Hellboy Animated: Blood And Iron Review

You gotta have some sympathy for Hellboy and his colleagues at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. You think you’ve had a rough day at work? Try dealing with demonic manifestations, vampires, hounds of hell and various mythological deities on a daily basis. With no other form of counselling or stress relief than bashing a few monsters to release that tension, you can imagine that after a hard day at the office, those involved in the protection of the world from things that go bump in the night have a few restless nights themselves – long even after they have retired from active duty. Even the founder of the BPRD, Professor Broom, still has nightmares about past adventures, and one in particular – his first mission where he encountered a particularly deadly and bloodthirsty vampire. But is it really just a dream?

Broom has a hunch that the dreams are more than they appear to be, and when an apparently routine haunted house case comes up, Broom assigns the full weight of his best agents to the case – Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and, much to their surprise, the founder of the BPRD even returns to the field himself. Despite their distaste for the owner of the mansion, millionaire Oliver Trombolt, and their suspicion that the supposed ghostly manifestations are no more than a publicity stunt for a macabre exhibition of torture devices, there is definitely something supernatural on the premises... ghosts... lots of ghosts... and all victims of Erzsebet Ondrushko, the same deadly vampire supposedly destroyed by Broom back on his first mission in 1939. But the team have even more than that to deal with...

...yet, despite the abundance of supernatural and mythological creatures, there is less of the all-out punch-em-up action sequences in Blood and Iron than in the previous Hellboy Animated adventure Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms, the big red guy’s adventure this time aiming for a change of pace and for more mood and horror that would be appropriate for working with vampire mythology. It doesn’t quite work. There is some nice playing around of time-lines, the current investigation mixed with flashbacks to the young Professor Broom on his first mission, helping to deepen characterisation as well as background on the work of the BPRD and their agents. Unfortunately, as a consequence, not only do Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman get rather sidelined again as they did in Sword of Storms, but Hellboy himself is rather under-employed this time.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the vampire story was sufficiently chilling but, unimaginatively storyboarded and leadenly paced, it is lacking in scares and dynamic, failing to do justice to some potentially good and well-designed monsters from the Hellboy series. Hellboy in a ghostly green-lit underground lagoon surrounded by half-submerged statues is an iconic Mike Mignola image, but here it completely lacks the power of the artist’s simple lines and deep shadows. Even his battle with one creature there, echoing Wake The Devil right down to the line of dialogue – “Lady, I was gonna cut you some slack ‘cause you’re a major mythological figure, but that – that’s just crazy talk” – fails to live up to the scale and importance of their encounter, the animation lacking in force and dynamism. The means by which those major threats are eventually neutralised are also rather limp and feeble, despite the best efforts of Christopher Drake’s swelling and soaring operatic score.

Blood and Iron is nevertheless a solid enough entry in the Hellboy Animated series, one that at least tries to stretch the range of the characters and the nature of their supernatural investigations. There is a wealth of potential to be tapped into with these fantastic creations – something that is suggested here with references to the Right Hand of Doom and a post-credits teaser of Lobster Johnson – and with the involvement of Mike Mignola and Tad Stones, as well as the voice acting talent of Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones and the great John Hurt (here reprising his movie role of Professor Broom), there’s every reason to expect more from this series in upcoming films.

Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron is released in the UK by Starz Entertainment, the new branding for the former Anchor Bay. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2. A few of the retailers linked on the left have limited edition exclusive gift sets of the DVD.

The video quality of the animation is simply marvellous. Certainly there is some interlacing of frames, perhaps a consequence of a NTSC to PAL transfer, but due to the nature of the animation, it never really causes a problem in normal playback. Some colour banding and chroma noise is also occasionally evident, but only if you are looking for it. Otherwise, the colours are strong and solid, the image is stable, the lines are well defined and there is no unnecessary distracting edge-enhancement. A very nice image transfer.

Again there is the choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes of the soundtrack and both are excellent as far as clarity of dialogue, dynamism of the haunted house sound effects and the space provided for Christopher Drake’s excellent music score to work within. I couldn’t really fault this as far as pure audio quality. However, it has been marked down considerably because of some lip-syncing problems that plague the second-half. Matching dialogue to lip movements is not such a big deal in animation, even though it is quite noticeable here, but more distractingly, the big crashes and bangs of the fight sequences are all out of sync, and that’s very distracting indeed. This problem seems to exist in both the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes.

There are no hard of hearing subtitles provided.

Again, I am very impressed with the extra effort that has gone into the extra features on these Animated Adventures discs. Everything you could want to know about the making is included here, and there is some fine bonus features and contribution from the Mike Mignola that fans of the creator of Hellboy will not want to miss.

There is a full-length Commentary by Mike Mignola, Tad Stones and Victor Cook, which remains chatty and informative throughout. As usual, the animators points out original Mignola references, while Mignola for his part points out his references for the material. The production difficulties are covered, the choices made in the direction of the animation and the flow of the story, Tad Stones in particular being quite honest about the shortcomings of the animation in some of the sequences.

Iron Shoes: The Animated Debut (3:40) is a bonus animated short, based on Mignola’s comic book short from The Corpse and The Iron Shoes. It’s only about 2-minutes long and has 1-minute introduction by Mike Mignola, but it’s excellent.

Mignola fans can also revel in the e-comic excusive, Penanggalan. Only 8 pages long, the story is nevertheless beautifully drawn, the exoticism reminding me of Mignola’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser work. Mignola provides a brief introduction to the story.

Tad Stones reveals that the structure of Blood and Iron was inspired by Momento for its flashback inserts, so Reversal of Fortune (20:21) takes this backstory dispersed through the episode and plays it out on its own in sequence. This is nice, and in a way it becomes a whole new adventure of its own.

Tales From The Tomb (13:07) is the interview and making of segment, the creators talking about the inspiration of the story from Wake The Dead, the Hecate, Greek Mythology and Elizabeth Bathory, showing how storyboarding and colour-coding was agreed and including animatics of the original ending which was replaced by a more subdued ending (mistakenly I believe).

The second Hellboy Animated adventure Blood and Iron doesn’t quite make the mark this time. The change of pace is certainly welcome and there are certainly plenty of ghosts, monsters and vampires to keep the wonderful BPRD characters occupied, but the rather uninspired storyboarding and flat animation here just isn’t strong enough to capture the necessary mood that is needed in place of the action dynamics. If the adventure is slightly lacking this time around and there are some minor technical problems with the transfer that might be a distraction to some viewers, the potential of the characters and the excellent supplemental features make the DVD worth picking up and keep fans looking forward to the next one.

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