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Gulliermo Del Toro

I must say I wasnít expecting much when I went into the theatre to see Hellboy, the latest slick offering about a demon hero trying to avert the apocalypse, from director Guillermo Del Toro. The directors previous works include such projects as Mimic, Cronos, and Blade II. I wasnít expecting much because, frankly, I hadnít been all that impressed with Guillermoís work up until this point, having seen everything he had done save Cronos (which I will view soon, now that I see this manís talents). I had enjoyed Blade II, but felt it a bit overwrought, and I had issues with the trashing of one of the characters. That said, Del Toro has matured his style quite a bit and has produced a stylish, unique, and downright fun movie.

This being a Del Toro film, there was plenty of dark, gloomy sets and an endless supply of slime. A film like this can quickly degenerate into a macabre gore-fest, but Del Toro cleverly injects threads of humor, love, religion, mythology, and existentialism to keep this from occurring. It occurred to me quite a few times while watching, that Del Toro has a superb eye for composition and color, as well as a knack for pacing. In one scene in particular:

WARNING: "Hellboy" spoilers below
Selma Blairís character, Liz Sherman, is bathed in incandescent flames as she sleeps, and the flames sort of flow off of her over the bed and onto the floor. She does this again later in the film while standing with arms extended in a Christ-like pose. Magnificent!

I found this effect breathtaking, and not just because of the special effects (which were quite well done) but because it was shot in such a creative way, evoking emotion through pure beauty. Del Toro also strikes feelings of awe, wonder, and disgust with equal fervor. The effect of this clever blend of genre and material, is that you are almost immediately drawn into the world of Hellboy. I went in with absolutely zero knowledge of the material, and had no trouble immersing myself in the story and visuals. There were plenty of places for this film to go wrong, but Del Toro balances all his elements like a skilled juggler and keeps the entertainment flowing.

What I realized during this film, is that I hadnít given Del Toro the chance he deserved through his crucial filmmaking adolescence. I had noticed appealing stylistic elements in his earlier works, but had discounted the films as lackluster in other departments. I think I now have a slightly better understanding of Del Toroís overarching vision in film as well. This man truly loves the horror/action genre, and from what I can tell, wants to raise the bar for what is acceptable fare.

I am also starting to see signature visual/ideological concepts in his films. Kroenen, an ancient cyborg clockwork Nazi assassin(!), who was underdeveloped, but still very cool, bore striking resemblance to the two stealth infiltrators in Blade II, with the same meticulous attention to detail in character design. The idea of intricacy also seems a common one throughout Del Toroís work as well. Be it intricate weaponry, artifacts, locales (at one point in Hellboy, two characters attempt to chase and capture the shadey clockwork in a maze-like underground passage system), or in the case of Kroenen, people, one doesnít have to wait long for an example to appear. Watching a director develop and perfect their unique style is art in motion. If creative, original films like Hellboy are what we can expect from Mr. Del Toro from now on, I look forward to watching.

A couple of small issues with the film did crop up. While a few of the characters are well developed and just as well played, some of the characters are underused, or just irrelevant. Rasputinís right hand girl, Ilsa, barely makes an appearance, yet starts waxing on about various concepts at films end. I had to remind myself who she was before disregarding her completely to pay attention to the story. Another character that just seemed like he was supposed to be on the set of an entirely different film, was Jeffrey Tamborís character, Dr. Tom Manning. As if this stuffy, corporate knob could actually have any effect on these characterís lives. He prattles on about revoked funding and other nonsense that would have nothing to do with an apocalypse, was one actually occurring, as the film would have us believe.

Ron Perlman, on the other hand, is spectacular in his role as Hellboy. Perlman is one of the few actors that can pull off a rough exterior, while still coming across as vulnerable. An actor I had once passed up as a second rate bit player, has become one of my favorite actors working today. His features are so unique and expressive, I warmed up to his character almost from the start.

The only other caveat I would mention regards the slime effects. This director seems to have a penchant for goo, and if movies with lots of dark, oozing bio-sludge arenít up your alley, you may want to pass on this one. I happen to like sludge, so it wasnít an issue for me. The music also seemed a bit understated, and didn't leave much of an impression.