DVD Review: Blade 2
By Glenn Abel
Perhaps you've been cursed with some of them -- bloodless,
soulless shades of their former selves, abominations before the gods of home
video. Know them by their strangled cries and muffled thuds. They are the DVDs
that audio forgot.
The surround mixes we hear in good movie theaters - - soundscapes by the industry's top audio geeks -- all too often are undermined in the translation to home video. No pricey sound system or trick audio format can redeem an indifferent DVD transfer. Perhaps the rear speakers are all but forgotten; perhaps they're so flooded with jangly effects that it all feels like a Road Runner cartoon.
Enter a hero: "Blade II." The New Line "Platinum Series" release (retail $29.95) delivers action-movie audio as it should be -- dynamic, powerful, unsettling and loads of fun.
There was plenty to work with in this tale of vampires terrorizing the Old World city of Prague: "Third Man" footsteps on slick streets, "Blade Runner" rain, a throbbing hip-hop/techno score, plenty of creaks and anguished cries, all delivered in whisper-to-a-scream dynamics. The audio is able to stand on its own as an entertainment. (Marco Betrami's savvy score can be isolated via a separate channel, in fact.)
"Blade's" audio comes armed with DTS ES 6.1 sound (one or two extra speakers can be employed center rear) or the similar Dolby Digital EX 5.1 surround. Either option delivers the payload. Video is top-notch as well, with a handsome rendering of the film's color themes of Halloween ambers (for night) and propane-flame blues (for day). "Blade II" is available only in widescreen.
Wesley Snipes revisits his role of Blade, the half- vampire, half-human hunter of the undead (aka Suckheads). Last seen in Russia, Snipes' Daywalker has made his way to Prague, where a new terrifying species of vampire, the Reaper, has evolved. Old-school vampires, like humans, are terrified of the new ghouls on the block, and they team with Blade to hunt them before the planet is lost.
Directing this time is Guillermo Del Toro ("Cronos"), the Mexican filmmaker known for his genius in creeping out audiences. He delivers a horror film laden with gore, while the first "Blade" -- directed by Stephen Norrington -- seemed more a martial arts exercise. Reading between the lines, it seems the "Blade" runners and Snipes think the latest film trumps the first.
Del Toro delivered a movie that was "really brutal, really street," says producer Peter Frankfurt, who shares a commentary track with the director. A major influence was the look of the claustrophobic first- person shooter game "Doom," Del Toro says. The director also studied the music videos of Bjork, R.E.M. and especially Eminem. He envisioned Blade's mongrel hit squad as an undead Dirty Dozen.
Del Toro doesn't take much of this seriously, however. "I wanted to give the whole movie the feeling of a cartoon," he says. The director and producer have a lot of fun goofing on dumb stuff in their film, such as the magical resurrection of Kris Kristofferson's character. "If logic is your forte, go see 'A.I.,' " Del Toro advises. Later, introducing a swarm of deleted scenes, the director good-naturedly complains: "We're going to have 25 minutes of this crap?"
As with the first "Blade," the movie is packed with hand-to-hand combat. Del Toro and Snipes dedicated themselves to choreographing each fight scene in a different style. Brought in to bolster Snipe's longtime martial arts team was Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen ("Iron Monkey), who tried to fit the fighting to "the emotion of the character." Snipes says, however, that much of Yen's work didn't make it into the film (except his acting as the vampire Snowman). "Blade's a brother," says Snipes, an accomplished martial artist. "He can't come looking like a Chinese man." There were numerous fight- related injuries on the set, including a serious one to Snipes' knee.
Snipes shares his commentary track with writer David S. Goyer, who worked closely with the actor in developing the Blade character. While Del Toro and Frankfurt gab away their time, Snipes and Goyer struggle at times to come up with material. Goyer spends the first half of the movie playing straight man to hipster Snipes ("Your abs are insane!"), but gets in gear later on with insights on the film's digital effects and the difficulties of writing a sequel that advances a franchise while being true to the original.
They all seem to agree that filming in Prague was worth the trouble of getting there and staying there. The production was the biggest to date in the city, Goyer says. "We taxed them to the max -- (almost) the entire city was involved." Creepy old buildings and streets came with the territory. Old World craftsmanship graced the sets. Extras were cheap, plentiful and polite. Snipes, who debuted as a producer on "Blade II," praised the bang for the buck in Prague -- the film came in for about $54 million, relatively inexpensive for a major action film -- but not the food.
The lengthy documentary "A Pact in Blood" goes into unusual detail on the film's crafts. Costume designer Wendy Partridge says of her vampires' deadly cool vines: "When you have a species that lives for thousands of years, you can draw from any era -- Japanese, Hassar, futuristic. You're not frozen in any time period (or style)."
Other DVD extras include a director's notebook, art gallery, trailers and a tips for the "Blade II" video game. A DVD-ROM (for PC users only) offers a script-to-screen comparison.
Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter
Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter
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