DVD Review: Hellboy: Blood and Iron

Hellboy:  Blood and Iron75 Minutes, Unrated

Story – Mike Mignola & Tad Stones
Writer – Kevin Hopps
Director – Victor Cook
Supervising Producer & Director – Tad Stones

Revolution Studios/Starz Home Entertainment – $14.98

You already read what Conor thought about the first animated Hellboy feature, Hellboy: Sword of Storms, and now I’m here to follow up with my opinion on the second such film, Hellboy: Blood & Iron.

When Conor came up with the idea of doing this, I didn’t hesitate to choose Blood & Iron. While there’s nothing wrong with Sword of Storms, I really prefer this vampire story, because to me, it just felt more like classic Hellboy. That, and it was largely a story about Professor Bruttenholm, told in various flashbacks throughout the film.

Bruttenholm and Liz ShermanMy favorite Hellboy stories are those which delve into unique takes on traditional horror conventions, and while I certainly enjoyed the Japanese mythology in the former movie, the best Hellboy material explores stories with a European background. Blood & Iron takes us to a tiny village in Transylvania, which has been historically plagued by a vampire, and later, for good measure, a werewolf. The B.P.R.D. team of Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, and Sydney Leach — the outcast nerd who’s talents are not immediately appreciated until they’re needed at the end — travel to a possibly haunted hotel. Of course, fights and danger ensue. The story is based loosely on the Hellboy graphic novel, Wake the Devil, and really takes a good look into what Hellboy actually is, and how he deals with it.

Professor Bruttenholm 1939All the while, we flash back to a period in 1939, where Trevor Bruttenholm had been here before, and we see that his connection to the story is deeper than it first appears. For some reason, and perhaps it’s simply the voice acting of John Hurt, but I just love this character. He’s the strong man who appears to be weak. He outsmarted the vampiress, Erzsebet Ondrushko, back then and of course, it’s not a big surprise when he does it now. On top that that, there’s a nice parable about the relative merits of growing old. While it’s fun having Bruttenholm as the wise sage who is the only guy who can put Hellboy in his place, it’s also fun to see him as an ass-kicking young man going toe to toe with demonic forces. He’s the kind of hero who puts himself in danger, because he knows that people need him. It’s a classic formula of brains over brawn, and one that’s always appealed to me in my heroes. Since Bruttenholm has basically died in both the comics and the films, he lives through flashbacks, and tales from the backstory of the Hellboy, which makes it satisfying to a good story based on this character.

The story leads Hellboy into a confrontation with Hecate, an evil goddess who wants to convince Hellboy to abandon his life with the mortals, and take his place among the powerful demons who are his peers. This is based pretty firmly on the same scene from the original Mignola comic book, which is one of the most important scenes that shapes his character. I was very glad to see it here, because the original scene was one that made a big difference to me in appreciating the character of Hellboy. He’s a demon, but even though he’s pre-ordained to bring about some very nasty consequences for humanity, he makes the choice that he wants no part of it, and the attitude of his reluctance is the most human thing about Hellboy.

Abe Sapien in troubleMuch like Conor, I really found the strongest point of this film to be the voice acting. It’s shocking that Ron Perlman both looks and sounds the part of Hellboy. A lot of times, I’m loathe to give a specific voice to the characters from pages of books I love. Most of the time, it isn’t what you had in mind, and it’s just not satisfying. But Perlman is it. The same goes for the Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien and Trevor Bruttenholm. These voices are just the right fit for these characters. I’ve actually found that, in the case of Abe and Liz, the animated features, as well as del Toro’s feature film, really made the difference in my understanding of these characters. The original comic books never really did much for me with these characters, but people seem to love them. Now, through these actors, I really have a feel for them, as well as a good deal of affection.

Despite far too many years of cartoon watching, my technical knowledge of animation is less than expert. However, I can make some comments on the various elements which make up an animated film. After all, a film is a film is a film in my mind.

From a script standpoint, this movie was a lot of fun. We shoot back and forth between 1939 and the present. Hints of the past make up the present, and the story stands on its own, yet contributes to the greater Hellboy mythology. The dialog is sharp, and largely fun, and we certainly get a sense of what makes these characters fun. Hellboy’s first line in the film is, “Oh crap,” which is a good clue that you’re headed in the right direction.

