|Written by Cas Harlow|
published 10th September 2012
Blade II is to Blade what Aliens is to Alien.
I don’t think anybody was really expecting it at the time. The game-changing phenomenon that was The Matrix overshadowed the surprise sleeper success that Blade had had a year earlier; Snipes had been forgotten amidst a series of box office disasters; Marvel’s more colourful superhero output (Spiderman, X-Men) was gaining momentum and publicity; and PG-13 profitability was becoming the name of the game in action movies. Blade may have started the comic book movie renaissance, but its progeny looked likely to lead to its own downfall. Yet it had made enough money to justify another film, and so that’s exactly what we got. Well, not quite. We actually got one of the best sequels of all time. Continuing my retrospective look at the trilogy, and following on from my review of Blade [Read the complete movie review]
Blade II comes to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray courtesy of EiV with a 1080p video presentation in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, just slightly different from the original, marginally broader 1.85:1 original aspect ratio. As far as I can tell it appears to be identical to Warner’s Region Free US release from earlier this year, which is both a good and a bad thing.
On the plus side, the video presentation appears to be extremely faithful to the director’s original vision, and retains the same grain-and-noise-heavy, dirty and gritty look that del Toro clearly wanted. On the minus side this does mean that the film looks pretty noticeably grotty and dingy, a fact which is not helped by some occasional notes of digital tinkering done for this particular release.
Still, detail is generally very impressive, with skin textures looking very good, and fine object detail largely excellent. Sure, there are moments of softness and some scenes which are simply overwhelmed by grain – I don’t think that the seminal I Against I slo-mo shot of Blade and the Bloodpack walking to the vampire rave has ever looked good, it’s always been steeped in noise and grain, and if there weren’t any here then fans would be (quite rightly) yelling about excessive DNR application. The fact is that there has been some DNR application, but none of it feels too unwieldy, and the end result is still good, just not great, and nowhere near as impressive as the video presentation to the first movie.
The colour scheme was specifically chosen by del Toro to go against the grain in terms of its day/night tones: daytime would be drenched in cool blues, whereas night would be bathed in smog-like yellows. It’s a stylistic choice which, visually, looks amazing, but which does not exactly do the colour scheme any favours in terms of authenticity. Still, blood reds are deep and rich and blacks are, for the most part, fairly solid. Of course that niggly noise does pervade more than you would like, and some of the darker sequences do display signs of crush, but it’s not devastating, and probably not even all that distracting – except if you’re looking for it.
At the end of the day, fans will probably have to accept that this is largely how del Toro wanted Blade II to look, and that it’s unlikely to ever look much better than this. Whilst this may mean you’ll never use it as reference quality demo material, that doesn’t mean that you can’t sit back and enjoy the excellent sequel pretty-much the way it was meant to be.
Picture score : 8
On the aural front things are much more clear-cut. With two tracks on offer – clearly the exact same two tracks that the US release got a few months’ ago: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and 5.1 mixes – it’s a big relief that these tracks were basically perfect, demo-quality material first time around. Whilst Blade’s sonic offering is a masterwork, Blade II arguably trumps it – albeit marginally – with more refinement and more persistent presence.
Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout – even Snipes’s Bale-Batman-like vocals – and gets decent prioritisation across the frontal array. Effects are myriad and wonderfully presented; the track teems with signature moves showcasing the dynamic range, acute directionality and sheer punch of your sound system, from the kick-ass opening sequence through to the vampire rave attack, the sewer assault and the extended finale. We get punches, kicks, jumps, throws, bone-breaking, stabbing, disintegration, disembowelment, decapitation, machine-pistol-fire, assault rifle blasts, light machine guns with drum-barrel feeds, shotgun booms, and piercing stabs to the heart. During any one of the action sequences your living room will simply come alive, attacks coming at you from every angle with only Blade there to fend them off.
More ambient observation is also impressive, with even the quieter, subtler touches getting some keen presentation – check out the reaper autopsy, with the ‘dead’ body pulsing and beating like something Cronenberg would be proud of. The atmosphere crafted in the busy locations is engulfing, but cleverly contrasts the deathly-quiet sewer systems, where the reapers skitter around and run up the walls to attack you.
The score and soundtrack are, of course, absolute high points – as with the first movie. Here the score loses some of its brooding John Carpenter-esque edge, and takes on more of a thematic feel, as designed by horror maestro Marco Beltrami (who injects the score with cues which a finely-attuned ear might note came straight from his Resident Evil soundtrack from that same year), and the results are perfectly suited to the more horror-infused sequel. Then there are the song tracks, with angry contributions from Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes and Cypress Hill as Paul Oakenfold, BT and Roni Size all try to compensate for their vocal presence with suitably infectious beats. It’s a superb, eclectic array of artists who give us some perfectly-placed offerings for the movie, and the excellent DTS tracks do them utter justice. All in all, there are no complaints here, this is demo quality all the way, and just about deserving of that elusive perfect-10.
