Hellboy II: The Golden Army 4K Blu-ray Review
Looking every bit as spectacular as your own imagination
Hellboy II Film Review
We die and the world will be poorer for itAfter a quick title card reprise into who and how he came to be, the film opens up on Christmas eve and to an eleven year old Hellboy watching TV, overexcited and demanding a story of his father Prof 'Broom' before bedtime. Reluctantly agreeing, Broom regales the story of a war between the Elven people and the Human world; it is long and bloody and on the verge of defeat a goblin blacksmith persuades the Elven King to build an unstoppable army – the Golden Army – but after unleashing it and seeing the devastation they cause, the King immediately repents. A truce is called, the controlling Crown is split into three and given between the Elves and the Humans so that never again could the army be used.
Del Toro opens his movie in a spectacular, yet simple way. The use of puppets to tell the story (Hellboy was watching the Howdie Doodie puppet show) was inspired (and actually a budget constraint) as it not only plays to the young mind of Hellboy but neatly tells the backstory of the film, who the main characters are and explains what the ‘Golden Army’ is. But more than that del Toro has also opened the Human world to include the fantastic; a separate ‘underworld’ populated by its own creatures with their own civilisation and values. This world does not need supernatural portents to open up a gate allowing evils to spill through; this world is already part of our own Human world and has existed side by side since the dawn of time only to be pushed aside, forgotten and unseen, as the human traits expand and over-run the fantastic. However, it seems that greed and lust for power are not unique to the Human world.
Hellboy still works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence and his blossoming romance with Liz Sherman is now an all-out romance; though their relationship is a tempestuous one. One of their heated arguments is interrupted when Prince Nuada, son of the Elven King in the prologue, invades the Human world to retrieve the missing part of the Crown needed to control the Golden Army. When the team arrives and sees the devastation wrought, Abe makes a startling discovery about Liz, before Red uses the resulting explosion to reveal himself to the world. This stunt proves too much for Bureau director Tom Manning who calls in Johann, an ethereal entity encased in a deep sea diver's suit, to take overall control and try to rein in an increasingly disgruntled Red. The story is then set for the team to come to terms with a new leader while battling against Nuada to prevent him from annihilating the human race by controlling the Golden Army.
Director Guillermo del Toro tells us that this is his most personal picture to date and it is easy to see why; each scene is filled with an almost Giger-esque attention to detail pursuing the idea of an ‘underworld’ populated by intricate creatures. Moreover, he imbues his characters with intertwining ideals blurring right and wrong, belonging and love. Perhaps illustrated best with the Elemental attack; Red sits atop a collapsing sign being taunted by Nuada that killing it will rob the world of something unique and that he is closer to the underworld creatures than to the humans, yet he strives to protect them even though they will ultimately hate him (just as they did the Elven world). This is hammered home when, after taking the shot, Red is immediately set upon by the mob and he realises that he will never be accepted, but feared. This is a double whammy for Red as not only is he an outcast from the human world, but he is not a part for the underworld either, he walks a kind of limbo. Del Toro excels in this dynamic and gets the best performance from Perlman, underplaying the hurt and the anger in a character so obviously wanting to fit in but never being able to. Perlman is, of course, perfect casting for Red and here, in this sequel, he is given even more rope tie our heart in knots. Even though he is an other-dimensional creature, his heart is so genuinely human, we do not question his relationship with Liz; in fact, we applaud it.
Del Toro and Mignola spin an intertwining story that works on many levels, the co-existing worlds, love, loss, belonging, separation, right, wrong, jealousy, greed and above all acceptance are explored. It is only a short film but there is plenty packed into the two hours, though it never feels stuffy or overblown. A lot of this is because of the amount of humour injected by the characters. It is a genuinely funny film, from the quips and one-liners that we associate with Red to some downright slapstick moments, such as Krauss taking Red down a peg, that serve as light relief but also make a point. Such skilful writing strikes a delicate balance and The Golden Army hits it every time.
As a sequel, the story is grander than its forebear, but due to a studio change and a budget cut, it does have a rather studio-bound look. There is an almost set piece to set piece motif running through, and in most films that might be a drawback, here though it emphasises its comic book nature. The sets themselves are exquisite in their design with an attention to detail so rarely seen in what has now become a predominantly CGI infested green screen domain. And so bucking this trend, del Toro has many of the sets and characters practically built, and it shows. There is CGI but, for the most part, it is consigned to the background and you really have difficulty is telling real from virtual, with the exception of the Elemental. Guillermo Navarro acts as cinematographer and he creates a distinctive look; bathing the ‘worlds’ in their own colours and shooting in an almost ethereal way – it is an incredible looking film. Del Toro has been titled a ‘visual poet’, and that term is well applied to Hellboy 2, every scene is a story, every frame a picture, every character a portrait.
Del Toro has excelled himself with this sequel, crafting a film as uniquely enjoyable as the first but being at the same time more accessible, and in doing so surpasses itself into true greatness. A terrific story, exceptionally told and looking every bit as spectacular as your own imagination.
Hellboy II 4K Blu-ray Picture QualityHellboy II was shot using Arriflex 235 and Moviecam Compact cameras on 35mm film and was finished as a 2K DI which has used for this Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The disc presents an up-scaled 3840 x 2160p resolution image in the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and uses 10-bit video depth, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG), High Dynamic Range, and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec and HDR10. We reviewed the Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Hellboy II on a Panasonic 65DX902B Ultra HD 4K TV with a Panasonic DMP-UB400 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Hmmmm, ok. This is a tough one. The 2008 Blu-ray was stunning in terms of detail, colouring and black level, with natural grain. So I wasn’t expecting a massive difference, what with it being an upscale, but rather subtle improvements that bring out the quality inherent in the picture. You honestly want it to be there, but it is not easy to spot.