Hellboy fightin'After that, we’re looking at the character design. There has certainly been a great deal written on this subject before, and my only real addition would be to agree that these designs work well in this medium. They’re certainly not the same as the original Mignola designs, but in creating something unique, I think they serve their intended purpose well, as these films are not quite as odd, or dark, as the book from which they are based. The souls of the character remain the same, if not enhanced a bit for the animated format. It’s not until I really look closely between the original books, and the images from the movie that I even realize any significant changes, and that can only be a good thing.

Finally, we get to the animation itself, and if I have any reservations about the whole thing, it might be in this camp. The film is directed well, and the shots and action are dynamic, and the shot composition is mostly excellent. They were clearly shooting for a high quality look to things, but as with most animation, the bulk of the actual animating is sent overseas to defer costs, and at times, things look somewhat jerky. It’s not a huge complaint, but I certainly see it, especially in comparison to some of the ultra smooth computer animation we get to see so regularly now. I worry that eventually people will give up regular cell animation in favor of computer animation, and we’ll lose cartoons like these. It’s certainly better production value than you see on most weekday afternoon cartoons, but it’s not quite up to the level of a theatrically released feature film. Given the choice between huge budget production value, and a good script and acting, I’d take this one every time. I tend to think of this as more of a boutique product, rather than a prestige piece. The animation is certainly good enough, but it isn’t the best I’ve ever seen.

Baby Hellboy!It’s a nice set of features on the DVD as well. This was clearly made with the idea in mind that the people who would go out and buy this are probably hardcore fans. Therefore, there’s a nice anamorphic (16×9) transfer for the nice new TVs, a making-of featurette, and an audio commentary by Hellboy creator Mike Migola, director Vic Cook, and supervising producer and director, Tad Stones, he who made animated Hellboy a reality. The one thing that’s clear about this DVD set, and what’s on it, is that the people who made this put their hearts in it. They want it to be good, and they’re not making it in order to get rich, but rather to produce a product they can be proud of. And they certainly can be.

Overall, this is a fantastic companion piece for the die-hard Hellboy fan. It’s also probably rather enjoyable for anyone who just liked the live action feature film, and wants a little more. The characterizations are dead-on and what you’ve really got here is a product crafted with love and respect for the source material, but not so much as to hamper the originality of this piece. Everything that’s fun about Hellboy is here, and I could certainly think of a lot worse ways to spend 75 minutes.


  1. I hope they carry over the feel and new characters from these to the new live action film they are making.

  2. Haven’t checked out any of the animated films yet, but now I’m really determined to before the next live-action one comes out this year. The reviews just made me want to check them out even more.

    On a similar note, The Amazing Screw-On Head, also written by Mignola is fantastic. It’s funny, the voice acting is great, and it has the occult and action feel of the Hellboy comics. I luaghed my ass off the first time I saw it, and it really is a great movie.

  3. I liked this animated feature more than the first, but both hold a special place in my heart.  I think that this film featured a darker tone than the first, which really matches the style of the comics.  I also thought that Hellboy’s "Ah crap." attitude was better represented in this film than the first.  And the Professor Bruttenholm was top notch, as Josh pointed out.

    I know Tad frequents this site, so, Tad, when can we see more of this?

  4. Crap. Now I gotta buy this too. Damn you, Flanagan!

  5. @Neb – Check out the comments in my review of Sword of Storms, Tad posted there about the status of any future movies.

    I did like this one better than Sword of Storms.  I think it was a huge jump in quality on almost every level, and I really liked Sword of Storms, so I had a lot of fun watching this one.

  6. Like i said i the S.O.S review i like S.O.S better. For somereson i just did’t like it. I think it could be more fast mase or something.  

  7. @ Conor- Oh, thanks…I didn’t notice he had posted there.

    After perusing his comments, my only hope is that the success of the live action sequel will maybe hopefully spawn a couple more animated movies.  If not, short subject stuff like "Iron Shoes" would be really dope.

  8. i LOVE hellboy. it got me through the horribile comics of the ninties. (the worse decade in comic history)  i’ll buy whatever mingloa is selling and i’m never disapointed. i made these two movies a little event for me when they premiered on cartoon network. cleared the night, got some take out and made a night of it. i wasen’t dissapointed. great job on the movie mr. Stones and great picks josh and conner.

    p.s. has there been any discution on just a BPRD movie or better yet an animated series? (or live action) i realize the economics might not be there but they would make a great series. so much to work with. 

  9. I rented it from Neflix. I didn’t think it was that great. I love the books… but the movie and the animations seem a little boring. I missing Mike’s super cool artwork and writing. I was tricked into buying the new series by his artwork on the cover but it always kind of annoys me when he doesn’t draw the books.