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Hellboy – Big Red Fun

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Creating a movie based on a B- or C-list comic book presents and entirely different set of challenges to the filmmakers than creating one based on a well-known property. Expectations for a Spider-Man or Hulk film are going to be different, if not necessarily higher, than for one based on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Hellboy. Moreover, the majority of the movie-going audience knows what to expect from a more familiar character and story. While any film based on previous work has a built-in fan base of potentially angry aficionados, writers and directors seeking to translate underground or independent comics to the screen have more of a blank slate to work with than those adapting the adventures of a pop culture icon.

In Hellboy, writer director Guillermo del Toro has remained true to the spirit of Mike Mignola’s quirky supernatural detective comics. The film’s lighting and direction evoke the characteristic dark, highly-stylized artwork, though some of the design seems to owe as much to H.P. Lovecraft as Mignola’s original vision. The effects, which only occasionally overtake the actors, service the story rather than the other way around.

Additionally, the depictions of the principal players are dead-on. In particular, Ron Pearlman, in the role he was born to play, hits just the right mood in his characterization of the title character as a guy who fights evil because, well, somebody has to do it. David Hyde Pierce as the voice of Abe Sapien also delivers a stand-out performance, enough to make up for his virtual disappearance from the film in its third act.

While the plot, of the “save the world from apocalypse” variety, is nothing new, its execution is skillful enough to hold the average viewer’s interest. While the broad brush of good vs. evil is familiar enough to allow easy accessibility to the story, enough heed is paid to extensive mythology of the series to please all but the most rabid fans of the original.

Unfortunately, because this is Hollywood, many of the more subtle aspects of the comic book have been brought to the forefront. In particular, a love triangle is awkwardly imposed upon the otherwise tight story, leading to more than a few melodramatic moments, particularly at the film’s close. The focus on action sequences also gets to be overbearing around the middle of the picture, no more so than in an entirely unnecessary sequence in which Hellboy has to again fight the same creature he fought just twenty minutes earlier.

Despite its flaws, Hellboy is a mostly faithful adaptation of the comic and a fine way to kick off the summer. Based on the opening weekend, expect Hellboy 2 in 2006.

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About Nick Danger

  • Tom

    When I first saw a picture of “hellboy” I thought he looked like when Will Ferrel on SNL dressed up as the Devil to try to help Garth Brooks write a love song.