Hell on Reels

HellboyMost of the people with whom I’ve casually discussed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” have insisted that I should put aside my prejudices — specifically my unwillingness to get suckered into another attempt at reinventing Jim Carrey’s heretofore painfully unwatchable career, first, and my aversion to watching yet another ridiculously hip music video director’s transition to the silver screen, second — so as not to miss one of the brighter offerings in this year’s crop of movies. “I was skeptical too, believe me, but it was really good,” said one of my friends last week. I just can’t do it, or at least I haven’t been able to yet, and if I do, I’m pretty sure I won’t be writing about it here unless I find it sufficiently unworthy of all the praise it’s got. Something stubborn in me finds the whole enterprise just too plainly offensive.

Below: All look, no feel. This still from “Hellboy,” while a near perfect translation of the aesthetic of its comic book origins, captures almost none of the same spirit.

Snobbery Will Get You Nowhere

If this is snobbery though, it’s certainly unqualified, because last Friday night I found myself sitting at the Astor Plaza in Times Square watching Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy.” I had high hopes for this movie, mostly because in the past I’ve seen, in del Toro’s directing hand, what I’ve always suspected was art obscured by a plain, unabashed kind of cheesiness. What’s more, Mignola is one of the finest comic artists of the past decade, and his Hellboy is a brilliant combination of gothic horror, manufactured folklore and uncynical, almost naive, goofiness.

Hellboy Still

Del Toro’s adaptation, unfortunately, is plodding and uninspired, and will most often be cited for encumbering Ron Perlman’s very human portrayal of the very inhuman Hellboy with a surfeit of unneeded and often unwanted special effects. For me, what was most disappointing was that while del Toro translated the look of Mignola’s comic book world to film, he managed to translate little of the feel. The panel art found in the pages of “Hellboy” are lyrically quiet, even as monsters roar through them; Mignola uses negative space like no other artist, and it infuses his world and his characters with a beautiful, subdued quality that’s rare in comic storytelling. Del Toro’s translation is loud and annoying and smothered in one of the worst musical scores I’ve heard in recent memory. More than ever, it made me lament the poor state of sound design in today’s cinema.

When it was all over, I realized that all signs had pointed to this movie being noisy, clumsy and disappointing, but for some reason, I had been convinced that it would something else entirely. It wasn’t. In fact, the worst thing of all is that
it left me thinking to myself that I probably should have gone to see “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” instead.



  1. That’s dissapointing to hear. I was hoping Hellboy would be good myself. I really like del Toro’s work, especially Devil’s Backbone.

    I’m not gonna try to convince you to see ESSM. The things that might’ve annoyed you will probably just distract you at this point. Regardless, I’m one of the Charlie Kaufman converted now. I’ve really enjoyed his last three offerings quite a bit….and I hated Being John Malkovich.

  2. I think you’d “find it sufficiently unworthy of all the praise it’s got.” I’m not a huge Charlie Kaufman fan and this film didn’t convert me. I thought it relied on a coincidence that shouldn’t be forgiven in a movie that is so proud of it’s writer.

  3. I quite enjoyed Hellboy for what it was – mostly an entertaining movie. I really liked it. Granted, I’ve only skimmed a Hellboy comic before mostly because I’m drawn to Mike Mignola’s work. Thus I’m liking it from the before-reading-source-material standpoint.

    Eternal Sunshine though, now that’s a great movie. The kind of movie you keep thinking about long after. Adaptation didn’t do anything for me and bored me. Being John Malkovich amused me, no more, no less. So I was quite pleased with this movie.

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