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 virtually 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 Dolby Digital 5.1 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.
How did the picture and sound of the director’s cut compare to those found with the movie’s
theatrical DVD? To these eyes and ears, they seemed identical. I noticed no variations between the pair, as both looked and sounded equally good.
While the earlier release came absolutely packed with extras, the director’s cut of Hellboy offers even more over its three discs. Much of the material repeats from the earlier set, though quite a few new elements appear, and we also lose a few items found on the prior version. I’ll mention those cuts at the end of the review.
Much of DVD One’s materials show up on the prior disc. We start 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.
New to the director’s cut release, we find an audio commentary with director Guillermo del Toro. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion that covers a mix of useful topics. Del Toro goes into influences, inspirations and references, comics background and development, casting and developing the story, reflections on the comic book genre and some history, changes made for the director’s cut, and many personal reflections on various issues.
As with his commentary for the 2004 DVD of The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro proves very literate and incisive. He doesn’t spend a lot of time with production-related material, largely because he already addressed those issues in the prior DVD’s commentary. Instead, he delves into broader issues connected to the genre and subtext of the film. The majority of his comments connect to personal domains, as we get a lot of background on the piece and the director’s inspirations and influences. The track broadens a bit as it progresses, though, and del Toro goes over some movie-specific topics toward the end. Those help flesh out various issues. As always, del Toro gives us a chatty and engaging discussion that offers a lot of illuminating information.
Another new component, we get a composer commentary with isolated score. Here Marco Beltrami chats while we also hear the movie’s music. Anyone who hopes for a true isolated score - one in which every piece of the music comes without interruption - will come away disappointed. Beltrami often speaks over the score; most of it passes without disruption, but we still get many moments marred by remarks.
As such, this piece may prove more useful for those who want to hear the commentary and not worry about the music. Beltrami chats sporadically and offers general notes about his work. He talks about the various themes and influences as well as what he tried to do with the music. He discusses instrumentation, recording, and a mix of challenges.
Overall, this piece works okay, but it doesn’t prove truly satisfying for either music or commentary fans. Too much talk covers the score to make it work as an isolated music track, and Beltrami chats too infrequently to allow it to prosper in that domain. This means that it provides some useful material but remains flawed.
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 much of a problem.
According to the packaging, this feature includes “hundreds of new images” for the director’s cut DVD. I’ll take their word for it, as I didn’t count. The storyboards still pop up fairly sporadically, but they do play a bigger role in the proceedings, which makes this feature more satisfying as executed here.
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.
At least one Easter egg shows up on DVD One. If you 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.
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. (It appears in an extended version on DVD Three.)
When we move to DVD Two, we find exactly the same contents as the original set’s 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.
Since DVD Two totally duplicates the same platter from the original release, it seems odd to hear del Toro refer to “the version that will come out in a few months” – dude, that’s the one we own! By the way, these become redundant since del Toro reinstates them in the movie, but it’s good to have them here along with his remarks about why he lost them in the first place.
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.
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.
Next we go to DVD Three, which mostly includes new material. We get the requisite Video Introduction, this time with actor Ron Perlman. He provides a quick 24-second glimpse at the disc’s contents.
The video commentary is a retread from the prior set, but with a twist. 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!
Since those notes reprise what I wrote about the commentary for the prior disc, what’s that twist I mentioned? That one was just audio, whereas this package adds video. Whoopee! Does this make any difference? Not in the slightest.
We get to watch the foursome as the sit there and follow the movie. The format mostly fills the screen with the actors and shows the film in a small inset box. During gaps in their commentary, the flick zooms out to take over the screen. I don’t get the appeal of video commentaries. They’re a pointless gimmick, and this one doesn’t offer any improvements over the audio-only version.
Note that the video commentary accompanies the theatrical cut of the film. They don’t watch the longer version.
Inside an area called “Production Workshops”, we get two components. The Make-Up and Lighting Tests last seven minutes, 20 seconds and come with commentary from del Toro. Really, no makeup tests occur, as the focus is totally on methods used to light Hellboy. These are surprisingly interesting to see, as we discern how much difference the kinds of lighting make. As usual, del Toro provides concise and informative notes about the topic.