Detail is sharp, accurate and defines edges from the closest parts of the frame to the far off distance. The carvings on Hellboy’s body are keen and clear, skin detail including pores and hairs are pin sharp, the markings on Abe’s skin, all are firm and distinct. Look too at the many books in the library, pause the film and read the titles if you want. Middle distance fares just as well, the cars in the street, the signposts or billboards all are perfectly readable. And far off distance is no slouch either, the film doesn’t use many but the long shot over Ireland could be printed as a postcard, sunny too! But, for sheer eye candy, visit the Troll market, for therein lays some breath-taking imagery with outstanding detail, from individual creatures, to brickwork, to the slimy floor; it’s all perfect clarity – much the same for the Blu-ray.
The problems occur with the HDR and WCG. Colours are now very vivid, almost to the point of being over-saturated. Entire scenes, which were bathed in a colour, such as the opening at Christmas, or Prince Nuada’s standoff against his father, both of which are autumnal oranges and golds, now exhibit retina burning intensity. The spectacle of the Troll market is bright, lush and again vivid; blues, purples, greens, browns, reds, golds all positively shine off the screen. Human skin tones have a positively barmy natural glow.
Black level is incredibly deep, indeed the whole picture looks to be slightly darker in tone, even though there is more in the shadows, that is the price to pay. The white scale is very bright; gleaming metal, the intensity of the explosions and general highlights really push the image.
Digitally, there were no compression problems while the source is pristine. Grain is still a feature and, for the most part, appears organic, but occasionally it has that digital crawling effect (one time on Red’s face!) which is occasionally distracting.
For this most part, this is a positive write up and in general the image is pretty good – it is not a step up from the Blu-ray, and this is the most disappointing thing; when you factor in the over saturation, slight colour differences and pushed blacks, there are some that might conclude that the image is, in fact, worse than the 1080p. Like I said right back at the beginning: it’s a tough one.
Hellboy II 4K Blu-ray Sound QualityThe already reference quality, albeit loud, DTS-HD MA 7.1 track has been replaced with an equally impressive, though not quite so loud, DTS: X surround track, which makes full use of the 3D surround environment. Right from the off, that’s the production titles, all the speakers spring to life and barely let up until the final credit has rolled. Precise detailing of the sound environment makes it one hugely exciting sound track. Let us take, for example, the Elemental attack, here we have a huge amount going on with the soundtrack; buildings crashing down, screams, dialogue, bullets shooting, the score and falling water all competing for space in the sound field. And it is mixed with aplomb, the action takes the centre of the stage with huge rumbles from the sub, and debris falling all around, dialogue is clearly audible - with directionality - when needed, Elfman’s score comes from above and below and those soft water drops tinkle just under the radar, listen and they are there, a superb mix means that nothing is missing.
The track is just as good when it comes to the quiet moments when Red is injured; quiet dialogue between Abe and Liz is still underpinned with soft ambience from instruments and the general hum of the building. The surround and overhead channels are in constant use to really place you in the centre of the action. Listen out for Barry Manilow’s ‘Can’t Live Without You’ echoing through the building! Elfman’s score comes across with gusto and subtlety, depending on what is needed. But perhaps the wildest part would be the final showdown against the Golden Army itself; surrounds, fronts and most notably the sub – with rumbles that can be felt through the floor and move furniture – are used to their fullest in a bombastic and all-encompassing aural attack. Awesome.
Hellboy II 4K Blu-ray ExtrasUHD
Audio Commentary - With Director Guillermo del Toro giving a very informative, if a little scene specific, commentary and going to great pains to explain his ideas, conception and look for the film. Whilst it is quite specific to the scene on show, del Toro meanders around the subject but with such enthusiasm that you cannot help but be hooked on what he is saying.
Audio Commentary - With cast members Jeffrey Tambor, Selma Blair and Luke Gross, which is nowhere near as technical as del Toro’s effort and comes across as a little amateurish, but all three have good recollections and are happy to engage with each other showing fine chemistry.
Audio Commentaries – Both as above
Scene Explorer: Schufftan Goggle View - Watch certain scenes during stages of their filming from greenscreen, animatic, blocked CGI and finished product, best view is all at once through the ‘goggles’: Director's Notebook, Set Visits, Concept Art Gallery
Comic Book Builder - Make your own comic by selecting a cover, scenes for the film and dialogue which is then crafted into an authentic looking comic book.
Gag-Reel - Easter egg hidden on Extras page, push down from commentaries; contains fluffs and mistakes.
Hellboy II 4K Blu-ray VerdictHellboy 2 originally hit our cinema screens during a summer of bigger, at least in terms of budget, superhero movies. Whilst it may be smaller in scale, in terms of bang for your buck, Hellboy 2 more than delivers. Featuring a complex story of co-existing worlds, warring factions, love and loss, all interweaved with a ‘family’ drama, comedy and balls-out action, it ticks all the boxes of a top-notch entertaining film. And when a story is so well told that you cannot help but fall for the characters and their plight, despite the complete outlandishness of their species, this one is a hit no matter how you look at it.
As a 4K UHD, the set from Universal might be considered a disappointment; the up-scaled image is well detailed, but HDR and WCG significantly over saturate much of the colour palette, while the pushed black and white level darken the tone. The DTS: X surround track is a triumph though, with an all-encompassing surround field, high on action, effects and bass level. The extras are a re-hash from the existing Blu-ray, but missing a whole host (including a second disc’s worth) of exceptional material.
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