by Mel Valentin
"Hellboy," "Hellboy," "Hellboy," where did you go wrong? Let me count the ways: CGI-heavy/dependent action set pieces left me on the sidelines, emotionally unengaged with the characters or the action. For me, CGI set pieces are just scrambled pixels, no one, let alone a stuntman standing in for a lead actor, is at any risk at any time. Consequently, CGI set pieces are devoid of tension or suspense, lacking emotional identification with the characters and their individual or collective circumstances. CGI-set pieces aren’t analogous to playing a video game (which misses the point of video games, which are all about identification and emotional engagement with on screen avatars), but with watching someone else playing a video game.That was, in a nutshell, Hellboy. Too many CGI-set pieces, including a misguided, misconceived climax (featuring the Hellboy's “Right Hand of Doom” vs. the “Giant CGI Squid Monster of Despair,” a monster straight out of the justly maligned Deep Rising, but just as likely inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's fiction). Story? Some convoluted mess about portals, resurrection hellhounds, Nazis (yes, Nazis: the overlong prologue reminded me of the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark), Rasputin, the mad Russian monk somehow allying himself with the Nazis, and well, another near-apocalypse (something we’ve seen far too many times on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer or Angel). No surprise then that the combination of all of these by now tired genre elements did little for me. Entertained? No, more like looking at my watch.
"An unexpected misfire from a talented genre filmmaker."
Don't get me wrong, Hellboy wasn't all bad. It did have the occasional inventive visual or composition (e.g., the nighttime conversation between Hellboy and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) in a winter garden); Ron Perlman perfectly cast as Hellboy, using one of his greatest assets as an actor, his voice, to full, plaintive effect; the stabs at humor, which sometimes worked, and sometimes fell flat (e.g., the overuse of the phrase "Aw, crap" comes to mind); the portrayal of Hellboy as a disaffected, neurotic and lovelorn misfit, an outsider (yes, like the X-Men), more "human," more flawed than the other human characters in the film.
Now, I'm not even a casual fan of the Hellboy comic book, but I've flipped through it at the local comic book store, and pronounced it "cool" looking. I did grow up as a solid comic book/graphic novel fan, however, and felt Hellboy would, at minimum, give me a nostalgic vibe. The comments from fans of the Hellboy comic book are telling: even if the overall story arc wasn't compelling, there were enough visualized elements drawn from the series that del Toro put on screen for them to enjoy. Another filmgoer mentioned the piggybacking corpse sequence that was apparently lifted straight from the comic book; it's just too bad del Toro didn’t include more macabre humor strategically interspersed throughout his film.
I generally don’t have a problem with CGI per se, just the overdependence on every plot turn, every act climax, on a CGI-effects driven scene, where Hellboy is often relegated to just pixels on the screen. With X-Men, Bryan Singer complained publicly about not having enough money to fully visualize the set pieces in the first film (the success of X-Men led, of course, to a bigger budget, and bigger set-pieces). He was forced to work within the limitations of the budget, and the end result was a solid, highly enjoyable first film. Even with the bigger budget/bigger effects present in the second X-Men film, Singer still kept his characters front and center, not buried beneath a mountain of makeup or special effects (and CGI monsters).Hopefully, del Toro will take my advice and go in the opposite direction, not toward bigger budgets, but smaller ones, where story problems can't be solved with another EFX set piece, but with a renewed emphasis on plot and characters at the center of the action. In other words, del Toro should direct another "Chronos" or "The Devil's Backbone."
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9069&reviewer=402
originally posted: 06/05/05 08:19:14