Next we see Visual Effects How-To’s, which breaks into three featurettes. “Bellamie Hospital/BRPD Life Miniatures” goes for five minutes and 48 seconds as we hear from visual effects supervisors Ed Irastorza and Gene Warren Jr. plus model supervisor Gene Warren III and VFX director of photography. “Computer Generated Sets/Behemoth” fills four minutes with remarks from Irastorza, animation supervisor Todd Labonte, lead character set-up Paul Thuriot, CG supervisor William Todd Stinson, lead lighter Steve Reding, and Tippett visual effects supervisor Blair Clark. “Liz’s Fire” takes two minutes, 52 seconds with statements from del Toro, visual effects producer Velvy Appleton, sequence supervisor Matt Hendershot, These featurettes provide nice coverage of their subjects and come across as helpful.
Shot in 2002, the Q&A Archive: Comic-Con 2002 lasts 23 minutes and 15 seconds. It shows a panel discussion with del Toro, Perlman and Mignola. They discuss general notes about the project and let the fans know what to expect. The presentation acts as little more than their attempt to reassure the partisans that they won’t mess up the series. Del Toro is funny as usual, but we don’t really learn anything here.
After this comes a A Quick Guide to Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud. How quick? 12 minutes and 17 seconds, to be precise. He goes through a short history of comic art and its origins as well as visual techniques and their representation in Mignola’s work. The piece offers some good insight but seems awfully dry.
The “Galleries” area breaks down into four sections. Director’s Notebook consists of 25 screens with his drawings and notes. Much of the latter are in Spanish, but this is still a cool addition. This feature also appeared on the prior release’s DVD-ROM area in an abbreviated version.
The Mike Mignola Pre-Production Art can be viewed two different ways. We can check out the 91 sketches individually through a thumbnailed still gallery, or we can observe them as a running slideshow. Normally I prefer the former, but the latter offers a cool twist: it gives us commentary from Mignola. This goes for 40 minutes and six seconds. The artist talks about the sketches, with notes about inspirations and what he tried to do, the creative process and collaborations, and comparisons with what showed up in the final product. Mignola proves very chatty and engaging, and he provides a strong exploration of the various concepts and conclusions. It’s one of the disc’s best components.
Broken down into four smaller areas, Conceptual Art and Production Stills comes next. It looks at “Conceptual Art”, which then splits into nine mini-domains for a total of 203 sketches. “Production Design” divides into four categories and a sum of 61 pieces of art. “Costume Design” provides seven drawings, while “Set Photography” breaks into 12 segments for another 197 shots.
For the final part of the “Galleries”, we get Comic Book Artists Pin-Ups. It includes 30 frames, as we see different artists do their own takes on the Hellboy character. It’s fun to check out the various interpretations.
Lastly, DVD Three tosses out some more Previews. We find ads for Underworld, The Dark Crystal, Mirror Mask and Labyrinth.
That ends the disc-based components of the Hellboy set, but we also find a text supplement. Called An Excerpt from the Diary of Grigori Rasputin, it shows something Mike Mignola cooked up right as filming began on the film. Its language makes no sense to me, but it includes some drawings and a helpful explanation from Mignola at the end. It’s a fun addition to the package.
So what doesn’t make the cut from the prior two-disc version of Hellboy? One major loss comes from the absence of the audio commentary with del Toro and Mignola. They talked 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. It was a good track and its absent comes as a disappointment.
In addition, we lose the 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 were interesting to see and added a neat component to the package. Lastly, one Easter egg apparently gets the boot. This was a 45-second video chat from del Toro in which he apologizes for sounding like an idiot in his introduction and blames it on the cue cards.
It’s too bad this DVD doesn’t reproduce everything from the prior set, but it’s still an excellent package. 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 tremendous roster of extras. Hellboy comes with an unreserved recommendation.
As with all “double-dips”, however, my recommendation becomes more complicated. If you already bought the first set, should you snare this one as well? Only if you really adore Hellboy. The three-disc set is superior but not by much; the two-DVD one is an amazing piece of work on its own. There’s not enough added here to make it worth picking up in addition to the theatrical DVD unless you’re a Hellboy die-hard.
If you want to own only one Hellboy DVD, which should you get? I’d recommend this director’s cut release. I stand by the theatrical release as an excellent package, but this one’s even better. I mourn its losses - especially the absent audio commentary - but it adds enough to make it the superior package.