Hellboy: Blood and Iron (DVD film, 2007)


An animated version of Hellboy. Not bad at all. This review, from Death Ray 3, has the additional bonus of an interview with director Tad Stone at the end. I also interviewed Mike Mignola at this time, and you can find that piece elsewhere on this site.

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This bit works really well.

2007/ 75mins /15/ £14.99

Directors: Victor Cook, Tad Stone

Writers: Kevin Hopps, Mike Mignola, Tad Stone

Stars: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Hurt

The Hellboy franchise gets bigger, but can it ever capture the spirit of Mike Mignola’s individualistic comic?

Hellboy excites a lot of people in the SF biz, making geekish jackanapes of top-end creatives who drool over its artwork, dry humour, and obsessive detailing of folklore.

It’s precisely these things that make it difficult to adapt to other media. Novels? No pictures, and anyway, too much characterisation. Ditto the film, only it has the wrong pictures, and is burdened by Guillermo Del Toro’s flat directing. Anything that’s not the comic just does not seem to be Hellboy. Mike Mignola has a unique vision, but though he’s often directly involved in Hellboy endeavours, this vision gets pushed away by that of others; often at his own request.

The cartoon has a damn good try. It’s tenser and spookier than The Sword of Spirits, the first toon. But there’s still no disguising the whole He-Man-ness of it. There’s not enough dynamism in the art for something based on so stylish and stylised a comic. We’re not talking more frames per minute or the design (which is pretty), but about pose and direction. It makes you wish they’d taken more cues from anime than just Liz Sherman’s big eyes. More unusual angles and shots would bring a ton more life to this, and where such things are used, then the show shines.

The spirit of the comic comes through when Hellboy sets about an iron incarnation of Hecate, Goddes of Witches, smacking her ineffectually about her ferrous chops with a bathtub, before he’s unceremoniously slung through a wall, but it’s not enough to make this great, rather than just good.

And, lads, it’s pronounced Heh-kah-teh or Hehkat, not Hehkate!

Extras Lots  – a commentary, a chronologically presented version of the story’s flashbacks, a commentary by Mignola, Stones, and Cook, and a making of featurette. The making of… explains how Mignola and Stones adapted elements of the epic ‘Wake the Devil’ comics storyline for the cartoon. Less successful is the e-comic of The Pennangalan, which never gives you quite enough time to enjoy the artwork or, in some cases, read the captions. But this is more than compensated for by the inclusion of The Iron Shoes, a three minute animation of the best of the short Hellboy stories. This is excellent fun, and features the voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellenata.

Hellboy on screen

Tad Stones is the driving force behind the Hellboy cartoons. A man with a string of animation credits to his name, he’s the supervising director, and producer, working with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola to hammer out the stories. We asked him about bringing Big Red to life.

Guy Haley What attracts you to animation?

Tad Stones My fascination with animation goes back to some of the earliest cartoons I saw. In the fifties, local stations would have shows hosted by some sort of character and then show a grab bag of old cartoons. In Los Angeles, we had Sheriff John among others. I loved anything that showed the artist affecting the cartoon like Koko the Clown climbing out of an inkwell or Bugs Bunny erasing and redrawing Daffy Duck to make his life hell. I loved the idea of bringing drawings to life.

As an adult I enjoy the freedom to tell any storyline without the constraints of a live action budget.  I enjoy stories of fantasy and the supernatural and animation excels at making that believable.

GH How did you become involved with Hellboy?

TS I’ve always loved Hellboy and actually pitched it at Disney as a prime time show. When I left the studio after 29 years, my agent asked me what I wanted to do, meaning what direction I wanted my career to go, I answered with a specific: I wanted to do an animated version of Hellboy.

It turned out his agency was handling the licensing for Guillermo’s Hellboy movie! They were instrumental in putting together the animation deal between Revolution Studios and Film Roman. Mike wanted me to do it (we had worked together on a TV spin-off of Disney’s Atlantis) and I knew Guillermo through internet fan boards, so there was no objection.

Hellboy speaks to my love of the supernatural and I’ve been chasing him for more than a decade.  It wasn’t about putting my mark on it but by bringing as much Mignola feel to it as I could.

GH Mike’s art style is very distinctive, did trying to capture its essence in animation pose any particular problems?

TS I think Mike would’ve been more pleased if we had moved farther from his look. It was part of the deal that the animation look different. The only difficulty was that I defaulted to Mike’s work whenever I thought of Hellboy and it took a while to get used to our animated version.

After choosing the look of the characters everything else came from the style of the backgrounds. I wanted rendered backgrounds for more atmosphere but rarely were the shadows in those deep black. Therefore, the characters couldn’t have black shadows on them since they had to blend into the scenes. I was surprised that we didn’t have more black shadows but very pleased with the final colour of the movies. As it was, I drove the colour department crazy by pushing sequences darker and darker. I may have gone too far here and there. The detail is there, maybe fans should watch with their hands on the contrast knob!

GH What was it like working with Mike Mignola and Guillermo Del Toro on this project?

TS Aside from a few emails, I didn’t really work with Guillermo because he was in the middle of Pan’s Labyrinth.  However, there would be no Hellboy Animated without Guillermo’s pushing.  He read the scripts and preferred Blood and Iron over Sword of Storms and gave some voice direction notes that helped the second movie. If we get a green light on The Phantom Claw, the third movie, he’ll be filming Hellboy 2. But I’m always up for flying to the set for notes!

Working with Mike is a career highlight. He’s inspired me to reach for more in my work by his own pursuit of a higher level of art. On one hand he loves packing his work with pulp action but the stories are never just about bashing monsters. We worked out the stories at his house and then he gave notes on every written step of the process and on designs based on his characters. I called him once a week to update him even if there was nothing specific that I needed his opinion about. One of the reasons I’m anxious to get started on a new Hellboy movie is to finally make use of our learning from the first two.

GH How easy is it to generate stories and ideas for Hellboy when it began very much as one man’s baby?

TS The first thing is not to try it without the baby’s father. Mike can’t turn off the idea machine in his brain. Plus, and this is great for animation, he’s a visual thinker – he’ll have an idea of how a concept will play on the screen. It’s like there’s this completed movie playing behind his eyes and he’s racing to describe it to you. In another time he’d be burned as a witch. As it is, I never visit him without holy water in my back pocket.

Anyway, coming up with springboards was easier than you’d think because we started by talking about the various types of pulp stories there were – William Hope Hodgson, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pelucidar, the Ozark horrors of  Manly Wade Wellman. We could easily see how Hellboy would fit into those settings, resulting in an original story.

GH Any other big projects in the pipeline?

TS Hellboy: The Phantom Claw. It’s the mad science side of Hellboy with Herman Von Klempt, Lobster Johnson, cyborg apes, Rasputin, a new demon and the end of the world. The script is ready for production, but it completely depends on the sales of Hellboy: Blood and Iron.

I do have my own supernatural project but I’ve played with it in many forms for the last four or five years. Now it’s time to distill it down to what I really want to do with it and in what medium: comics, books or animation. I want to do what Mike did with Hellboy or David Petersen with his gorgeous book, Mouse Guard; they didn’t chase the commercial, they did what they wanted to do. In animation, my career has been pitching shows, trying to convince executives and networks how commercial they would be. It’s hard to drop that. Creatively I find myself shutting down possibilities, but animation should be all about endless possibilities.

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