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'Hellboy: 2 Full-Length Features 4K Ultra HD'
(Doug Jones, Ron Perlman, et al / 2-Disc + Digital / NR / 2019 / Starz - Lionsgate Films)

Overview: The Starz animated films 'Hellboy: Sword of Storms' (2006) and 'Hellboy: Blood and Iron' (2007) have just released a wondrous double feature 4K Blu-ray this past April 2nd, 2019.

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Verdict: LGF is expanding their 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray catalog offerings this month with the release of the always fun, and always colorful 'Hellboy: 2 Full-Length Features in the expansive 4K Ultra HD video format.

For my money, this 'Hellboy: 2 Full-Length Features: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital' combo pack's sharpness takes a fairly large step forward from others in their 4K Ultra HD catalog and even comes with HDR (High Dynamic Range) for the complete 4K Ultra HD experience, of course.

So, what we have is 'Hellboy: 2 Full-Length Features' presented to us as a two-disc combo pack with a sheet for a Digital HD Copy. Other stand out points you should know are: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: Upscaled 4K (2160p), HDR: Dolby Vision + HDR10, Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 and Original aspect ratio: 1.78:1.

Featuring Dolby Vision and HDR10 for brighter, deeper, and way more lifelike colors, as with most all 4K UHD's, everything that we watch features these qualities - but somehow, this film gloriously shines within them all.

Noticeably crisper with the overall clarity receiving an obvious boost here on this release, what's more is that it's enjoyably noticeable. For as well as some new nuances to the somewhat drab palette courtesy of Dolby Vision we also get to witness sudden bright pops of color; like the various inner earth scenes with Hellboy facing off against en masse of demons. It just all comes more vividly to life now, glowingly red, which is amazing to see, in truth.

Indeed, the picture enjoys the fruits of the added resolution in terms of bringing out the aforementioned extremely fine facial and some of the yellow graded material (notably some scenes where Hellboy - in either incarnation between the films - is fighting the good battle face-to-face with his Hell-dwelling patrons) now have a kind of honeyed amber appearance. Which is interesting, and at least a little different from the 1080p Blu-ray accounting.

As for the audio, well we have: English: Dolby Atmos and English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit).

Overall, this is a very strong 4K HDR Blu-ray presentation, and, for the most part, the audio track remains fairly similar to its DTS-HD counterpart; with much of the action occupying the surrounds with outstanding directionality and placement where effects flawlessly pan between the sides and rears.

Phew! OK, so, as for the two animated movies themselves, well, first up is 'Sword Of Storms' (2006), where a professor of folklore opens a forbidden scroll and becomes possessed by the ancient Japanese demons of Thunder and Lightning; who seek to return and dominate our world.

The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense sends Hellboy and a team of agents to investigate, but when Hellboy picks up a samurai sword, he literally disappears into a weird wonderland of Japanese legends, ghosts and monsters.

Meanwhile, BPRD agents Kate Corrigan and Russell Thorne are on the trail of the possessed professor to bring Hellboy back.

The voice acting is excellent here, in my humble opinion. Ron Perlman has now become the de facto voice of Hellboy, and if this ever becomes an animated series, his presence will be crucial for its success.

More surprisingly, considering her usually rather flat and whiny voice, Selma Blair delivers a finely nuanced performance. The best of all however, is Doug Jones. Seemingly perennially cursed by his background as a mime, the man has been seen in several great films in recent years but never heard.

He has a pleasant, deepish voice, which entirely suits Abe Sapien. David Hyde Pierce acquitted himself well in Hellboy but will not be missed in the sequel. Hopefully Mr Jones' fine performance here will encourage studio execs to leave him be as the voice of the Silver Surfer.

The character designs are deliberately different from Mignola's and in my opinion, that is a smart decision. Hellboy himself remains relatively faithful to the original concept, but shown in a more stylised form, reminiscent of Bruce Timm's drawings.

For the most part, this works, apart from an occasional slip where Hellboy's face takes on an exaggerated facial expression, lapsing into caricature.

Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and a few of the supporting characters are more radically redesigned and remind of the current pseudo-manga style of 'The Batman' or 'Jackie Chan Adventures'.

