Hey folks, Harry here... I have decided that it would be inappropriate for me to write a review for HELLBOY - I love the film, love the romance of the story, the Lovecraftian imagery given life in such a vivid way... and of course seeing Hellboy played by Ron Perlman after hearing Guillermo talking to me about it for the past 20% of my life. Ultimately - it is a geek's film, a romantic's film and it truly is for those that dream during the daytime and live through the nights. I'm familiar with those passions and those hours - as is Guillermo. If you are planning to go for a balls to the wall work of action - that isn't really what you're going to get. This is a film about friends, and some say in the 20th century that the value of family has diminished and been replaced by the love of friends - ok... technically it was Simon Pegg, but anyways - that's very true in HELLBOY. If that makes you think, "Gay," then go sit cynically in whatever dank pit you call a life and hurl dung and nerf balls at the hoop and go "Swoosh" - but if you want a HELLBOY movie about complicated relationships, feelings and tentacles... then this one is for you.
Guillermo del Toro being awarded a $60 million budget to adapt and direct Mike Mignola’s cult comic book HELLBOY is evidence enough that the geeks have triumphed. Yesterday’s big announcement was just another victory lap. Hollywood is now our playground. We’ve got the run of the joint, and we ain’t gonna stop until we’ve got Brett Ratner helming a $200 million version of STRIKEFORCE MORITURI. Fear us.
But don’t fear Guillermo. As anyone who’s ever spent some time the guy will confirm, he’s a big ol’ teddy bear. He’s also one of the most visually inventive filmmakers out there, blessed with the kind of storytelling facility that’s caught the eye of titans like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. And here he is, holding forth on his latest triumph to a roundtable of (mostly) like-minded geeks. Enjoy.
How did you get to be such a huge fan of this?
From the very beginning I was taken not only by the art, but by the fact that this guy was such a fallible superhero – almost too human as a character. I thought that normally, and especially in Hollywood, superheroes… there’s sort of an unspoken rule where they say, “You don’t want to see your hero vanquished. You don’t want to see your hero fail.” And the great thing about Hellboy to me is that he’s incredibly fallible and incredibly human. Before he takes responsibility for himself, people even die under his command. He uses his powers, like I would, for very petty things – stealing a beer, throwing a rock at the guy who’s trying to steal his girlfriend. Things like that. And that humanity is what attracted to me to the character.
Do you see parallels between you and Hellboy?
What other aspects do you relate to?
I think that we both have a dark side. I have a dark side to my imagination that could’ve easily gone to plan bank robberies. (Laughs.) But the great thing about telling a fairy tale like the one in the movie is that it’s not about what the regular world tells you to do, which is to suppress everything (about yourself) by looking good and thinking nice things. It’s about saying, “I am what I am. I have a dark side, but I still can choose.” And the dark side with me was directed towards a creative thing, and also a destructive thing. The romance between Liz and Hellboy is pretty much taken in some cases verbatim from the courting of my wife.
Yeah. We were in high school, and when I was courting her at one point she said, “You should dress better… wear better clothes.” And I said, “Listen, some guys look really sharp when they’re courting, and then they’re married, and they put on sweatpants and sandals.” I said, “I can promise you two things,” and the scene proceeded as it did in the movie, “I will always look this good.” To me, also, when the movie started taking shape six years ago, and I started writing it, I was coming out of my father being kidnapped in Mexico in 1997. I was incredibly invested in the little fable of what it is to be a father and what it is to be a son. The movie is full of those types of personal details for me.
Let’s talk about tentacles.
The monster at the end has the most tentacles I’ve ever seen. Is there some sort of record for that?
I would say certainly on film. Not in anime. (Laughs.) But there is an aspect that I like and enjoy of Mike Mignola, where his version of hell is a cosmic one, which he shares with H.P. Lovecraft. In the movie he says, “Do you really, really believe in hell?” And the guy says, “There is a dark place where evil slumbers and waits to return.” That’s basically the premise of the entire Lovecraft mythology: that there are entities out there that want to return and repossess Earth that are “cyclopean”, to use a Lovecraftian term. I think… part of me wanted to make a Ray Harryhausen movie for a new generation that was creating monsters and creating entities that, as a kid, you want to see fight. I remember, as a kid, seeing the Sinbad or the Jason (and the Argonauts) movies, and just flipping at the creatures. We wanted to bring those creatures back.
You recently just met Ray Harryhausen, right?
We met him about two years ago. One of my first things was, I said, “Look, we’re doing this movie HELLBOY, and I would love to bring you in as an advisor on the style of movement.” There’s a lot of Harryhausen in the movie. For example, Sammael does the Mighty Joe Young move, slamming the floor when he’s angry. When we directing people to do movement, we were saying, “Do the type of move like a Harryhausen thing.” (Harryhausen) said movies today are too violent and too full of sex, and I said, “C’mon! In JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS you show a nipple, and you have a Minotaur in EYE OF THE TIGER that impales a guy out of the water.”
