Animated Hellboy Awakes!

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On June 12th the second Hellboy animated movie hits DVD shelves. Broken Frontier got a sneak peek at the film and is here to tell the tale.

Last year Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and live-action Hellboy movie director Guillermo del Toro teamed up with animation guru Tad Stones to bring an all-new version of everyone’s favorite demonic demon basher to the small screen... an animated version. Hellboy: Sword of Storms was anything but kids’ stuff and now it is being followed up with a second film, Hellboy: Blood and Iron, that tops its predecessor. There are thrills, chills, blood, bones, and even laughs to be found here in a story that blends the new with the familiar.

As Hellboy and Abe Sapien finish up a mission, B.P.R.D. founder and father figure Trevor Buttenholm experiences a nightmare recalling his first mission as a field agent in 1939. A mission that saw him the victor over Erzsebet Ondrushko – the "Blood Countess", a vampire and high priestess of the witch goddess Hecate. Only now Professor Buttenholm questions that "victory"... could Erzsebet be rising again?

When a cake walk mission comes up – an investigation of a haunted house that is little more than publicity and political favor – Bruttenholm senses something more and not only assigns the B.P.R.D.’s top agents to the case, he insists on coming along himself! The Blood Countess may be returning thanks to her minions but is the elderly Bruttenholm up to this fight and more importantly can the other agents manage while worrying about him?

Longtime fans of the Hellboy comic books will recognize many elements from the mini-series Wake the Devil in this film but there are also situations and throwaway lines that touch on many of Mignola’s stories. This, combined with Mignola’s work as storywriter and Co-Creative Producer for the film, assures that the tale has a real, authentic, Hellboy feel.

Despite the familiar references, this story, and indeed this whole animated universe that Hellboy inhabits is very different than what is seen in the comic books. Professor Buttenholm, long since deceased in the comics, plays a significant role throughout the movie and fans get a look, through flashbacks, at his past as a young, vital, wet-behind-the-ears agent. This contrasts with his role in the present as father figure for an odd, eclectic, and powerful family.

There are many new and different elements to Blood and Iron that make it surprisingly powerful and amazingly dark. The villainess, Erzsebet Ondrushko, is truly as evil as she is beautiful and storywriters Tad Stones and Mike Mignola seem to have enjoyed adding the influence of the great, old gothic vampire movies with her. There are also some sequences that, despite being animated, are cooler and creepier than anything I have seen in a modern horror film in a long time.

Despite the fact that these animated movies are also different than the live-action Hellboy film, the producers have chosen to use the same actors for the animated films. All of these distinguished actors and actresses bring an array of talent and provide the perfect delivery to their lines. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Hellboy sounding any way other than the way Ron Perelman voices him. Even Doug Jones, who provided the body for Abe Sapien in the live-action movie but not the voice, now lends the voice but not the body! Jones really does have the perfect voice for Abe, however, and additionally works well with the other voice actors – taking his cues from their performances and meshing his in.

Hellboy: Blood and Iron also takes the opportunity to expand on many of the characters. Buttenholm’s role has already been mentioned and Abe as well gets more opportunity to shine than in the first animated film. Indeed, the opening gambit with Abe and Hellboy not only showcases Abe’s abilities, it also displays the easy working camaraderie between the two characters.

The animated style is a bit angular and cartoony but it still manages to convey gothic overtones. Even more, although the art style is different from Mignola’s drawing style there are just enough recognizable touchstones to please comic book fans and give the animation a little different flavor than is the usual TV and DVD fare. The animation itself is also extremely well done – crisp, clean, and bright and the figures move well without any annoying jumps or skips.

In addition to the movie itself, the DVD is packed with extras including insightful film commentary by Stones, Mignola and director Vic Cook, interviews, documentaries on the making of the movie, an animated short adaptation of the Hellboy story "The Iron Shoes", and an original, Hellboy "E-Comic" by Mignola. The "electronic comic" is probably the weakest of the items since it contains animatics that move the "camera" from panel to panel. You have to sit with remote in hand and finger on the pause button because the animatics move entirely too fast. The designer obviously did not realize that half the fun of any Hellboy comic is sitting and staring at Mignola’s amazing art for minutes at a time.

On the other hand, one of the most enjoyable extra is Bruttenholm’s story. Within the film, the story of the professor’s first fight with Erzsebet is told in a series of flashbacks that move backward through time. These sequences can be viewed all together running chronologically in one of the extras – creating a kind of Professor Buttenholm mini-movie adventure!

Hellboy: Blood and Iron is definitely an improvement over the previous film and is almost certain to please Hellboy fans as well as being a terrific gateway to those who have never met the character. There is a layered, inventive story told here with a lot of heart and wisdom, more than a few laughs, and some terrific, creepy moments. While there are a few rough spots in the story this team gets far more right than they do wrong and they are dedicated in continuing to improve.

Hopefully, fans can look forward to many more films such as these.

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