You may have noticed that we’ve taken up a slightly-different approach when it comes to writing hands-on impressions of 4K TVs this year.
You’ve seen how one of LG’s finest OLED TVs handled one of the year’s most difficult video games. You’ve seen how Samsung’s first 8K TV tackles anime. You’ve seen whether the strengths of Sony’s LCD LED TV are enough to counteract the sins committed by the writers of the final season of Game of Thrones.
Now, let us pair up Sony’s latest top of the line OLED, the Master Series A9G with one of this year’s worst movies: Hellboy.
Starring David Harbour as the titular comic book hero and completely disconnected from the charmingly-made-but-slightly-mediocre Guillermo Del Toro duology from the early 2000s, it’s a perfect candidate for testing a TV like this one.
The reason why? Well, to begin with, it does make for a great headline. However, honestly, I think there’s a lot of value in using bad movies - as well as good ones - to test TVs like the A9G.
Sure, you’re gonna want to watch the next Star Wars or Marvel movie on a TV like the Sony Master Series A9G. But, most of the time, you’re probably going to be using this thing to watch whatever Netflix original everyone on Twitter is talking about this month.
You’re going to watch garbage like 2019’s Hellboy.
But before we get into the meat of it, let’s break down exactly what Sony’s best-in-class OLED brings to the table. Available in three sizes, the Sony Master Series A9G is the company's flagship OLED TV for 2019. It features over 8 million self-illuminating pixels and comes powered by Sony's X1 Ultimate Picture Processor.
You also get almost the same bells and whistles found in Sony’s first consumer-grade 8K TV, the Z9G. There’s motion smoothing via Sony’s X-Motion Clarity feature for better sports playback, plus a dedicated Netflix Calibrated Mode that summons up metadata for select Netflix originals. Like the Foxtel Now Android TV app that’s still available to Sony TVs, it’s a little something extra that separates them from even other Android-based TVs.
In addition, the Sony A9G comes equipped with a "Pixel Contrast Booster" that adds extra color and contrast where needed. Essentially, it makes blacks darker and evens out bright spots - creating a cleaner end result.
Like previous Sony OLEDs, the A9G runs on Android TV. It also features (a slightly improved version of) the company's unique Acoustic Surface audio tech. This boasts two actuators and two subwoofers that project audio through the display. This time around, Sony have tinkered with the shape of those actuators to produce improved results.
When it comes to HDR, the A9G supports Dolby Vision, HDR10, HLG and HDR10+.
As mentioned, there are three sizes on offer: 55-inches, 65-inches and 75-inches. All three utilise the same design, which itself is a little more conventional than the last few Bravia OLEDs have been. I kinda liked the slate-like aesthetics of the earlier models but I can’t hold it too much against Sony for opting for something more traditional. There are still plenty of cases where the phrase if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it still applies.
Unfortunately, Neil Marshall’s Hellboy is not one of them.
Even if, somewhere along its convoluted road out of production hell, the third Hellboy film started with good intentions or ideas, the sum total of those efforts in negligible. It’s not hard to imagine a version of this film that’s more in-line with Ron Perlman’s portrayal of the character or one that’s willing to embrace a darker, R-rated take on the source material.
Unfortunately, the movie that we’ve actually gotten is a dull thud of a supernatural action flick that only barely hangs together on the burly charisma of David Harbour. If you’re a newcomer to Hellboy, I encourage you to check out the earlier movies instead or, better yet, cut straight to the comics.
Alternatively, if you’ve already read the comics and are drawn to watching this film out of morbid curiosity, be warned. The only novelty here is getting to see this film adapt sequences and characters that never made into Del Toro’s movie and the only thing you’ll be left with once the credits roll is a firm disdain for how that source material was handled.
Here there be monsters
That being said, to its credit and unlike other clunkers of the modern superhero film era, Hellboy is bad pretty much right out the gate. There’s no suspension of disbelief or sleight of hand that makes you entertain the idea the idea that watching this movie might be a good use of your time.
There are some novel creative choices in the prologue scene but the poor writing and acting here says more than the use of monochrome ever or the strikingly-designed title ever ever could. Only a few months after it was released in theaters, Hellboy already feels dated.
Again, if you’re a fan of the comics, there are some diamonds in the rough. The revised origin story sequence has nothing on its 2004 counterpart but it does have one thing that Del Toro’s movies never did.
Honestly, I sat up in my seat when he appeared on screen and I wish that the better version of this film had featured more of this weird side character from the comics. His appearance does feel a little out of place against the tone of the film as a whole but, then again, that cameo was probably the most exciting moment of the entire two-hours for me. The Nazi scientist wearing what looks like 3D glasses and the non-sequitor with the Baba Yaga ranked second and third, respective.
Now, I like a good musical smash cut as much as the next pop-culture-critic-looking-to-distract-myself-from-the-impending-climate-apocalypse does. However, it’s telling that Hellboy has as many musical numbers as it does. Likewise, I’m a big fan of Ian McShane and - wow - is it staggering how seriously miscast he is in this movie.
Part of the problem is that, much like that last season of Game of Thrones, Hellboy can’t really work out what part of the larger story it wants to be. In the comics, coming to Britain and encountering the Wild Hunt & Blood Queen is the penultimate arc for Hellboy as a character. It's the last stop before the endgame and the version of the character in the comics is a much wearier, more mature Hellboy than the petulant teenager in this movie.
In the original version of this story, the Hellboy who encounters the Wild Hunt has loved, lost and left the BPRD behind. David Harbour’s fresh-off-the-boat rendition runs against the grain of what this particular story is trying to explore and articulate.
And, you know, I could forgive most of this if the movie was at least entertaining. With only a scant handful exceptions, the dialogue throughout this movie fails to strike any sort of verbal match.
“I’d appreciate a prophecy with smaller and more relatable stakes” is a legitimately good line. Everything else can get in the bin. It feels like the banter is only ever there to drag Hellboy from one set piece to another.
Unfortunately, most of these setpieces are pretty forgettable. Even if they look good on the Sony Master Series A9G, they’re not actually any better than an okay music video. There’s no fun back and forth, no meaningful stakes and you rarely feel the impact and weight of Hellboy’s iconic right hand of doom.
The only exception here is the film’s closing fight scene, which only just skates over the line from OK to good by virtue of how poor the rest of the film is by comparison. Likewise, the more fantastical sequences where Hellboy embraces his destiny look quite vivid but there’s quickly overshadowed by all the things that fall far short of this mark.
The origin sequences’ poorly-rendered baby Hellboy.
The film’s laughable depiction of seances.
Daniel Dai Kim, who is clearly auditioning to be an extra in Cats.
Hellboy is an almost unmitigated disaster of a movie but there’s something to be said for the level of authenticity that watching it on the Sony Master Series A9G added.
On a smaller TV, I might not have noticed all the many, many missteps this film committed. Watching a trash fire of a movie like this one on a TV as nice the A9G removes the benefit of the doubt. Aside from the occasional glare problem, which remains prevalent among even flagship OLEDs like the A9G, it takes away any excuses for how bad the experience of watching the film actually is.
What you're left with is something much closer to the experience of seeing Hellboy in theaters and something that you’ll definitely want to share with friends.
Again, if you’re spending this much on a TV this good, you’re not just going to watch good movies on it. You’re going to want to watch everything on it. You’re going to watch garbage like Hellboy on it. You shouldn’t but you will.
And if you’re going to do it anyway, why not go for maximum cerebral impact.
The Sony Master Series A9G is available now through Sony. Prices start at AU$5199.