You’ve made very hardcore films. Was there any discussion at the beginning of this process to turn this into an R-rated film?
Never. Because to me, the beauty of this movie… I think this is a movie for young people. I think this is a movie that has all the… images that are edgy, but the heart of the movie is extremely gentle. You have a message… where we tell you, “Be yourself.” It’s a “Beauty and the Beast” story where the Beauty kisses the Beast at the end, but instead of the Beast turning into a Prince, she turns into a Beast. The final shot for me is beautiful because it works at the level where you’re telling people, “It’s okay to be a monster. Just accept it, and make it part of yourself.” A character verbalizes it very nicely when he says, “We like people for their qualities, but we love them for their defects.” Again, I’ve been together with my wife for twenty-one years, and the whole point is that I never forced her to be a princess in my brain. I accepted her flaws.
Is that the theme of this movie, then?
To me, the theme of the movie is, you know, what makes you a human is not anything to do with your birth, the place of your birth, or what you’re supposed to do, but what you *choose* to do.
There’s also a Catholic aspect to this, right?
Impossible to avoid. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.
So, people should see this on a double bill with THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, right?
I think that what it is, is that it’s not a movie that is about dogma. It’s not about institutional Catholicism. It’s about, ultimately, at the core of everything… try to do good and act accordingly to what your instincts tell you is right. It’s not a proselytizing movie; it’s more about ethics than morals.
First films in a series are always a bear. You’ve got to slug through the exposition and still try to hit the ground running and entertain the audience, or else you’re not going to make the second movie. How did you deal with all of the exposition from the comic book, and the peculiar way the comic book develops the character?
There’re a lot of threads in the comic that actually don’t tie up until, like, six series down the road, and some of them never tie up. I wanted to make a self-contained movie. I think it’s too cocky to assume that you’ll do a second one. It would be hopeful to assume that, but you shouldn’t take it for granted. So, what I wanted was to make a little fairy tale – a fable – self-contained, that you could see and understand. And the way that you do that is “showing” instead of “saying”. The rhythm of the images, and the language of the movie, and the information that comes in visually and verbally is almost machine-gun fire fast.
What would you do if you make a second movie?
I would make it, in terms of approaching the material, I think that the movie, the first twenty minutes of it, are pure Mignola – exactly as the material should be. Then, we have a detour at about thirty minutes where we go into an urban environment that the comics never go to. And the ending of the movie, where everything gets almost surreally gothic in the underground of Moscow, goes back to pure Mignola. The second movie, the only thing I would do is start and (keep it) all that surreal in a way. The storyline I would like to develop is why Myers was chosen, and find out in the second one why was he the only one that could be recruited? Since the love story is resolved, deal with different aspects of what it is to be this character. One of the aspects would be Hellboy would be out; he would be outed in the second movie – become public. And dealing with the reaction of today’s world, which is getting all the time more reactionary. And dealing with this character who is funded by the government! (Laughs.)
Why did you choose Ron Perlman?
I don’t think there was another choice. Whether you get the movie or not, to me there is no possible argument about him. At one point, I was telling the studios that didn’t go for it, “Why is it easier for me to convince you to spend $40 million on ILM and make a CG character than use Ron Perlman? Why is that easier than accepting the right actor?”
You were thinking about a CG character at one point?
What was happening was when we were starting, I said, “If Ron proves impossible, what we should try to do is make Hellboy eight feet tall. Make him a mixture of puppet and CG.” And I was thinking Ron would voice it. Then, I was talking to Jim Cameron, and he said, “You would lose one thing.” And I said, “What?” He said, “The love story.” But (the CG concept) probably lasted twenty-three hours.
What did you think of the Hulk?
I think that they pushed that technologically as far as humanly possible. I think the premise of the movie is a really interesting one. It’s probably not the fan’s HULK, but it’s a very interesting and very personal take on the character.
Let’s talk about adaptation. Geeks get really hung up on adaptation and things getting changed. I’ve talked to fans who’ve said, “It’s not exactly how I thought it would go because it’s not like the comic book.” What do you say to the fans, because they’re so demanding?
If someone goes into the movie with a checklist, they should save their money. This is probably one of the properties that is more full of quirky, idiosyncratic stuff than the entire comic book canon. We have a fish man partnered with a 6’5” demon with a red colored tail working for the government, summoned by the Nazis, coming from another dimension… there’s enough that we got away with. If you adapted, and someone said, “It’s easier to adapt works that are not easier.” And I think of all the graphic novels of HELLBOY, the one I think that is flawed is SEED OF DESTRUCTION. That’s the very origin of the character. And the fact remains that one of the best testaments that this was done with care, was when Mike Mignola said to me, “If I had known what you did with the material and the characters, that’s how the first series would’ve evolved.”