Personally, I am not a great fan of this particular approach, but I acknowledge it is popular and in context, effective. Mike Mignola's original drawing style is not completely ignored and is most clearly evoked in the design of Hellboy's various skeletal and monstrous opponents.

There are also some attempts to emulate the comic's use of shadows (most notably in the "Heads" sequence).

There are however, some problems. The animation itself is very hit and miss, and apart from the already mentioned weird facial expressions, there are occasional strange and unnatural movements from the characters.

Some scenes feature noticeably poorer animation quality than the overall film. They appear jerky and cheap and look as though they were completed in a rush.

The plot itself is not overly engaging. Although a story about cursed ancient lovers shows promise, it is severely underdeveloped, in favor of some nonsense about Thunder Gods and Dragons.

The majority of the actual film shows Hellboy wandering around Wonderland (or something), fighting assorted monsters.

Some of these action sequences are great fun but it all gets repetitive so that the overall effect is episodic and only occasionally compelling.

In the second animated movie, 'Blood & Iron' (2007), Hellboy and his team face off against a new supernatural threat while Professor Bruttenholm must investigate the possible reemergence of a vampire he had slain decades prior.

Simply put, 'Hellboy: Blood & Iron' is about vampires coming back after many, many years in wait, and also about ghosts and memory and all those things left behind.

If it were about these things more-so in-depth (or rather the kind of attention that Guillermo del Toro would pay to the subject matter if he directed), it would be really great material.

Trouble is, the Hellboy animated movies, with this the second installment, are limited by means of budget, time, and even to an extent the scripting.

There's a lack of the dry, sly and just outright clever humor from the Hellboy live-action movies, with only one or two quips from ol' Red (Ron Perelman, always good even in dull one-liners), and some characterizations and dialog that are as routine as whatever one might find in a straight-to-home viewing release.

That said, and with these flaws being noted, 'Blood & Iron' is extremely enjoyable for what it can afford in its 75 minute running time; which is giving some lifeblood to a comic-book that needs it desperately.

The plot works mostly upon the strengths of the animators, and luckily they are many. What might seem ordinary and traditional- even a little lacking in fluidity (again, budget)- gives way to extraordinary moments going past the expected for "kids" stuff.

There's some very dark material particularly in this installment, as we see an iron goddess, a vampire curse, a couple of blasted witches, snakes, and those creepy ghosts (which, thanks to some del Toro presence, reminds one of the Gothic folklore of Mexico).

It's all very impressive when it works best, and there's even some interesting designs for these villains and creatures of the night. As for the Special Features included, on 'Sword Of Storms' we get a quite brilliant 'A New Breed: Creating the New Hellboy' (1080p; 5:21) which offers a few interesting behind-the-scenes creation facts.

Such as the revelation that some kind of pre-arrangement in the deal meant that the character designs in this animated version had to differ from Mike Mignola's original conceptions!

On 'Blood & Iron' is 'Reversal of Fortune: Professor Broom's Story' (1080p; 20:24) which offers some brief introductory comments before venturing off on what is in essence a "third" animated episode; one which gives a bit of backstory for this character. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs via 1080p and comes with the Special Features of:

Sword Of Storms:
A New Breed: Creating the New Hellboy (1080p; 5:21)
Conquering Hellboy: The Actors Role (1080p; 6:28)
A View from the Top: The "Heads" Sequence (1080p; 5:26)
'Sword Of Storms' Audio Commentary featuring Hellboy Creator Mike Mignola, Supervising Producer and Director Tad Stones, and Director Phil Weinstein

Blood & Iron:
Reversal of Fortune: Professor Broom's Story (1080p; 20:24)
Tales from the Tomb: A Look Inside Blood & Iron (1080p; 12:59)
Iron Shoes With Introduction by Mike Mignola (1080p; 3:42)
'Blood & Iron' Audio Commentary featuring Mike Mignola, Tad Stones and Vic Cook.

'Hellboy: 2 Full-Length Features 4K Ultra HD' Amazon Purchase Link

www.LGF.com





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