BLADE II - DVD review


The popularity of the first "Blade" feature film helped to launch the current wave of comic-book-based movies that actually respects comics. Think about it--even prestige, "art-ier" projects like "From Hell" and "Road to Perdition" have roots in the graphic novel medium. In "Blade", there's a seriousness of purpose and a desire for realism (well, as much as it's possible for a movie derived from comics), so the film has developed a passionate following.

In the first movie, Blade (Wesley Snipes), born half-human and half-vampire, loses his mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). It appeared that Whistler had died, but "Blade 2" begins with our hero looking for Whistler, who's still alive and in need of a retro-virus to become fully human again. During Whistler's absence, Scud joined Blade's vampire-hunting outfit, and Scud's been building a variety of new tools that destroy vampires with great ingenuity.

"Blade 2" also introduces a new love interest for Blade. (Apparently, the lady from the first movie has been forgotten.) The exotically beautiful Leonor Varela--she played Cleopatra in a recent TV miniseries--appears as Nyssa, a vampire warrior who's Blade's kind of girl. Varela shows great presence in the movie, and she could be the next big Latina star.

The movie features a simple-enough story. The Vampire Nation recruits its worst enemy, Blade the Daywalker, to help it fight the Reapers. The Reapers are former vampires that have been changed by a virus into super killing organisms capable of drinking blood from vampires as well as from humans. Blade agrees to cooperate with the vampires because he wants to gain access to the inner sanctums of the vampire world and because the vampires have a good point--when they're done feeding on vampires, the Reapers will proceed to destroy all human life. Sure, there are surprise discoveries, plot twists, and several showdowns between the main characters, but the film exists primarily to fetishize bloody visuals and extraordinarily violent behavior.

The best action sequences take place during the first 20 minutes. Blade flies all over the place, destroying bloodsuckers in stylish ways never-before-seen in motion picture history. There's also a flashy swordfight between Blade and two vampire ninjas. However, what makes no sense to me is that, if the vampire ninjas were sent to ask for Blade's help, why the need for a prolonged sword fight? I guess the filmmakers couldn't resist showing how groovy clanging swords can be.

Despite their grim, dark atmosphere, the movies don't have much to say about the Blade character. Okay, he hunts vampires because he hates them. Why does he hate vampires? No one seems to know, including the handlers of the comic books as well as the filmmakers. That is the greatest weakness of this film franchise, and as long as it is more interested in finding new ways to kill vampires rather than giving depth to Blade, I'm afraid that these movies won't transcend the genre the way that 1989's "Batman" did. Hell, "Blade" and "Blade 2" devote more time to vampire mythology than to Blade's character development.

Like so many big movies made these days, "Blade 2" relies heavily on CGI (computer generated imaging). Frankly, I left the movie theatre wishing that the film, which tries to be as realistic as possible within its self-created realm, had avoided looking a bit "cartoon-ish" in a few spots. Some critics complained about how the CGI work in "Spider-Man" looked too fake, but I disagreed. I thought that, by showing Spider-Man freely swinging around NYC, the film imparted a liberating sense of exhilaration. However, the dark world of "Blade 2", meant to look more serious than the colorful "Spider-Man", features vampire ninjas that look like barely-there phantoms. There are people capable of performing the stunts shown in the movie, so why not use real stuntsmen rather than computer graphics that look like putty?

(I think that Wesley Snipes has demonstrated tremendous acting ability in non-action flicks, so I have mixed feelings about his continued success with the "Blade" franchise. On one hand, it's nice to see somebody make a killing at the box office based on his charisma alone. On the other hand, knowing that he's good enough to get an Oscar, I would like to see Snipes show that he can out-act anyone in Hollywood given the right role.)

Usually, I trip over myself lavishing compliments on New Line's video transfers to DVD. However, while "Blade 2" looks very good on DVD, it does not look as good as many recent state-of-the-art transfers. I respect the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer because of its crisp clarity, clear compressions, total lack of video noise, lack of readily noticeable scratches or pixels, and sense of depth. On the other hand, the clarity of DVD enhances the "fakeness" of the CGI work, and so much of the film is shrouded in darkness that, sometimes, I had to strain my eyes more than I should have to do when watching a DVD. Also, I understand that the filmmakers wanted to give the final product a grainy feel. Yet, despite the gritty appearance of the first 5 or 6 minutes, the rest of the film exhibits little to no grain. Ergo, the video transfer is not quite reference material.