How closely did you work with Mignola on this?
Very, very closely. He was in there from the start.
Were there animatics that you were following for all of the CG stuff? I was wondering if those were based on his graphics.
What we tried to do… there were twelve or thirteen really emblematic moments and poses that I knew we wanted to hit. I knew that the fans would recognize them, while the audience that didn’t know the comic book would enjoy it. There are certain watermarks, and we hit them all. Mike was there just to keep his blessing on everything. We argued. We argued a lot. And I said to him, “Your duty is not to agree.” At one point… I wanted a giant crib to appear in World War II. They would say, “Nothing came through,” step out of the building, and there would be a thirty story high crib rocking. They’d climb it, and find the little Hellboy in it. And Mike said, “That’s not consistent with the comics. It might be a good idea, but it’s so neat that he’s just there among the statues.” We poked each other all the time.
Would you like to step away from the comic book world for a while?
Any ideas what that would be?
My natural impulse right now is to go to Spain and do a small movie right now.
A horror film?
(Guillermo gives the interviewer a great, “What do you think?” look.) I mean… yeah.
But you also have (H.P. Lovecraft’s) AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, which is one of the most incredible horror stories ever written.
That is totally dependent on studio financing. If I’m lucky enough that the studio “gets” MOUNTAINS, then, by all means, I’ll do MOUNTAINS. But if it happens to be 1920’s, period, crazy-ass tentacle monsters that come from another dimension… there’s a moment where a character is praying as a preacher is approaching, and the preacher says, “Your God is as young as yesterday. My master was here way before.” Ultimately, all horror movies with monsters turn into aliens. This one doesn’t. This one stays ominous and existential all the way to the end. We’ll see what happens.
What would you do in Spain?
It’s a bookend to DEVIL’S BACKBONE that is called PAN’S LABYRINTH. To me, DEVIL’S BACKBONE was about the Civil War in Spain. It’s a little story about fascism at its very roots taking over the entire country. PAN’S LABYRINTH, to me, is fascism has won, and basically make it a reflection of that period in Spain. It’s a story about a girl who falls in love with a fawn that lives in the center of a labyrinth, and starts asking for things.
Guillermo, I noticed in your underwater scenes, you like to shoot them with green filters. Why do you choose that as an aesthetic choice?
Since we were not able to just transpose the rules of comics, because they’re two total different mediums. People say, “They’re like storyboards.” They are not. But what I wanted was for the movie to have as bold a palate as the comics. So, if you watch the movie again, you will see that we have blue scenes, green scenes, orange scenes, and they’re all justified within the environment; they’re not gratuitous. The underwater… I thought it could be… to me, some frames of the movie could be still printed, and they would be almost like art prints. And I love the idea of this beautiful, murky green water with amber flares and amber eggs. It’s just an aesthetic choice. We didn’t want to do anything in the movie normal, the way it’s usually done.
How wonderful it is, then, to have Guillermo Navarro. There’s that range of color in CRONOS. He’s your Ernest Dickerson almost.
In CRONOS, there’s a moment when we came upon a moment that we love to do, which is a blue light and an amber source interacting. Since CRONOS until now, I try to do it every time. I’m a big fan of Mario Bava, and one of the great things about Mario Bava’s color work is that, to me, he was a master of black and white. And, then, when he began to use color, he became a master of color. There is a moment in HELLBOY that I adore where Hellboy is yellow, the background is red, and the door that goes to the sewers is blue. Just to play with the almost 2-D play of colors like in comic books. In a strange way, HELLBOY is the most experimental movie that I’ve made.
I want to ask you something about MIMIC. I’m doing an article on the great overlooked movies—
Don’t include that one. (Laughs.)
But I like MIMIC a lot! Why don’t you like it?
I like parts of it. The funny thing is: the parts most people don’t like about the movie are things that were either shot by second unit, or that I hated. People go, “Oh, that’s a cheap scare!” I agree, and I didn’t shoot that scare *because* I hate cheap scares. I think that what aches for me with the movie is not what it is – I’m perfectly happy with a big “B” movie about giant insects – but what it could’ve been, what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be a movie about evolution being a decision of God saying, “Your turn is over, buddy. Now, these guys are my favorite creatures.” There was no DNA involved in the ultimate MacGuffin of my movie.
If you would’ve had more control, or a bigger budget…?
I really don’t complain about budgets. I think HELLBOY is the best $60 million movie I could make. If I had the choice between freedom and budget, it’s no contest – it’s freedom.
Freedom which is well-deserved for this massively gifted filmmaker.
HELLBOY’s *finally* in theaters. What are you waiting for?