Wesley Snipes stars as the tortured soul, Blade - -possessing powers greater than any man or creature of the night. Blade sharpens his lethal skills under the guidance of a professional vampire hunter. When the bloodthirsty Immortals' lord, Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), declares war on the human race, Blade is humanity's last hope for survival.
Please welcome Kyle Newton to High-Def Digest!
Please welcome Kyle Newton to High-Def Digest!
When I first saw Blade, I was 14 years old and just starting to transition to more adult forms of entertainment. Then I found Blade. This film was the perfect transition for me. I loved its Blaxploitation kung Fu tone, and the way the characters are portrayed. Believe it or not, this is a very Gen-X movie folks. And being a child of the 90s, this movie spoke to me.
You may not know this, but you can thank this film for a lot of the Marvel movie craze we can't get away from today. Before Blade, Marvel properties were considered unfilmable and unprofitable. That's due to the fact that their characters tend to be more magical and science fiction based then DC’s successful Batman or Superman. But with Blade, New Line and Director Stephen Norrington (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) proved you could take a property like this and make it work with a moderate budget.
Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a vampire hunter who is half vampire half human. As they say in the film “he has all of their strengths but none of their weaknesses.” But Blade doesn't see it that way. He has their taste for blood, and as a result he has a serum that temporarily controls his lust for blood. Together with his weapon maker/mentor Whistler (Kris Kirstofferson), Blade hunts down vampires every night.
While on a vampire hunt, Blade comes across Karen (N’Bushe Wright) who gets bitten by a henchmen of Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff). Deacon is a rebellious Gen-Xer who is a vampire that was bitten and turned, therefore he is not a pureblood. Something about Karen reminds Blade of his human mother, and he saves Karen before she is turned. Deacon is jealous of the purebloods and is staging a coup against them. He wants to overthrow the purebloods and resurrect the ancient blood gods to make himself immortal. Blade discovers this and with the help of Whistler and Karen they set out to stop Deacon before he becomes immortal and forces vampires out of hiding to take over the human race.
Now the best thing this movie has going for it is its Blaxploitation kung Fu swagger. Just the look of Blade, with the leather coat and the cool fade, portrays a bravado that adds a lot to the feel of this film. This whole movie catches the vibe of other films like The Matrix and Underworld, where goth culture made leather cool again and personally, I love that aesthetic on film. Snipes does a great job at embracing that bravado also. Whether he is just walking down a hallway, or pulling off an amazing action scene, he does it with style and effortlessness that comes across as so cool.
I also can't get enough of the Kung Fu in this film. Snipes is no stranger to martial arts in film. He went all throughout the 90s doing films like Passenger 57 and Demolition Man, plus he is a 5th degree Black belt. But this movie to me is his best action role with his best action scenes. The first action scene in the nightclub alone is worth recommending this movie. The techno music and the way the action is staged in this scene gets me pumped every time I watch it. Thanks to Whistler, Blade also has a dozen gadgets that I absolutely love. Whether they are doing gunplay or hand to hand combat, it is expertly done in this film.
What I don't like has a lot to do with Deacon and his plot. I said before that this movie feels like a Gen-X movie and here is where that is. Dorff plays Deacon well for what he is given, but his character just comes across as petulant. I mean the purebloods are the parents and Deacon is the bratty rebellious kid in a Gen –X, 90s, antiestablishment kind of way. As a kid, I identified with it, but now I just laugh at how dated a character he is. I do like the fact that they play off this vampire council like a Godfather mob type vibe. But Dorff doesn’t seem to fit in there. Also, a big part of his plot involves him decoding an ancient language in an all-white room on a dated computer. Additionally, Dorff isn't a proper foil for Snipes. Even though I like where it goes with the end battle, the journey up to that point makes you feel like Snipes could squash Dorff like a bug. Deacon’s 2nd in command Quin (Donald Logue) seemed like a better, more entertaining match for Blade as the vampire who always seems to get away.
Another problem is there are some dour and emotionless characters in this film. There is a reason why I haven’t really talked about Karen yet: there isn’t much to say about her. She is so monotone that she leaves no impression on the viewer whatsoever. She just walks around with a glower on her face, giving flat line readings throughout. She just did not give a good performance here. There is a point in this movie where Blade has to suck her blood to stay alive. Instead of dramatizing it he just does it then Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am, he's on to his next fight. Speaking of Blade, even as much as I like him there isn’t much depth to him. When Blade is happy he kills somebody, when he’s sad he kills somebody, when he’s mad……. You get the point.
Then there are the special effects here. This movie has some pretty dated effects. Whenever a vamp gets staked they turn into a skeleton and turn to ash, which is a cool effect. But everything else just looks bad. Flying souls, bursting heads, a vampire head melting in the sun, they all have a cartoonish look to them that takes me out of it. I know this film had a moderate budget and I think that contributes to the aged look.
