Director Guillermo del Toro understands the parameters and ramifications of his material.
"When you go see a movie called 'Hellboy,' already there is an implicit, assumed, certain sort of sense of goofiness that you have to then say, 'Look, we know we're pulpy…but we take ourselves both seriously and we want to entertain,'" explained the director during a recent sit-down with the press.
And entertain they do as 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' is a fun, well-crafted supernatural adventure for all ages that tells the tale of the long-held truce between the elves and the humans being broken by an exiled prince and the efforts of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, of which Hellboy is a member, to stave off potential Armageddon from the relentless warriors of the Golden Army.
'Hellboy II' opens without providing any backstory from the previous film or the comics to catch new viewers up with the world presented to them. del Toro explained, "We said we're not going to make one of those sequels that tells you, 'but you were bitten by a radioactive spider.'"
Instead the film opens with titles accompanied by a photo from 1944 of a young demon with U.S. soldiers. He went on to reveal, "I love the photograph and I love the sentence where [it] says, 'He loves candy and TV.' I thought that defined the character." Del Toro instincts were correct because 'Hellboy II' provides a smooth entry point into this universe, a difficult task for a sequel as the parameters have been previously established so they usually remain unexplained.
The film was shot in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 because del Toro feels anything greater "should be left for movies that are horizontal based. [The] westerns, landscape movies, epics, exploration of the Antarctic, that which has a horizontal line and a sense of composition in that regard. In the strictest sense of the classical compositional frame 1.85 is closer to the Greek idea of the Golden Measure...I use it compositionally. I use a lot of arches, which is vertical information…I am very obsessed with composition, and I prefer 1.85."
One of the many brilliant set pieces in the film is the Troll Market, an update of the 'Star Wars' cantina inhabited by all marvel of creatures that will require repeat viewing to notice all the hard work involved by many crew members.
Del Toro said, "The idea was we would create a whole backstory…for the characters but we would never verbalize it because—in the same way we would move the camera around as if we were in any other location a shopping mall, a bazaar in the Far East. We would not do the thing that is done so often in these things where you do a close-up of each monster that you spend some money on and you give them each a little vignette. We are going to keep them in the background as if we had wandered into a real place and we are just shooting a real place."
Of course, spending a lot of money on things that have very little time on the screen did cause concern among some producers and studio people.
"They were saying why don't you shoot each creature? We spent a $100,000 on this creature and it is just in the background. I said, 'Because that's where you are flaunting it. When you flaunt it is really when you don't care. Yes, there is a 20-ft. monster lurking in the background but I am never going to see it again.'
"We have some things we designed called the striders, which were creatures only seen in the opening shot. They are like headless elephants. I based them on Dali drawings, the long-legged elephants, and we never see them again, never again. And we spent 100-and-something thousand dollars on modeling them…And they said, 'But this is only one shot!' I said, 'Yes, but you need it.' It's when you are on the first date with the girl, you leave a big tip on the table and that's what impresses her. They go, 'Hmm, a 40 percent tip. He's a nice guy.'"
Del Toro clarified his preference for using real creatures over CGI effects.
"There was a company George Harrison had, a film company called Handmade Films, and I think films should be handmade. I have this idea that, it's a notion that is perhaps the same thing that leads me to keep the props from my films. Find a way to buy them or to get them from the studio and I give them back a piece of salary whatever because I love there's a tangible things…We say, well, the audience doesn't care, but they do and the fact is the average eye of a just a regular Joe is, although they cannot verbalize things, you're trained by thousands of TV, thousands of hours of visual effects. Media hitting you all the time and your eye knows."
He sees this translating to the actors' performances. "If you come from theater, if you know the very essence of the craft, an actor only acts in reaction. A real actor doesn't throw; he catches. Now the guy is about the look in the eye of the other actor, not waiting for the other line, but being surprised by it, and in the same way, when you, by the second day you are fed up, but when you walk the first day and the Golden Army chamber is the size of a football stadium because we built it in a studio and you receive the first impression, it's an imprint that is going to inform the rest of your acting. Even by the second day, it's a stinky set and you are tired.
Del Toro's focused attention to detail and his understanding of how best to execute and translate his imagination to the big screen has allowed him to direct a production that has created a world audience members will want to return to again.
'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' arrives in theaters on July 11th. Watch for more from Guillermo del Toro and the cast and crew of the film here on Comics2Film.