Both films maintain the same style of animation, also containing the same drag and aliasing at times, too. But, of the two, it is Sword that looks the best, not simply because it is the brightest and most colourful, but also because it showcases more of a variety of colours and hues. Some moments of this first film look glorious. The above-water shots during Hellboy's skirmish with the river-demon are radiant, detailed and vivid, for instance, and become the thing that is possibly most recalled about the set. But, this said, the swift turnarounds of colours between scenes, and even between shots in Blood, also make for some memorable hi-def imagery.
But watching Hellboy in 1080p, folks, also proved a little bit confusing. Well, it did for me, anyway.
When I first played this BD - which transfers the two HB's 1.78:1 images via VC-1 on the one disc - I found that I was initially disappointed by what I saw. Neither film had a picture that appeared to make any major mistakes - a small bit of the usual banding, some slight aliasing, nothing more than the expected type of digital jiggery-pokery that you often get with this material - but nor did either offering immediately seem like much of a visual upgrade from the older versions, which, I have to say, still look very good. Colours were strong, but not as deep or as bold as I had anticipated, detail didn't appear any greater than before, and the overall impression I had was that these two 1080p transfers didn't actually look much different from their predecessors. But, just to test, I then span the original stand-alone DVDs and found, very pleasingly indeed, that these new editions were, in fact, a fair degree more vibrant, detailed and altogether smoother.
The banding appears, perhaps, more often in the first film, were pastel shades in the oriental background renderings make it a little more apparent. However, I have seen far worse than this. Blacks are strong enough to support to atmospherics, though they are not always properly “black”. Contrast is actually very good for both films, the frames amid the lavish set-pieces revealing fine variations and bold objectivity between the shades and from out of the shadows. Oh, and check out the terrific transition from interior dark shadows and tormented blues to a napalm-tainted fireball in the daylight that is extremely well-handled. Movement is definitely smoother, on the whole than the DVDs, which had more of a stuttering motion on panning shots and the more hyper action.
But the palette is the most striking thing and, even if the DVDs had a fine grasp on the multitude of shades and hues on offer, this BD goes a step or two further. Lovely midnight-blues, sharp and dynamic bolts of electric blue/whites, lush crimsons - not quite as bold or a deeply saturated as I originally expected for Hellboy's hide, but possibly more realistic, if you like - and just marvel at the achingly gorgeous autumnal hues for the forest setting in Sword, when HB stumbles across the mandolin-playing spider-lady. Great livid greens stipple some of the more dazzling scenes, and you begin to realise that the more visually subdued the main characters are, and the more sombre some of the backgrounds, then the more spectacular the light-shows that decorate them. And then the greens can take on a more sickly pallor, as in Blood when the two witch-crones contemplate with which new tool it would be best to eviscerate some flesh. The disc also copes well with the sudden change from this ill-looking cast to the incredibly vibrant, almost neon-hellish red artwork for the finale of the werewolf fight.
So, the leap may not be night and day over the DVDs, but the transfers for the BD release are fine and robust and do the big feller proud. Hellboy just about scrapes a 7 out of 10 from me.
It's a bit of a shame that Starz couldn't run to a lossless mix for either of these supernatural thrillers, but all we get here is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that, even if serviceable enough, offers very little in the way of stimulating surround activity or even satisfying bombast. Animated films other than those from Pixar and Dreamworks, can certainly sound terrific with hi-def makeovers, you only have to listen to the likes of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern or Marvel's The Avengers to hear that, but the relative drop-off to standard DD is not necessarily something to frown about. Neither of these two outings sounded all that great previously, to be honest, so it is doubtful that much noticeable advantage could have been achieved with a lossless mix, though this is all rather academic now.
All the effects are clean and distributed around the set-up without any error. The stereo imaging across the front is warm, detailed and wide. The opening and closing of door, the progress of footsteps and the emanation of voices from off-camera all come over well. You certainly won't have a problem with dialogue - it is always clear and well prioritised. Some surround activity when Liz and Abe are underwater, and then when Hellboy is dragged beneath an idyllic stream to battle a river-demon in Sword Of Storms, plus the frequent sound of rocks tumbling and buildings quaking in both films. Blood And Iron features a nice, though a tad unconvincing, series of snarls and growls from a pack of wolves that encircle Liz and the Professor, but really there is little to complain about with the presentation of the DD 5.1 track. I will say that gunshots from the mighty Samaritan are never given enough impact to resonate properly, but the odd clang of a clashing sword is reasonable and the scuffles and body-hurling punches and blows have some likeable heft.
These are not demo-tracks, of course, but both films benefit from sound designs that are impressive and ambitious, even if they sometimes feel a little bit restricted. And, in a great touch, Chris Drake's music is always brought to the fore with detail and warmth, showcasing his fine work on the movies.
For what they deliver in terms of what Blu-ray can deliver, Hellboy Animated's audio only get a 6 out of 10, but these are still respectable tracks that bring the two adventures to life with some great atmospherics when called for.
Absolutely nothing, folks. Criminal, really, when you consider the features loaded onto the SD editions, which had commentaries, documentaries, featurettes, exclusive comic-books, “Follow-the-Fox” interactivity and more.
Hellboy's couplet of animated adventures have both got great moments that truly evoke the original comic-books, as well as adhering nicely to the terrific attitude of the film incarnation as well, but neither really hit the right spot. Whilst there is plentiful chaos and a plethora of supernatural incidents to savour, the two films also feel a little more limited, dry and surprisingly predictable as they go on than the creative talent and the medium, itself, should have allowed. But it is always good to see Big Red, and there are definitely spells when these stories work-in some of the old macabre magic of Mignola's earlier tales - the floating heads in Sword, the spooky witch duo in Blood - but there is an all-too easy tendency to simply fall back upon the action set-piece pile-on that the movies were better able to accomplish. The animation, here, may even lack a little of the necessary verve and dynamism, despite still being weirdly splendid to look at and clearly fusing itself to the iconic imagery of the books.
But, overall, Hellboy Animated is a success that deserves to thrive and grow, and the leap to Blu-ray should have provided us with much more to applaud.
However, the lack of any extras at all is a massive let-down, especially as the SD equivalents had plenty of cool stuff to add informative and enjoyable value. Plus, I wouldn't say that the hi-def transfer, as good as it is, is particularly impressive enough to warrant an upgrade for any but the most devout of BPRD followers. It is great have Hellboy Animated making a hi-def debut, of course, but this set should have been much better stocked than it is and, relatively speaking, many would be better off with the original SD sets that just offer so much more. I am a massive and obsessive fan of Hellboy so, for anyone else like me, getting this release is a no-brainer ... but there is no getting away from the fact that this Blu-ray, even with both films on it, represents Big Red with his horns ground down a little bit too close to the bone for comfort.
Therefore, I would say that this is for completists only.
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