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Now and Then – Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Ghostbusters

Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Ghostbusters ” width=”560″/>

      Now: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
         Then: Ghostbusters (1984)

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In Guillermo del Toro’s freaky, funny Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a team of four field agents equipped with high-tech gear battle supernatural threats to humanity. Sound vaguely familiar? That may be because Hellboy II has more than a little in common with Ghostbusters , the 1984 film that set the template for  special effects action-comedy. While it’s doubtful the visionary del Toro consciously lifted ideas from Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, you can make a persuasive case that Hellboy II speaks to how firmly Ghostbusters has worked its way into the subconscious of big-budget pop culture. Here’s where the two movies match, and where they go in different directions.

1. Paranormal Teams Led by Wildmen
With his red skin, horn-stubs and bare muscled chest, Ron Perlman’s Hellboy is a far cry from Bill Murray’s Dr. Venkman, yet these two charismatic wildmen have a suspiciously similar crew. Each enlists a down-to-earth sidekick (Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman; Dan Akyroyd’s Dr. Ray Stanz), a dorky research specialist (Doug Jones’s Abe Sapien; Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spengler) and a bumbling rookie (Seth McFarlane’s Johann Kraus; Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddimore). That one group is called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense and the other is called the Ghostbusters is simply the marketing lingo difference between a government department and a owner-operated small business.

2. The Jokes
In Hellboy II, the heroes are otherworldly; in Ghostbusters,
they’re all-too-human. Regardless, fighting supernatural beings is
presented as no big deal — another day, another demon. Killing hungry
ghosts and evil elves is a paycheck gig; saving the world is a career
perk; and no matter how high the stakes, there’s always time for a
wisecrack to lighten the mood.

3. Underdog Freaks
B.P.R.D. is derided as a freakshow; the Ghostbusters are dismissed as
frauds. Admittedly “freak” is worse than “fraud” — you can always
count on del Toro to turn up the volume — but even so, when the big
bad comes a-calling, the same team that’s been mocked … is the only group who can save us! And
we in the audience have been able to see the private moments between
their public outings, and that’s earned them our affection. Hellboy and
Abe’s drunken sing-a-long to Barry Manilow is easily as endearing as
the moment when the Ghostbusters, hurled into a New York City holding
cell, still work to figure out the mystical energies threatening Manhattan even as they’re locked up.

4. Old School Special Effects
You’d have a hard time creating a funnier nemesis than the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man of Ghostbusters, so del Toro wisely goes in a completely different direction with Hellboy II‘s
fearsome mighty monsters and mystical machines. That said, both movies
favor practical effects over computer-generated images. Admittedly, Ghostbusters didn’t have much of a choice since CGI was still taking baby steps in 1984. What’s interesting is how Hellboy II‘s
visual wizards adopt a parallel approach by creating such a plethora of
suits and puppets and prosthetics for some old-school movie magic. 
Sure, there are CGI effects in Hellboy II — the scary Earth
Elemental, the swarming Tooth Fairies — but most of the time, the
creatures you’re gaping at are as real as the marshmallow man.

The Verdict
Hellboy II doesn’t copy Ghostbusters, but it gets many of the same things right. It may not be a masterwork like Ghostbusters, but it’s still smarter (and stranger) than most summer blockbusters this year. In 2004’s Hellboy ,
John Hurt’s Professor Broom outlined the mission of the B.P.R.D.
thusly: “There are things that go bump in the night … And we are the
ones who bump back.” It’s not as musical as “Who you gonna call?” — but it’s still pretty catchy.

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