April 7, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 99  

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Hellboy not so hellish after all

Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

Columbia Pictures/2004
IN A PRETTY PLACE CALLED HELL. Selma Blair plays pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, love interest of that little boy from hell.

After seeing how poorly complex characters like Daredevil and the Hulk were put on film, it’s easy to see how Hellboy fans would be worried that this intelligent, original and witty comic book would be “Hollywoodized” into a mainstream piece of junk.

Were their fears correct? Well, yes and no. There were some changes made from the source text, but the end result is still an entertaining movie that can hold its own against the other comic-related films of recent years.

Hellboy’s story is as follows. In 1944, an American army regiment thwarted an attempt by Rasputin (Karel Roden) to summon a horrifying demon from a hell dimension that would help the Nazis win the Second World War. The only thing that came through the portal, however, was a baby demon, adopted by paranormal scientist Dr. Bruttenbolm (John Hurt).

Flash forward 60 years and the baby has grown into the tough-talking, cigar-smoking, pancake-eating Hellboy (Ron Perlman), who works for the Men In Black-ish Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense to help stop supernatural threats. Hellboy’s compatriots are psychic half-man, half-fish Abe Sapien (voiced by David Hyde Pierce) and troubled pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Blair).

The plot is basically an amalgamation of the comic’s most memorable storylines. Rasputin returns from the dead and wreaks havoc in an attempt to lure Hellboy to Russia and corrupt him into fulfilling his demonic destiny. In the meantime, Hellboy must deal with his unrequited love for Liz, his strained relationship with his “father” Bruttenbolm and the complaints of FBI director Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), who fears that Hellboy’s exploits aren’t hush-hush enough.

One of the good things about the film is that if you’re not up on the comics, director del Toro does a good job of building the back story in a relatively straightforward way. Hellboy’s new FBI liaison John Myers (Evans) acts as the viewer, having everything about Hellboy explained to him by Bruttenbolm. Myers’ character is otherwise pretty useless in the movie, aside from also acting as a complication to the Hellboy/Liz romance.

The good news for Hellboy fans is that although some of the details were changed, the comedy/pathos spirit of the comic is still here. For one thing, the action scenes are generally well done. The film is well cast, with the actors playing actual characters rather than just one-note clichés.

Del Toro and Mignola fought the studio for years to cast Perlman in the lead, and the actor brings the perfect mix of humour and toughness to the role. It’s a bit weird hearing the voice of Niles Crane from Frasier coming out of a fishman, but Abe is an effective enough character to make the audience wish he was on screen longer.

Overall, Hellboy might not entirely satisfy its longtime fans, but for us mindless multiplex sheep, it’s not a bad popcorn movie.



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