I really do like Blade, though its flaws are more apparent to me today than when I first saw it. But this movie has a great feel and vibe to it that to me is dead in today’s culture. Right after Blade came out, vampires became very cool and mainstream. Instead of fearing vampires, they turned into brooding heartthrobs, and that isn’t my aesthetic. This might be one of the last Vampire movies made that I can recommend. Anybody who is a fan of good 90s kick ass action movies will appreciate this film.
This transfer just broke my heart the first time I saw it. This 1080P AVC encode transfer unfortunately has some major problems. I will start with the good here. Overall most of this transfer is very sharp with great detail in some scenes. The amazing first action scene still looks great and sharp here. Any time you are looking at Blade’s coat and chest piece, it looks good. Even Snipes’ cool-looking fade has great detail.
Then you have a lot of problems that aren't constant in every scene, but they definitely show this was not a well done transfer. The biggest offense here is the white levels. The brightness is turned way up. In many scenes, white levels just crush any detail you could have had in the shot. It also brings in quite a bit of grain and noise in particular scenes. Check out the scene when they enter Pearl’s layer. Now Blade was made to be a very dark film and I think the amping up of the brightness here is meant to counteract that, but it is not well done. Then there are the very weird looking stylish effects that are more toward the front half of the film. The way the camera transitions between some scenes in much of this film is a sped up trip around the city at night, where you see a vampire feeding on a human or doing something along those lines. Every time they do the effect, it is awful. It almost feels like it dips into a lower resolution than the rest of the film. It just looks blurry and unpolished. It's a weird effect that I have only seen on this transfer and this transfer alone. The CGI also doesn’t look too good here, but that is a problem with this film and not the transfer.
A lot of my complaints are just individual shots and not whole scenes in this transfer. But this film deserves better than this haphazard transfer. This is the kind of transfer where the level of skill is someone saying, “I think this film is too dark. Crank the whites up to eleven!” After seeing this movie, I felt like looking up at the sky and screaming like Blade does in this film.
I'm going to put this out there right now. This DTS-HD 5.1 track fares far better than the video transfer here. For a film that is eighteen years old, the movie sounds great. Surrounds are particularly active. Even during dialogue scenes, music and atmosphere are always crisp, clear, and constant in the surrounds.
The LFE channel is just right to the level of bass it is trying to convey here. From the bass of the techno in the club scenes, to characters’ heads exploding, to Blade's shotgun, it all is expertly done.
As for the fronts, they are great here too. They do a particularly good job at blending and helping the bass during club scenes. Dialogue is also nice and crisp and clear. The only very minor knock against this track is the field of sound between the fronts. There are times where in a newer minted track, you would shift from the left to the right speakers more rapidly. This film is older, and because of that, it doesn't quite shine in that way. But overall, I was greatly impressed with this track.
Audio Commentary by cast and Crew - There is a whole slew of people on this commentary including Snipes, Stephen Dorff, David S. Goyer, and three others. Besides the fact that it is kind of disorienting to have six people on this track, it has some awesome info about the film. My favorite bit of info is the train chase scene. I had no idea that there was no train in the actual scene and it was all green screen, just incredible. There is also a part where they talk about an effect they did to heighten the white levels, so they would have a steel quality to them. This is probably why the levels on the transfers are way off.
La Magra (14 minutes) – This was a pretty informative doc that focused on how Blade came to be, and shows the alternate ending where Deacon literally turns into a bloody whirlwind and talks some trash to Blade. But my favorite part was the mention of Snipes leaving a Black Panther movie. Could we have gotten a Wesley Snipes movie about the comic book character Black Panther if we didn't get this movie? Who knows.
Designing Blade (22 minutes) - This is also a cool doc about the mindset behind designing Blade. It's cool to see where all Blade’s toys come from. This also goes into the green screen that they used behind the train chase scene and the scene with Pearl.
The Origins of Blade: A look at Dark Comics (12 minutes) - This doc doesn't actually focus too much on Blade’s origins at all. Instead, it focuses on the Comics’ Code Authority of the 50s and 60s. They had ridiculous rules about even referencing a vampire or the living dead. The highlight of the doc is just hearing Stan Lee talk about the Comics’ Code Authority.
The Blood Tide (20 minutes) - This is the least interesting doc about religion, and the lore of vampires throughout time.
I really found these special features to be quite informative and really taught me quite a bit about the production of this film.
I have a great deal of nostalgia for this film. But that doesn't mean I don't see its flaws. Its characters are one note and flat as a board, and Deacon comes across as petulant and ill equipped to be a proper foe for Blade. To put this simply, if you get pumped during that beginning action scene and get a kick out of Snipes when he gives a fist pump at the end, then you will like this film. If you are looking for three dimensional characters and a dense plot, then you’re not getting it here. I think of this as one of the last movies where vampires are what they are supposed to be before the neutered vampires that we get today. I only wish the video transfer was up to par, because it is just a crime the way they butchered this transfer. That is why it pains me to say this Blu-ray is for fans only.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.