly and cleanly. The surrounds played a very substantial role in the process and provided a high level of discrete information. As a result, the soundfield consistently gave us a lively and engaging presence.
Audio quality also seemed terrific. Dialogue sounded natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music appeared bright and vivid, and the score and songs demonstrated solid dynamics; highs came across as crisp and clear, while low-end sounded deep and warm. Effects provided the highlights of the track, of course, as the myriad of elements kept the mix active. Those components sounded clean and accurate and they featured excellent low-end response. Bass consistently appeared loud but it remained tight and never became overwhelming; that spectrum accentuated the process and didn’t become a distraction. I found nothing about which I could complain as I listened to this superb mix.
Absolutely packed with extras, Hellboy starts on DVD One with a short 25-second introduction from director Guillermo del Toro. He simply gives us a couple of notes about what we’ll find on the set; it’s superfluous.
We get into the package’s meat when we delve into its two audio commentaries. The first comes from del Toro and co-executive producer/comic creator Mike Mignola. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. Del Toro gives good commentary, and the presence of Mignola helps make this one stronger.
From second one, the pair launch into a lot of compelling topics. We hear about visual takes for the film in general and characters in specific, differences between the film and the script, liberties taken with the original comic books, visual elements and effects, themes, and other areas. As usual, del Toro tosses out funny notes from the set, such as when he talks about the sherpa who couldn’t walk more than six feet. The pair indulge in too many remarks about all the elements they love, but this remains a fun and informative discussion.
For the second track, we hear from actors Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor and Rupert Evans. All four sit together for their running, screen-specific track. Since Blair was the main culprit in one of the worst commentaries I’ve heard, I feared the worst for this one. The actors track never falls to the level of Blair’s earlier atrocity, but it also fails to become something terribly useful.
Don’t expect much strong information here. General impressions dominate. We hear a lot about working with del Toro, though in glowing, non-specific terms. We also find many notes from the set, with an emphasis on uncomfortable periods such as those with extreme cold. The commentary manages to be moderately fun, but I don’t feel like it tells us much.
Blair-related footnote: toward the end, one participant jokes that they’re recording the worst commentary ever. She chimes in that she’s been involved in crummier ones. And she’s right!
DVD One offers a few alternate viewing options, most of which also can be examined separately. The only one that requires you to examine it while you watch the movie is the Storyboard Track. With this activated, drawings pop up sporadically in the lower right hand corner of the screen as you check out the flick. It’s an okay presentation, though it could become a distraction as you try to concentrate on the story. However, since they pop up surprisingly infrequently, it doesn’t become a problem.
The other two features present “branching” material. Written by del Toro and drawn by Mignola, the DVD Comics mostly consist of single screens with a little art, animation and text. Those tell us more background about subjects like Abe, Ragnarok, and the Samaritan. “Hellboy’s Belt: The Talismans” presents an interactive look at the items our hero carries with him. The only installment to tell a full story comes from “Pancakes”, which provides a little tale about Hellboy’s introduction to that food item and its long-term effects. The “DVD Comics” are a cute idea but not all that interesting in execution.
In addition, we get something called The Right Hand of Doom, which includes visits to the set. If watched during the movie, these eight short featurettes correspond to their respective scenes. Each runs between 94 seconds and three minutes, nine seconds for a total of 18 minutes, 21 seconds of footage. As one might expect based on the title, these offer raw video clips from the shoot. We see stunt rehearsals and scenes filmed during these quick and interesting pieces. I love this kind of material, and the shots seem fun.
For something a little different, we go to From the Den - Hellboy Recommends…. This includes four shorts Hellboy watched in the film: “Gerald McBoing Boing” (six minutes, 55 seconds), “Gerald McBoing! Boing! On Planet Moo” (7:10), “How Now Boing Boing” (7:20) and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (7:46). All are interesting to see and add a neat component to the package.
DVD One also tosses in some DVD-ROM materials. We get the original text screenplay and the script supervisor’s notebook. The latter presents Lori Wyant’s copy of the script, which comes accompanied by photos that relate to each scene. Lastly, we see excerpts from Guillermo del Toro’s director notebook. This consists of three separate pages with his drawings and notes. Much of the latter are in Spanish, but this is still a cool addition.
At least two Easter Eggs show up on DVD One. From the main menu, highlight “Introduction” and click up. This spotlights an icon, so press “enter” and you’ll find a 45-second video apology from del Toro in which he apologizes for sounding like an idiot in his introduction and blames it on the cue cards. (This also offers a preview of the extras for the upcoming director’s cut DVD I’ll mention later.) In addition, go to the “Special Features” menu, highlight “Main Menu” and click down. This will bring up an icon; press “enter” and let us see 42 different quirky quotes from del Toro.
If we stopped there, we’d still have a solid special edition release. However, Hellboy keeps the goodies coming as we move to DVD Two. A video introduction from Selma Blair sets the stage. As was the case on the first disc, this 30-clip appears pretty useless.
