Try as we might to be objective, the truth of the matter is that those of us who make at least part of our living reviewing films bring some significant biases to the table. So, I should just go ahead and show my cards in this case: I’m a massive fan of Mike Mignola’s folklore/gothic horror/action comic-book series Hellboy and all of its respective spinoffs, from B.P.R.D. to Abe Sapien to Lobster Johnson to Frankenstein Underground.
I tell you that, not because it really has any bearing on the quality of Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 big-screen adaption of the comic, but more as a heads-up that things might get a little geekier than usual in this review. The thing is, when Hellboy hit theaters 15 years ago this year, most people had probably never heard of the comic book on which it was based, and as
such had little concern for how faithful it was to the source.
Times have changed, though, and fandom has become more toxic across the board in almost every respect, so it’s become somewhat trendy to bash the movie for taking some significant liberties with the comic. Less so in this first installment than in its followup, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but still. There’s no denying that in bringing the characters and mythology of the Mignolaverse to the screen, del Toro decided to adapt and interpret rather than be a slave to the printed page.
And to that I say, “Thank goodness.” One only needs to look at the most recent cinematic adaptation of Hellboy—Neil
Marshall’s unimaginative regurgitation of the comic stories “Darkness Calls,” “The Wild Hunt,” and “The Storm and the Fury”—for proof that translating material between two mediums isn’t as simple as copying and pasting. It’s true the 2019 Hellboy reboot is more faithful to the storylines, dialogue, and even the overall structure of the comic than the 2004 film. What the new film overlooks, though, in its attempt to be a gritty R-rated gorefest, is the comic book’s profoundly ironic humanity.
That emotional human core is exactly what del Toro latched onto it formulating his own version of Hellboy. And most of the deviations from the comics storyline it leans heavily on—”Seed of Destruction,” in case you’re curious—ultimately boil down to bringing themes about family to the forefront and building the rest of the story around them. Such motivation results in some substantial character changes—Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman, for example, bears only the most superficial resemblance to her comic-book counterpart.
A subtler deviation comes in the form of a slight genre shift. Whereas del Toro’s Hellboy maintains the gothic horror and action elements of its inspiration, the comic’s folklore underpinnings do get dropped in favor of pure fantasy. But all of these modifications work in service of Hellboy as a movie, no matter what you want to say about their effect on it as an adaptation.
A relative failure though it may have been at the box office, Hellboy has always been treated well on home video, starting with a fantastic three-disc Director’s Cut DVD in 2004, on through a wonderful early Blu-ray release in 2007 and a lot of re-
packagings in between and since. Now, for its 15th anniversary, Sony Pictures has graced the movie with a ground-up 4K restoration, which serves as the source of Kaleidescape’s recent UHD/HDR release.
This release proves once again that films shot on 35mm film stand to benefit more from UHD/HDR than do newer, all-digital efforts. The imagery here is
simply sumptuous, reference-quality in virtually every respect, with the exception of a handful of computer-generated effects that don’t quite stand up to the quality of their practical counterparts. For what it’s worth, even the worst of Hellboy 2004’s CG effects look better than the best of Hellboy 2019’s, so don’t take this as too harsh a criticism. Overall, this new remastered transfer is simply stunning.
Unsurprisingly, the new high dynamic range transfer really flexes its muscles in portraying the film’s shadows, of which there are plenty, although it does take the opportunity to dazzle when called upon to do so. For my money, though, the biggest improvement over the decade-old 1080p transfer is in its more refined handling of the movie’s mostly muted color palette. Though there’s simply no denying that there is oodles more detail onscreen here than we’ve ever seen on any previous home video release of Hellboy. Textures, too, get a big boost, all the way down to the fine organic grain structure of the original film elements.
Truth be told, I’m not quite as sweet on the new Dolby Atmos remix of the movie’s soundtrack, although your mileage may vary. If you like tons of overhead sound effects, you’ll be in heaven here, because the Atmos redux never misses an opportunity to employ the height channels to their fullest effect. Oftentimes, it does so in the interest of atmosphere, which is where the remix really worked for me. When the action cranks up, though, so do the height channels, and I found it to be frankly a little too distracting, although that’s a common complaint on my part when it comes to object-based surround sound.
The good new is, over-done though it may be, the remix is utterly seamless, and sounds exactly the way I imagine the movie would have always sounded if modern audio technology had existed in 2004. So, again, if you’re a big fan of Atmos, I think you’ll get a real kick out of this one. The new mix maintains all of the dynamic oomph that has made this movie a go-to home
theater demo since the DVD days, and it does so while also maintaining excellent dialogue intelligibility and unimpeachable fidelity for the movie’s memorable score.
If, on the other hand, you fall into my camp when it comes to Atmos, you may be disappointed to find that the new Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround remix available on the recent UHD Blu-ray release is missing from the Kaleidescape download. The only other soundtrack options here are low-bitrate Dolby Digital (not Plus, just Dolby Digital) 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio stereo.
The UHD/HDR download is also missing not one, but two new audio commentaries recorded for the theatrical cut of the movie, which is also missing here. The Kaleidescape version includes the Director’s Cut only, which—to be fair—is a substantially superior version of the movie, even if its differences mostly amount to five or six seconds of footage here and 30 or 40 seconds of footage there. Also missing is a 15th-anniversary retrospective called To Hell and Back, along with a brief new introduction by director del Toro.
Don’t think that Kaleidescape is alone in its exclusion of these new bonus features, by the way. Sony seems fit to have withheld them from almost every digital release of this new UHD/HDR version of the movie, except, oddly enough,
the iTunes download, which ports over all of the supplements included on the UHD Blu-ray. The good news is, buying the UHD version on Kaleidescape also gives you access to the Blu-ray quality download, which brings with it a cornucopia of wonderful bonus features, most notably the six-part documentary The Seeds of Creation, which at 143 minutes runs longer than the movie itself. So, you’re really not missing out on too much, unless you’re an audio commentary junky like I am.
If you’re not a bonus feature completist, there’s really nothing about this release to criticize. Hellboy is a fun, beautifully shot, often sweet, and utterly charming movie that’s better served by this new 4K restoration than any previous home video effort. The improvements in picture quality—especially in terms of color, shadow detail, and black levels—simply cannot be overstated.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.