book movies used to be a dicey proposition, full of changes, compromises, and
needless alterations in the name of Making Movies. In our modern Spider-Man/X-Men
mindset, it's difficult to remember the profound disappointment that
washed over us when we first watched Batman & Robin or Superman
III. These are grumblings best left to the old-timers. You youngsters have
That's why I was initially worried when I heard about Hellboy being
optioned, pre-Spider-Man/X-Men. At that time, no one had made a good
super hero movie (are we counting Blade?) in years. I mean, if they can
mess up Batman, how on Earth were they going to get Hellboy right?
Then I found out that Guillermo del Toro was at the helm. I relaxed a lot,
because if it's one thing I knew, Guillermo was a Hellboy fan.
He and I have had several lengthy and gushing conversations about Hellboy.
I knew it was in good hands. The movie may not be perfect, I reasoned, but it
wouldn't be for a lack of him trying.
Still, there's always doubt, however small, however insignificant. It
creeps around like sand in your shorts and irritates you. I had read every single
Hellboy comic published by Dark Horse. It's one of my favorite
books of all time. In my Geek-Heart, I'd already accepted that they will
make some changes, but will it still be, you know, Hellboy?
The short answer is yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
Del Toro said, in his opening remarks at the World Premiere in Austin, Texas,
that “...we're finally seeing movies made for geeks, by geeks.”
This observation was met with thunderous applause. And he's right. Only
a Hellboy geek would have made this movie and put as much good stuff
in the film. More amazing is the fact that all of that weird and wonderful stuff
really works as a movie!
The character is the invention of Mike Mignola, a well-respected creator in
the comic book industry (known by many as an artist's artist). Hellboy
was Mignola's dream project, a chance for him to do a comic about
all of the things that he was geeky about, like the Weird Tales pulp
stories of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard, and the
pow-crash action fare of Jack Kirby's comics.
Hellboy is a member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, a secret
organization of monster hunters and ghost chasers. As their top field agent,
he's frequently used for their most dangerous missions. Oh, and he also
happens to be a demon from hell, summoned to earth in the 1940s by Nazi occultists
led by the legendary Rasputin. The stories are rife with horror references,
in-jokes, deadpan humor, and a charmingly refreshing level of violence. Hellboy's
method of dealing with the supernatural is to hit the monster until it stops
The movie borrows heavily from the first trade paperback collection Seed
of Destruction and its follow-ups, Wake the Devil and The Right
Hand of Doom. The real treat for diehard fans are nods to some of the shorter
stories in the series that drew big laughs in a 1,200 seat theater full of paste-eating
comic book dorks. (And no, I'm not going to tell you which short stories.
What website do you think this is?) Del Toro collaborated closely with Mignola
for the duration of the film, too, and you can really see it in the visuals
and the subtle asides.
Just as the comic book series rewards horror and pulp fans, del Toro's
Hellboy rewards genre movie geeks by relying on a brilliant form of shorthand
to introduce the character's world. Echoes of The X-Files, Ghostbusters,
and other genre staples abound for the non-comics fans and do the job of
telling you what's what very nicely. It also helps that monster-hunters
are an accepted part of horror and action movies, and that point is underscored
early and often. Hellboy is the monster who fights other monsters. Of course,
the real bad guys have other plans for him, and this drives the conflict throughout
the film. This movie works even if you're not a disciple of the Hellboy
But del Toro IS that Hellboy fan, and his screenplay is full of the
things that we read the comics for: Hellboy punches a lot of stuff, smokes several
cigars, and shows off his unflappable world-weary attitude. Liz Sherman is as
messed up as any self-respecting pyrokinetic should be, and Abe Sapien is pulled
straight out of the comics. If anything, he's actually cooler in the flesh.
The heart and soul of the movie, however, is Ron Perlman's performance.
Good God almighty, he really pulled it off. The voice, the attitude, those little
signature moments. He was perfect, and I do mean PERFECT in the role. Del Toro
knew this too, as he was the director's first and only choice for the
character. Seriously. You won't know how they could have put anyone else
under the make-up.
I'm not sure how anyone could NOT like the film. It opens with a Cthulhu
Mythos reference, for Pete's sake! It's tentacles and icky stuff,
testosterone and pamcakes, pulp-style Nazis and FBI guys, secret organizations
and explosions, real emotions and schoolboy antics, crowns of fire and love
stories, fairy tales and big honking guns. Yeah, it's really all of that
and more. It looks good. It feels right. They make it all work in ways that
I never thought were possible.
This is the first must-see geek movie of 2004. The faithful translation to
film, coupled with del Toro's quirky visual style, made this some of the
best eye candy I've seen since Spider-Man or X2. It's
that good. Expect to hear some quibbles about the occasional CGI shot, or minor
character tweak. In other words, the usual bullshit. (Hey, it's the Geek
Nation. Some joker actually asked del Toro how come there was no Lobster Johnson
in the film. Give me a break....) To them I say this: If that's all you're
upset about, then this film is an unqualified success. Considering that I would
have deemed this project unfilmable, and by contrast the sheer number of creepy
tentacles that made it into the movie, you'll swallow your tongue at what
they got right. Del Toro and Mignola are really proud of the movie. Go see Hellboy
and you'll understand why.