The prime attraction here stems from an extensive documentary called Hellboy: Seeds of Creation. It fills a whopping two hours, 22 minutes, and 42 seconds with the usual mix of movie snippets, archival and behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from del Toro, Mignola, Perlman, Blair, Evans, producers Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin, mechanical technician/puppeteer Chad Waters, prosthetic makeup Matt Rose, creature/makeup effects supervisor Mike Elizalde, production designer Stephen Scott, stunt coordinator Monty Simons, director of photography Guillermo Navarro, animatronic supervisor Mark Setrakian, stunt double Jimmy Hart, visual effects producer Velvy Appleton, sequence supervisor Shadt Amassizadeh, special effects supervisor Nick Allder, makeup artist Jake Garber, computer graphics supervisor Kevin Raillie, creature supervisor Rudy Grossman, animation supervisor Mauricio Baiocchi, prosthetic makeup supervisors David Marti and Montse Ribe, special key makeup artist Xavier Bastida, visual effects supervisor Ed Irastorza, lead character setup Paul Thuriot, CG supervisor William Todd Stimson, lead CG modeler Sven Jensen, animation supervisor Todd Labonte, visual effects supervisor Blair Clark, costume designer Wendy Partridge, lead compositors Colin Epstein and Jim McVay, sequence supervisor Ryan Tudhope, sound designer Steve Boeddeker, and actors John Hurt and Doug Jones.
“Seeds” covers virtually all the appropriate topics. We get starts with the origins of the Hellboy character, his path to the screen and adaptation issues, character design and prosthetics, set, production and visual design, stunts, casting and characters, visual and practical effects, costumes, sound and music and post-production, cinematography, and the premiere. The program offers a heavy emphasis on details of the actual production. DVD One’s “Right Hand of Doom” gives us some glimpses of this stuff, but “Seeds” thrives on footage from the set and makes “Doom” feel like an appetizer. Once we get into production, those elements proceed in chronological order and dominate, and the show branches to hit upon relevant issues when appropriate. For example, during the shots from the Moscow cemetery scene, we see how they developed the animatronic skeleton. The program balances raw footage with interviews well and offers a consistently tight and informative look at the flick. It’s a complete and well-executed documentary.
Next we locate three deleted scenes. These run between 29 seconds and 1:23 two minutes, 32 seconds for a total of four minutes, 24 seconds. We’ve already heard about “Cab Ride” in the first commentary. The clips offer a little expansion of existing themes but nothing too valuable. We can view the segments with or without commentary from del Toro. He lets us know why the clips got the boot and also a few other notes such as a minor preview of the upcoming director’s cut. (His remarks imply that we don’t get much unused material on this set because he’ll include them in the next version.)
Though the alternate track on DVD One seems to make them superfluous, we find some storyboard to film comparisons. However, the disc presents them with material not found on the first platter. The “Scene Progression” looks at Ogdru Jahad and starts with a 36-second intro from del Toro who explains that his art begins with a doodle and then goes to storyboards. We then watch the 44-second sequence from those two perspectives.
”Animatics” includes another 32-second intro from the director before we check out four scenes: “Hellboy and Sammael (West Side Street)” (one minute, 57 seconds), “Hellboy and Sammael (Subway) (0:47), “Hellboy and Abe (Underwater Chamber) (2:59), and “Behemoth” (0:40). We can check these out either on their own or in a comparison with the final product.
After a 43-second intro from del Toro, “Board-a-Matics” gives us a look at five scenes: “BRPD Lift” (0:14), “Bellamie Hospital” (2:11), “The Bridge” (2:33), “Hellboy (Rooftop)” (1:43), and “Supported Beam Tunnel” (1:18). These also provide the two viewing options seen with “Animatics”. “Storyboard Comparisons” ends this domain with segments for “Ragnarok” (3:46), “Machen Library” (2:30), “Hellboy and Sammael (Subway Platform)” (2:51), and “The Corpse” (0:41). All together, these elements provide a fine examination of the various planning methods.
After this we see a Maquette 3D Character Sculpture Video Gallery. This gives us looks at Baby Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Sammael, Ogdru Jahad, the Corpse, and Behemoth. They let us see a spin-around for the full sculptures as well as some close-ups of the details. It’s a nice way to see the work put into the maquettes.
Filmographies appear for del Toro, Mignola, Perlman, Blair, Tambor, Evans, actors, John Hurt, Karel Roden, and Doug Jones, producers Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, and Mike Richardson, executive producer Patrick Palmer, composer Marco Beltrami, and director of photography Guillermo Navarro. These present simple and abbreviated listings of flicks with no other annotations. A fun touch, we also find Character Biographies for Hellboy, Liz, Professor Broom, Manning, Myers, and Rasputin. These provide both fairly simple cartoon ones as well as insanely detailed text versions written by del Toro. All seem cool and add a very fun and valuable component to the set.
Within the “Theatrical Marketing Campaign” area, we locate a mix of promotional elements. It features both the teaser and theatrical trailers as well as nine TV spots. Poster Explorations shows 68 ad ideas, while Final Campaign includes 13 promos they actually used.
When the DVD One opens, it presents an ad forThe Forgotten. No other trailers appear on that disc, but in the Previews area on DVD Two, we find promos for it as well as Seinfeld, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, 13 Going on 30, Secret Window, Seinfeld, Anacondas, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Kaena, White Chicks and Kingdom Hospital.
Based on my first glimpses of its trailer, I thought Hellboy would be a silly dud. However, the flick provided a pleasant surprise. A lively and well-executed comic book movie, it occasionally faltered but it offered many more positives than negatives. The DVD also prospered, as it presented very strong picture and sound along with a thorough roster of extras. Grab this sucker, as Hellboy comes with an unreserved recommendation.
Consumer footnote: an ad in the DVD’s booklet informs us of an upcoming Hellboy director’s cut. The text indicates this “will feature discs jam-packed with special features, an all-new cut of the movie with new commentary and an exclusive, limited edition ‘Excerpt from the Diary of Grigori Rasputin’ created by Mike Mignola.” Nothing mentions a release date for the director’s cut DVD, but since a rebate coupon expires November 30, 2004, it obviously should be on the shelves at least a month or two before then.