Hellboy Revisited

Hellboy - Director’s CutThe day after I bought a used copy of Hellboy from Blockbuster, the three-disc uberhyperultramegaspecial platinum tiger edition was released. Naturally. This new edition contains added scenes, new commentaries, additional special features and is hand-delivered by Ron Perlman, Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro, who sit on your couch, drink beer, and trade amusing anecdotes as you watch the director’s cut of the movie, the running time of which is nearly eleven hours.The interviews and commentaries contained on this DVD are for entertainment purposes only. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the individual speakers, and do not necessarily reflect those of Revolution Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment or any of their affiliates.

Sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for me, doesn’t it? Boy, howdy, it sure does! Well, don’t reach for your wallet just yet, ’cause I already got it as part of a gift exchange. I am, as the Beat Farmers would surely assert, a happy boy. I watched the movie (again) over the weekend (or perhaps it was Monday night). I’m pleased to report that the added scenes flow quite nicely, and nicely flesh out some aspects of the story. I have yet to watch any of the commentaries, but Hellboy is one of those rare movies that I could watch three or four times in the space of a month without worrying that I’ll grow tired of it. It is simply fun to watch.

X Marks the Games

Despite having never played I through XII, I picked up a used copy of XIII for the Xbox yesterday. This is a cel-shaded first-person shooter in which the main character (voiced by David Duchovny) appears to have assassinated the President. I rented XIII when it was first released, and it appeared to be a fairly decent game, so grabbing it for thirteen bucks seemed fairly reasonable to me.

I also picked up a used copy of Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer, but when I got home I discovered that there had been an accidental switcheroo and I’d received a copy of Hunter the Reckoning (if the title sounds White Wolfish, there’s good reason) instead. I’ve already played the original all the way through, and I couldn’t see any value in owning two copies, so I went back to Funcoland and they corrected the error.

Other sequels on the shelves: Spider-Man 2 (which greatly improves upon its predecessor), Prince of Persia Warrior Within and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: There’s Probably A Sub-Sub-Title. While I’d like to buy all of these, I own the first title in each series and have yet to finish them. [EDIT: Prince of Persia The Sands of Time isn’t actually the first title in the series, but it’s the first released on the Xbox. It is also one of the few games I own that tells you how much of the game you’ve completed. When I last checked, I was something like 80% of the way through it.] With KOTOR especially, that is enough to keep me from either plunking my money down on the counter or putting it on my wishlist.

Also on the shelves is Dead or Alive Ultimate. I own (and have completed) Dead or Alive 3, so I guess I’m justified in wanting this one, which is technically not a sequel, but upgraded versions of both Dead or Alive (which was originally released on the SEGA Saturn) and Dead or Alive 2 (which was not released on the Xbox). This one should really be on my wishlist, as I enjoy watching scantily-clad, impossibly-proportioned animated women kick each other’s shapely asses (though not enough to buy Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball).

Oh, and then there’s HALO 2. You guessed it, I own HALO but haven’t completed the game yet. Miscellaneous G™ and I are working on this one at the rate of an hour or two every couple of weeks. Still, I’ve played the sequel (my brother bought it while I was in Upper Michigan) and I’m not in a rush to pick it up just yet. Maybe my tune will change when (if) I get Xbox Live!I swear that the exclamation point used to be a part of the service name. I used to feel that I was was conveying a false sense of excitement whenever I mentioned the online service, but always included the exclamation point for the sake of correctness. Looking at current references to Live on the official Xbox website, I find no exclamation points at all. Were they ever really there?

Other sequels on the way:

  • MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf – Yes, I own the original, no I haven’t completed it. Lots of fun, though.
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory – This will be the third installment in the series. I’ve got (but have not completed) both predecessors and they both rock.
  • Crimson Skies: The Unnamed Sequel – Okay, this one is wishful thinking on my part. I’m actually on what I believe is the final mission of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, and I would love to hear that a sequel to this excellent game is in the works.

Hero (Ying xiong) (2002)

HeroHero (2002)

Starring Jet Li, Ziyi Zhang, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Daoming Chen

Directed by Yimou Zhang

Hero is a very pretty movie. Pretty, pretty, pretty. The sets and costumes are lavish and colorful, the locations vibrant and lustrous or vast and desolate (whichever the story calls for at the time). Visually, it has all the polish of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the movie with which it shall ever be compared.

The problem with making such a comparison is that I expected Hero to live up to it on levels beyond The Pretty. I expected an engaging story, competent acting, characters I cared about, and breathtaking martial arts sequences. On at least one of those points, I should have known better. Hero stars Jet Li, after all.

Jet Li moves like some sort of jungle cat crossed with a bird of prey. His physical capabilities range from simply impressive to absolutely mind-numbing. Unfortunately, physical prowess and acting ability do not seem to be directly related. Being able to kick twenty-eight cubic yards of ass per second does not grant one the ability to emote. Jet Li, sadly, is not much of an actor. As a result, my emotional investment in the nameless hero was nil. Jet Li is perfect for an action-oriented film such as The One (which doesn’t mean I particularly liked that movie, either), where emotion doesn’t need to get in the way of ass-kicking. For Hero to be in the same dramatic arena as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, though, I need to empathize with the protagonist.

As it turns out, there are decent actors in this film. Most of the other characters, including – and perhaps especially – the king of Qin (Daoming Chen), are played very well. Whether we like or dislike them (and our feelings toward them can and do change during the course of the story), at least it’s possible to feel something.

The story through which the characters progress is an interesting one, if somewhat shoddily realized. Nameless (Jet Li) has come before the king of Qin after disposing of three assassins (Broken Sword, Sky and Flying Snow, played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Donnie Yen and Maggie Cheung, respectively). How Nameless managed to accomplish this is told through a series of flashbacks that ultimately lead up to the final conflict of the film.

Every flashback contains one or more color-coordinated battles. In each case, everyone involved wears the same color clothing: red in one fight, green in another, white in a third. Visually, this is an interesting device. It does begin to wear thin after a while, though.

The fights themselves are largely anticlimactic. Some sequences are impressive, but most fall flat. The filmmakers rely too heavily on the computer-generated aspects of the battles. In one fight, the combatants are often hidden in clouds of swirling leaves; in another, billowing green draperies serve to obscure the action rather than accent it. Unfortunately, these CG elements often scream special effect, rather than being truly special.

Another problem with the action sequences is how they are edited. One battle, which takes place on a beautiful lake, is thrown together so ham-handedly that it is impossible to determine what the fighters are doing. Too much focus is given to shots of sword tips skimming the surface of the water, and not enough to building a linear and comprehensible action sequence. It is an unfortunate instance of The Pretty superseding everything else.

Hero borrows one more element from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Ziyi Zhang. Unfortunately, her character (Moon) is little more than window dressing, and has only one scene in which she gets appreciable screen time and attention. Still, Zhang is very easy to watch.

In the end, Hero doesn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. Beautiful locations, sets and costumes (the soundtrack is suitably elegant, as well) cannot disguise the fundamental shortcomings, which means that Hero won’t find a place next to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in my DVD collection.

One final note: I don’t know what the hell “Quentin Tarantino Presents” means with respect to this movie. Why Tarantino’s name is attached to this film is beyond me. To the best of my knowledge, he had no hand in the production of Hero. If the special features of the DVD explain the association, then it is my fault for not watching them. However, I generally don’t make a habit of watching special features for films I didn’t particularly enjoy. [Edit: Tarantino is the film’s American distributor.]