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cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Rupert Evans, and Doug Jones

writer and director: Guillermo del Toro

120 minutes (PG-13) 2004
Columbia Tristar NTSC VHS rental
[released 27 July]

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Amy Harlib
The latest film by Guillermo del Toro, already a noted auteur director after his previous genre successes: Cronos (1993), Mimic (1997), The Devil's Backbone (2001) and Blade II (2002) - will no doubt add lustre to his reputation - it's his most dazzling, wild and crazy and fun film yet! Hellboy, based on the cult classic comic book series by creator Mike Mignola who also had considerable artistic/design/consultant input on this cinematic production, does justice to its source, even improving on its juicy mélange of gothic supernatural elements, Lovecraftian dark fantasy homages, noir-ish thriller aspects, and superhero action.
   Drawing on and synthesising plot devices mainly from the graphic novel compilations Seeds Of Destruction and The Right Hand Of Doom, Hellboy's story opens in 1944 on a Scottish coastal islet. There, Germans anxious to reverse the course of World War II to favour their side, seek to let loose and use the uncanny powers latent in the ancient ruins found on the offshore locale. To achieve this, a military squad led by Commander Kroenen (Ladislav Baren), a bionically enhanced, blade-wielding martial arts expert; his advisor the mysterious Russian occultist Rasputin (Karel Roden) secretly still alive through unholy means; and Rasputin's lover, the leather-clad, Amazon she-wolf Ilse (Bridget Hodson) conduct an arcane ritual to summon and harness the forces of the Lovecraft-inspired, horrific seven Lords of Chaos. Fortunately for known history, a contingent of American soldiers under the auspices of scholar of the paranormal Dr Trevor Bruttenholm, alias Dr Broom (John Hurt) arrives. They manage to prevent the enemy from completing the inter-dimensional gateway's opening, closing the portal only to find an entity got through - a small, red, devilish baby with tail, horns and enlarged, rock-like right hand.
   Cut to the present day where, at the clandestine, New Jersey-based Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence (BPRD), the now aged Dr Broom has raised the otherworldly foundling like a son to become the 6'5" eponymous, heroic Hellboy (Ron Perlman). Also under the good Doctor's care we find the telepathically gifted, mutant man-fish Abe Sapien (Doug Jones with voiceover by David Hyde Pierce). Additionally, Dr Broom works closely with a specially assigned government operative, the world-weary Agent Clay (John William Johnson) and re-recruits the estranged, emotionally tormented, pyrokinetically-powered beauty Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). These just-mentioned folks devote themselves to opposing the "things that go bump in the night - but we bump back"!
   When Dr Bloom finds out he will soon die of cancer, his chosen successor - the 'pure of heart,' smart, novice Agent John Meyers (Rupert Evans), despite his youth and inexperience in the field - quickly wins the respect of his outré colleagues, especially Liz whose feelings and John's in return grow warmer than mere professional regard. This causes some consternation for Hellboy, also yearning for the firestarter but afraid to show it for fear of rejection. Soon all thoughts of romance get put aside when the magically immortalised Kroenen, Rasputin and Ilse re-emerge plotting to achieve the world domination goal they strove for 60 years before. The antagonists' unleashing in New York City, Sammael (Brian Steele) - a huge, ferocious, slimy, tentacled, even egg-laying, hell-hound that produces two when one is downed - proves just the beginning of the dangers, globe-trotting adventures and squid-like, creepy creatures that Hellboy and his allies will face, events building in intensity until the searing climax.
   A geek-fest guaranteed to delight cognoscenti, among whom the writer-director and the star belong, Hellboy will please wider audiences too by adroitly balancing background detail with captivating, dimensional character development, plenty of humour, snappy dialogue, pulse-pounding action and the state-of-the-art CGI special effects of this type of genre cinema - del Toro's love and respect for the source material obvious in every frame.
   Star Ron Perlman was born to play the titular role - perfect emoting gruff, warm-hearted, blue-collar-type affability through the incredible Rick Baker designed prosthetic make-up exterior - Hellboy's fondness for pancakes and for cats by the dozens, endearing true-to-persona traits. Abe Sapien, another astonishing Rick Baker prosthetic make-up job and a fascinating entity, deserved a much larger role, ditto for Liz, Dr Broom and the villains who could have been fleshed out more.
   Minor quibbles aside, dazzling sets, costumes, make-up, cinematography, and fine performances - all communicate effectively the eclectic, atmospheric genre mix of the original Hellboy comics, making this film adaptation worthy to rank among the best of its kind, including the X-Men and Spider-Man. Marco Beltrani's excellent score adds the right symphonic notes to this rousing romp. For pure entertainment packed with impressive visuals, wit and thrills, Hellboy offers one hell of a good time!

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