The DVD does boast reference quality audio. The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English and DTS 6.1 ES English tracks immerse viewers in a maelstrom of sonic pummelation. Throbbing, pounding music turns the room into a 2-hour rave, and a variety of organisms, weapons, and echoes swirl around the sweet spot. Dialogue sounds clear no matter what the non-center-channel speakers do, and bass response tries its best to rattle your house's foundation (it'll rattle your windows big time).

Those of you without the ability to decode 5.1 digital streams should watch the film with the DD 2.0 surround English track that has been an included in the DVD release of "Blade 2". Optional English subtitles support the audio.

Remember the 4-disc "Pearl Harbor" VISTA Series DVD release? Well, believe it or not, the 2-disc "Blade 2" New Line Platinum Series DVD release provides so much behind-the-scenes information that it manages to match the "Pearl Harbor" VISTA title in terms of sheer informativity, and it provides the information without going so far as to overwhelm the viewer. Literally, you will have to spend a couple of nights or a really long day to be able to experience "Blade 2" in its totality.

Disc 1:
Disc 1 features 2 audio commentaries, one by director Guillermo Del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt and the other by writer David Goyer and Wesley Snipes. Both commentaries are fun listens as the filmmakers bring a great deal of enthusiasm to the table. Commentary 1 is a bit more technical-oriented, while Commentary 2 provides details about how Goyer and Snipes envisioned the continuation of Blade's story.

New Line also included an Isolated Score (DD 5.1) track, a bonus not seen in enough DVD releases.

*DVD-ROM--Those of you with DVD-ROM access can view the film with the "Script-to-Screen" feature that allows computer users to read the script while watching the movie. There are also links to Web sites related to "Blade" and New Line.

Disc 2:
Disc 2 contains the bulk of the release's extras. The extensive, exhaustive, and thorough bonuses have been divided into three sections: Production Workshop, Deleted & Alternate Scenes, and Promotional Material.

*Production Workshop:
-The Blood Pact--an interactive "making-of" documentary that branches to additional clips when a glyph icon appears.

-Sequence Breakdowns--This section includes breakdowns of 6 action- or special-effects-heavy sequences. You can read each scene as written in the original script and the shooting script, view storyboards and visual effects breakdown sheets, watch footage of scenes in preparation and production shooting, and the final scenes themselves.

-Visual Effects--footage of various aspects of designing the film's visually stunning special effects, all sub-divided into "Synthetic Stuntmen", "The Digital Maw", and "Progress Reports" sections.

-Notebooks--still galleries of notes and sketches by various crew members, all sub-divided into "Director's Notebook", "Script Supervisor's Notebook", and "Unfilmed Script Pages" sections.

-Art Gallery--more sketches, art work, and photos of visuals for the movie, separated into "Sequence Concepts", "Props & Weapons", "Costume Design", "Set Design", "Character Design", and "Storyboards" sections.

*Deleted & Alternate Scenes:
There are 16 deleted & alternate scenes (totaling around 25 minutes) with optional audio commentary by Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Frankfurt. There's also a includes hilarious introduction by the director wherein Del Toro mentions a bodily fluid that bothered a couple of members of a preview audience.

*Promotional Material:
-"Blade 2" Video Game Survival Guide--basically, a commercial for the video game for various platforms.

-Theatrical Press Kit--text pages of press materials sent to members of the media for the film's theatrical release. Sub-divisions include "About the Cast", "About the Filmmakers", and "About the Production".

-Trailers--a teaser trailer and a final trailer.

-Cypress Hill and Roni Size's "Child of the Wild West" music video.

*DVD-ROM--Disc 2's DVD-ROM software features the film's original website as well as weblinks to "Blade" and New Line Internet sites.

Clicking on the New Line logo on Disc 2's Main Menu will access the DVD release's extensive production credits.

A glossy booklet provides chapter listings.

Entertainment Value:
I can't say that I actually enjoyed "Blade 2". The film operates as a brutal orgy of blood, gore, all kinds of bodily destruction, and perpetual doom-and-gloom without any sense of hope. Yet, unlike "Resident Evil", it also looks sickeningly beautiful. There are ample moments of style, visual wit, deep reds, and so-cool-that-it-hurts black-on-black costumes. "Blade 2" deserves a whirl in your DVD player, and the extras-heavy DVD release delivers more than your money's worth. New Line proves that DVDs don't need to be labeled as "ultimate editions" in order to cover comprehensively a film's journey from the page to the screen.


Film Value