Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Blu-ray/DVD Review

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Release date: November 11, 2008
MSRP: $39.98
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ron Perlman,Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Thomas Kretschmann, Jeffrey Tambor

During the summer, I was listening to the mid morning show on MPR (Minnesota Public Radio…best public radio in the world). They were having a show on summer films. When the guest expressed his anticipation for Hellboy II, the host expressed surprise and even disdain. As the guest talked about del Toro and mentioned Pans Labyrinth, the host ooed and ahed.

Guillermo del Toro is a fascinating director. He is an unapologetic fan and director of horror and the supernatural, yet the more the high-minded critics love him despite his seemingly “low brow” material. The listeners of Fresh Air as well as the readers of Fangoria embrace him.

De Toro understands that at the heart of any story is human emotions, that (along with the ability to transfer the creations of his incredible imagination to the screen) is what makes his films stand out above the other genre material. Regardless of the otherworldly horror facing his characters, the humanity is always at the heart of the story. That this escapes so many horror/fantasy directors amazes me. The classic horror films (Dracula, Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera) always had this, yet it virtually disappeared in the 80s slasher craze (not to mention the very f**ked up torture porn of the last decade).

This film starts up not too long after the previous film. Liz and Hellboy are back to bickering, Manning is still frustrated with these oddballs and is trying to keep them undercover, something that HB pretty much ignores. The plot of this flick centers on an elven prince’s quest to retrieve a golden crown that has the power to control a mighty robotic army. Said prince wrecks havoc on an auction house in an effort to acquire one of the pieces. He succeeds, with the help of a group of nasty tooth fairies wiping out everyone in sight.

This little incident results in Big Red and co being brought in to investigate. They head into a world occupied by elves, fairies, goblins and other creatures out of fairy tales (though most are a little more disturbing than those we read about as children).

As I watched this, I wondered if del Toro might not have decided to use this film to prepare himself for The Hobbit. I have to say that after watching this, I am very interested in seeing his take on the classic. The elves reminded me of Edgar (or am I thinking of Johnny?) Winter: pale with long white hair. Just imagine what might have happened if they were similar to Joe Cocker.

While The Golden Army is as visually impressive as it’s predecessor, the character development falls short. It feels as though most of the time was spent developing the amazing creatures and imagery and the more personal aspects of the storylines suffered as a result. The characters and story is fine, but not as strong as the first film. This might be because the first film had the job introducing the characters and showing the bond they share.

The very thought of del Toro on Blu-ray is an exciting one, and this does not fail to deliver. The colors are wonderful, with excellent saturation and contrast. The level of detail is fantastic and really highlights del Toro’s incredible imagination. I also want to mention that the make-up and effects hold up well under the close scrutiny that is a hazard of high def.

As much as I want to tell you about the HD DTS 7.1 mix that is offered up here, my sad system simply can’t take advantage of it. When I come into money, I shall build a home theater long enough to have such a set-up, but until then I have to say that the sound is crisp and well mixed. There are plenty of effects, but the dialogue comes through nicely.

Extras: We get a veritable smorgasbord of goodies here. I am simply going to talk about some of the highlights.

Two commentary tracks are provided. One with del Toro, who is informative as well as entertaining, and one with Jeffery Tambor and Luke Gross. The latter is fine, but I would rather have Ron Perlman.

In the Service of the Demon is an utterly fascinating 2 and ½ hour documentary. In a belief intro, del Toro says he intends it to be “a master class in filmmaking.” He delivers exactly that. Fans of film will have a blast, but there is enough fun here for even casual views.

Also included are deleted scenes, galleries, a comic book builder, a Blu-ray exclusive interactive feature that gives you the opportunity to view various extras as the film goes on.

While not as strong as the first film, the Golden Army is visually amazing, and quite fun. Simply put, del Toro’s C game is still better than the best of many others. Fans of the first will still have fun with the ongoing adventures of Big Red and co.

Order Hellboy II: The Golden Army from Amazon.

Jeremy Lynch
For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.