Interview By Gaynor Flynn, Filmink
With the dizzying Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro ups the ante on his original cult comic book adaptation.
Catholicism has a lot to answer for. It's the reason that Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro turned down The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. “My wife thought that it could make too much money. We're both lapsed Catholics, but once a Catholic, always a Catholic,” laughs Del Toro. So he went off and made the gorgeous but harrowing Pan's Labyrinth, completely guilt free. The “little Spanish movie” had no chance of making any money at all…or so Del Toro thought. The fact that it earned him an Oscar nomination and became the highest grossing Spanish language film in US history is still “quite shocking” to him.
The 43-year-old Mexican director's reputation as a visionary filmmaker was established years ago. The breadth of imagination that he displayed in Cronos, Blade II and The Devil's Backbone (as well as The Orphanage, on which he served as producer) is awe-inspiring. His latest film, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, is another imaginative treat. It's four years since the director first brought the reluctant red hulk Hellboy to the big screen, and Del Toro has pulled off the virtually impossible by making a sequel as good as the first. Based on an original idea by Del Toro and Hellboy comic book creator Mike Mignola, we find our cigar chomping everyman up against a force that has declared war on humanity. Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is sick and tired of centuries of deference to mankind, and plans to annihilate the human race by releasing a dormant army of killing machines.
But as usual, Del Toro's imagination is in a league all of its own. In this one, the killing machines are sweet looking little fairies. “In the first movie, we did big, big creatures,” says the director. “One thing that I wanted to explore this time was what would happen if the first attack came from tiny creatures that are actually cute.” There are a whole host of other creepy creatures too, with Del Toro's inspiration coming from many sources: Arabian markets, Muslim architecture, and Celtic, Hindu and Nepalese mythology. “I wanted to go back to pre-movie concepts almost,” he explains. “I wanted the creatures to look like rare Middle Eastern carvings or ornate engravings. I told the creature creators to forget what they usually do. Our trolls don't have to look like Lord Of The Rings-type trolls. I said, 'What do you think a troll should look like?' This is a completely new story,” adds Del Toro. “And my whole thinking was, 'How can I get the audience to watch it with the eyes of a twelve-year-old? How do I create that wonder?' And I consciously tried to give myself over to childlike sensibilities and emotions, because I wanted this to be more magical than the first film.”
It is indeed, despite the fact that Del Toro didn't get the prep time or the budget that he wanted. “Once we accepted that we couldn't outdo Lord Of The Rings, I felt less constrained,” laughs the director. “On the first one, I wanted to honour the comic book and the aesthetic that Mike Mignola had created. And by doing that, I only made it my own up to a point. The result is a movie that is more like the comic book. On Hellboy II, I wanted to take certain elements further. I wanted the aesthetics to be less comic book in tone. Hopefully there's a beauty to its strangeness.”
The film took two-and-a-half years to write, and while it is epic and grand, it remains a good, old fashioned love story at heart. Hellboy and his main squeeze Liz (Selma Blair) are now living together, and when they're not out saving the world, they bicker over domestic banalities like toothbrushes. “It's semi-autobiographical,” jokes Del Toro. But it's those nuances – the banter, the attitude, the un-PC jokes – that set Del Toro's films apart. “In an unrecognisable universe, you need recognisable human emotions,” he says.
Despite the financial restrictions and the pressure, is he happy with the end result? “When I'm a producer, I have such clarity of vision,” he replies. “I'm like a cheerleader. I'm the fattest, most repulsive cheerleader you can ever have, but what am I going to do? But when it comes to my movies as a director, I only have fear and feelings of inadequacy and horror,” he laughs.