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Hellboy: Frank's Take

01/05/2004. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Hellboy in the USA - or Buy Hellboy in the UK

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Franks discovers that in director Guillermo Del Toro's fantasy actioner Hellboy, there's nothing generic or artificial about the movie's flame-throwing crusader determined to stamp out evil at any cost.

Hellboy (2004) Columbia Pictures. 2 hours. 2 minutes. Starring: Ron Pearlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Karel Roden, Rupert Evans, Doug Jones, Biddy Hodson. Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro.

Hooray for Hollywood - a genuine cheer for the moviemaking industry that's finally learning how to adapt a magnetic comic book superhero into a viable anti-hero for the big screen to behold.

In director Guillermo Del Toro's SFF actioner Hellboy, there's nothing generic or artificial about this particular flame-throwing crusader determined to stamp out evil at any cost. Del Tor's comic look at a hideous hellion sworn to goodness despite his complex origin into being is quite fascinating and fixating from a redemptive perspective.

Hellboy is crafted marvelously from the cunning active vibrancy to the moody undertones as a sardonic and slick supernatural escapist adventure. Here, you won't find the overwrought gothic glumness that plagued The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or the camp-oriented cheapness of the forgettable Steel.

The demonic delightfulness of Hellboy will strike a chaotic chord with audiences that appreciate their dark and stylish comic book narratives as mysteriously inviting and highly spirited. This is perhaps one of the sharpest and shrewdest interpretations of a comic book screen adaptation that we have witnessed in quite some time.

Hellboy is based on the Dark Horse series of comic books courtesy of Mike Mignola. Refreshingly, cult writer Mignola's hectic universe of offbeat monsters and nostalgic Nazis is a telling blueprint for the average fanboy out there waiting to lose himself in the sheer graphic gumption of his calculating, creative imagination. The exaggeration of Hellboy's existence and the warped world in which he roams with aggressive angst is beautifully cynical and mystical in all its sci-fi sophistication.

The artistry of the computer-generated images is totally transfixing and the grimy creatures that parade around in the path of the crusading fireball protagonist gives this movie a cringing cartoonish effect that pierces the hungry psyche.

The film's title character is a tall red demon with a hectic score to settle. Hellboy (Ron Perlman, most notably known from "The Beauty and the Beast" short-lived television series) was conceived and ushered into the human fray during the World War II era. Responsible for his Nazi-flavored experimental arrival was roguish Russian occultist Rasputin (Karel Roden). However, it was a studious American that raised Hellboy to see the positive light in the form of Professor Bloom (John Hurt).

Thankfully, Hellboy decided to put his unique presence to good use by aligning himself with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. This particular governmental agency oversees the pattern of occult activities that threaten the national interests of the country. As an enforcer with superpower skills, the determined Hellboy is equipped to handle sinister forces that dare to impact society from an ominous viewpoint.

Hellboy has got his hands full in tackling the assortment of loons that routinely emerge at the forefront while entertaining the notion of their destructive tendencies. The latest villain to proclaim his sadistic superiority is the Mad Monk, a devious threat who is armed with the crazy scheme to overtake the area with his fearful and monstrous minions known as the Hounds of the Resurrection. These hellish hounds are cutthroat canines that have a hearty appetite and will masticate with menacing forethought.

Thus, Hellboy is challenged by this twisted antagonist and decides to muster up some assistance of his own. Along for the rousing ride to stop the Mad Monk are Hellboy associates Abe Sapien, a telepathic amphibian (David Hyde Pierce (NBC-TV's "Frazier") provides the voice; Doug Jones provides the physical body) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a foxy firestarter with insurmountable tenacity. Also helping out is FBI contact John Meyers (Rupert Evans), a blue collar type who's vying for the attention of luscious lightening rod Liz at the dismay of poor Big Red (a.k.a. Hellboy).

If anything, Hellboy has a weird sense of humor that makes this comic book fantasy very earthy and sincere in its protruding presentation. As a filmmaker, Del Toro is an innovative and crafty artist that takes his vivid vision to the limit in the way he fortifies his glossy gems with a sense of stylish ponder and poignancy. Del Toro represents the new breed of Mexican moviemakers that cherish the concept of offering rapid-fire escapist cinema that's agreeable with the audience's visual expectations.

As a helmer that had previous experience with another ambitious comic book adaptation pertaining to Blade II, Del Toro certainly knows how to spice up the genre in terms of highlighting his heroic oddballs with an ostentatious veneer that's truly effective.

Perlman is very instrumental in lending his alter ego Hellboy a brooding and colorful vulnerability that registers with the viewers as an anti-hero that's more humanly flawed than allowed. It's intriguing to see how self-conscious and critical Big Red is based on his unflattering physical makeup. Whereas most superheroes with different looks and strange physical impairments can care less about what they are showcased in hideousness, Hellboy actually does take to heart his unique physicality. It matters to him about being ostracized and accepted.

He's an insecure misfit looking for guidance and tolerance just like the average mortal man. Because Hellboy has his frustrations and longs to cozy up with the woman of his dreams (take notice Liz Sherman), Del Toro has dutifully produced a powerhouse protagonist whose need for acceptance is perhaps one of the most complex and incomplete comic book cads one will ever come across. It's the awkwardness and sympathetic vibes toward Hellboy that makes him ironically strong and durable in the long run.

The supporting cast adds marvelously to the kinetic comic book caper. Roden's portrayal of Hellboy's originator and chief rival Rasputin is deliciously devilish as he holds high hopes for his former fireball creation to perpetrate the havoc destined to upset the progression of Mankind. Both Jones and Blair make for suitable sidekicks for Perlman's Hellboy as they take on the seedy machinations of their corrupted competitors.

The subplot involving the love triangle amongst Big Red, Meyers, and Liz is a miscellaneous sidetrack to the storyline. But nevertheless, the romantic twitches concerning the threesome are innocuous in its sweetness. As for the hell hounds, they enhance the campy tension and the frightening frivolity escalates a notch or two when a knife-swinging Nazi zombie is invited to give Hellboy a run for his money. The special effects and CGI flourishes are the right tone and support the stimulating action-packed bits.

Big Red gives e'm hell alright and he's a better monster-mashing individual for doing it, too. After all, there are not many self-loathing comic book heroes willing to expose their low self-esteem for the sake of bringing excitement and adventure for our demanding expense. For that, Hellboy is definitely one endearing and complicated hot number to consider.

Frank Ochieng
(c) Frank Ochieng 2004

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