Hellboy: Blood & Iron (DVD)
Directed by Tad Stones
Distributed by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment
Adapting comic books to animated series isn't as easy as it looks. Things should be a snap since there are scores of stories, characters and options on how to make it all work out, but sometimes things just fall flat. Look at Batman: The Animated Series. The show had atmosphere, a great art direction and a very adult take on the subject matter; not every story in the show's lengthy run had to be full of fist fights or action. Then along came The Batman ... the brain is starting to bleed. Gone were the great plots and characters and in their place was lots of Kung-Fu and a very limited target audience. When the hell did the Penguin learn to hurtle his fat body twenty feet into the air while doing bicycle kicks?
Things didn't get better after that, sorry to say. At each turn there was hope that another animated movie or television show would come along to break comic fans out of the Teen Titan Hell hole. Wait, what is this? Something is crawling out of Hell itself to save our geeky souls from mindless toy-selling cartoons?! Yes, it's Hellboy himself!
Hellboy: Blood & Iron is the follow up to Hellboy: Sword of Storms (review here) which whetted our appetites for a television series that never happened, and never will according to the filmmakers. That may be a good idea though since Hellboy stories are packed so full of ancient myths and demons that it would be too painful to compress into half hour segments. This is the price we will have to pay, but luckily more may be on the way if enough people buy Hellboy: Blood & Iron. Should you?
Professor Broom, Hellboy's mentor and father figure, has seen his share of the occult in his long life. Around the time Hellboy came to Earth Broom had an encounter with the blood countess Erzsebet Ondrushko who had been draining young women of their blood, bathing in it and restoring her beauty. Broom, along with a preacher and a few other men stormed her home and eventually vanquished her ... or so it was thought. For decades Erzsebet waited for her witch servants to bring her back, but she wants more than just renewed life, she wants revenge!
The professor along with Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien and Hellboy are requested to investigate Erzsebet's estate following the new owner's suspicion that the site is still haunted by her victims. Not long after their arrival the gang are attacked, separated and confronted with not only werewolves, harpies and a resurrected Erzsebet, but the demon goddess who bestowed the vampiric powers on her ... the Witch Queen Hecate.
For those who loved the action in Hellboy: Sword of Storms, I'll let you know right now that this new animated feature is pretty light on the battles. The final duel between HB and Hecate is intense but it is preceded by nearly 50 minutes of talking and flashbacks. Not every animated feature has to be all flash and no substance but this is Hellboy! Don't take this the wrong way though, the story and build up work very well. To see more of Prof. Broom's past makes up for a lot and so does the amount of drama/disaster Erzsebet leaves behind.
We see very little of Hellboy throughout this new film and even less of Abe and Liz. Both the fire starter and the psychic fish do get a couple of action scenes but if they had been cut from the story all together it is doubtful anyone would have noticed or cared. If Broom and Hellboy were the only main characters with no secondaries this would have been a more powerful story and it would have left enough running time to fit in more action.
Overall the animation is good, but after seeing The Amazing Screw-On Head (review here) it is hard not to wish they had taken further steps to recreate Mike Mignola style from the comics. HB:B&I just isn't as moody as it could have been if Mignola's heavy shadows and rough character drawings had been employed a little more faithfully. One can still look at a demon or background and say, "Hey, that's Mignola," but there's just not enough of his style.
But what did work? Ron Perlman and John Hurt made the film work. Ron is still the perfect Hellboy since he never really has to try to make the character work. On the exterior Hellboy is so simple that to put a lot of effort into making him sound like a badass would ruin the experience. John Hurt, on the other hand, really turns on the acting skills even though this is just a cartoon. Would you expect anything less from him? There's something about his portrayal of Broom that makes everything sound deep and interesting by keeping it serious. Hurt doesn't use cheap tricks like silly voices or over the top reactions to keep you watching. Hell that even worked during Frankenstein Unbound. John Hurt could probably spit out a few sentences about a potato king and a magic carpet and it would sound like the most amazing thing you've ever heard.
There is an easy way to enjoy HD:B&I without being bored by the slow pace. In the extra features section there is something called Reversal of Fortune: Professor Broom's Story. This feature shows you all the flashback scenes in the correct order (they are shown out of sorts during the film). By watching this you can easily skip past 3/4 of the film itself and get right into the meat which is Hellboy and Broom facing their demons and destinies.
After all that head back into the extras as there's so much here that will keep you busy. Iron Shoes: The Animated Debut is just a short cartoon that adapts a folklore story about the Red Cap demon who kills travelers and dips its hat in their blood. Its a funny little distraction which Mignola informs us works better in an animated medium than on the pages of a comic book. I believe him.
Tales From the Tomb: A Look Inside Blood & Iron is your typical behind the scenes type of featurette that shows us storyboards, production and all the different sources that were used to compile the story of HD:B&I -- the legend of Elizabeth Bathory and Mignola's Wake the Devil comic to name a few. The featurette would have been far more interesting if many of these details weren't covered in the commentary which is longer and more informative.
The commentary is another one of those cases where the filmmakers get it right. The point of sitting around recording a secondary audio track is to inform your audience about the picture they are watching, not to sit there in silence. Mike Mignola, Tad Stones and Vic Cook let us know all the trivia seen in the making-of but also add in other bits of info like why none of the naked female characters have nipples, why the ending is anti-climactic and the ultimate question regarding future Hellboy cartoons. Want to know? Buy the DVD!
For Hellboy fans this is something to add to the collection, but people with just passing knowledge of the comics or films this may not be the best way to start. For those people it is best to begin with the live-action film then move up to Hellboy: Sword of Storms and then ultimately Blood & Iron. This will build up an appreciation some may not be able to grasp if they just leap right into this slow paced, character driven entry into the series.
Commentary with Mike Mignola, Tad Stones and Vic Cook
Iron Shoes: The Animated Debute with an introduction by Mike Mignola
The Penanggalan: An E-Comic Exclusive with an introduction by Mike Mignola
Tales From the Tomb: A Look Inside Blood & Iron
3 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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