Sound score : 10
Blade II – as with pretty-much any del Toro feature – comes stacked to the hilt with extra features. In fact, despite the original 2-disc DVD release being already packed with commentaries, documentaries and deleted scenes, this new Blu-ray (the same as the US release from a few months’ back) sports even more NEW background material: a newly-recorded solo track from del Toro, an interactive director’s notebook of interview snippets and behind the scenes depth from the man himself, and a retrospective discussion between the director and the writer, Goyer. Seriously, what more could you possibly want?
There are three offerings here – the two original tracks available on the DVD, and the new solo offering from the director. As a fan of the film you’ll probably find them all worth listening too: the solo offering has del Toro at his wildest, journeying off in every direction as he goes in-depth charting his own personal history with vampire lore, his obsessions with autopsies and body horror, and the fun he had making this movie; the combo between him and producer Peter Frankfurt reins him in a little and keeps things focussed, but is no less interesting for it; and the co-commentary with writer David S. Goyer and star Wesley Snipes is as informative as you would have hoped for. It’s impossible to choose between them; if you have the time, try them all out.
Interactive Production Journal
Director’s Notebook is an HD offering which allows you go flick through the leaves of a makeshift animated notebook, packed with original sketches and hand-written notes, where clicking on specific icons takes you through to several superb little mini-featurettes which are all hosted (off-screen) by del Toro. We look behind the scenes at the vampire elders, the reapers, the bloodpack, and the various specific sets required for the tone of each character – Blade’s industrial hideout, the vampire lair which blends new and old architecture, and the reaper’s dirty sewer habitat – whilst delving into the makeup, prosthetics, visual and practical effects, costume and set design of the movie. Even though each of the mini-featurettes is but a few minutes long, you could easily lose yourself for quite some time exploring this brand new extra feature.
Blade II: Blood Brothers spends 10 minutes in the company of writer David S. Goyer and director Guillermo del Toro, who take a retrospective look at their work a decade on, discussing how del Toro got involved with the Blade franchise, the changes that he made to Goyer’s script – both to fit the limited budget of the feature and also to incorporate some of his own body-horror ideas into the story – and the way in which they constructed this brilliant, superior sequel. Well worth your time, you only wish it lasted longer.
The Blood Pact is the original whopping feature-length hour-and-a-half 8-part Documentary that accompanied Blade II on its 2-disc DVD release. It’s an excellent and very comprehensive Documentary – done the way they should be done, with as little fluff and final film footage as possible, and plenty of background information, in-depth interview snippets, and revealing behind the scenes footage to paint a wonderful picture of the creation of this feature. The individual sections are: Genesis Redux: Beginnings; Man & Myth: The Blade Character; Leader of the Pact: On Directing; The Devil’s Architect: Production Design; Fear the Reapers: Creature Effects; Suck-Head Chic: Costuming; Kicking & Screaming: Stunts & Choreography and Vampire Noctures: The Music Score.
Cutting Room Floor
Unfilmed Script Pages offers up three scenes that were purportedly cut before being shot (although the first was actually filmed, as can be seen in the Deleted Scenes), using Goyer’s original shooting script which is actually very easy to read and picture in your mind. Whistler & Blade’s First Meeting speaks for itself, a great little moment where a teenage Blade is restrained – and nearly killed – by Whistler, who suddenly realises that the boy is no ordinary vampire; Mini-Mart Attack is a horrific scene with Nomak and his reapers attacking a mother and baby at a service station – you can see why this was never shot; and Blade Takes Nyssa to the Hospital a scene which was effectively reworked into the bit we get where Blade lets Nyssa drink his blood (as part of del Toro’s re-edit of the whole sub-story-arc where Blade and Nyssa develop their relationship).
Deleted & Alternate Scenes with Optional Commentary offers us a whopping half-hour of extra footage, although, from the Commentary by del Toro, you get the feeling that there was more like an hour which actually hit the cutting room floor, but that much of that was tonally incorrect and – to use his own words – some of the worst scenes ever shot for a movie. Whilst I don’t agree, check out “Whistler Discovers Caliban”, the second-from-last scene in this list, to get a taste of what del Toro was on about – it’s the only scene that remains from his famously excised sub-story-arc which involved more Whistler mistrust, and far more Blade and Nyssa interaction. Amidst the other 15 deleted and alternate scenes there are some great highlights – including several nice Whistler moments: from the aforementioned Whistler meets Blade Flashback to the ‘never underestimate the power of the p*ssy speech he gives’. There are also a couple of interesting alternate shots with the vampire elder – with a dodgy wig but better lines – as well as a better look at the vampire facility. The only extra action – proper action – comes in an extended version of the faux fight when the Bloodpack messengers confront Blade. It’s a nice little added moment where they double-team him. I was always surprised that they didn’t do that in the final film.
Sequence Breakdowns takes six specific scenes and shows them in several different forms (you can switch between them) – the original script, the shooting script, the storyboards and FX breakdowns, the rushes, and the final footage. The scenes are: Blood Bank, Ninja Fight, Reapers in the House of Pain, Underground, Chapel Fight and Caliban and here you get even more insight into the way in which del Toro adapted the script as he went along to get to the finished stage we see in the final film.
Alternate Sunrise Music is nothing particularly special: a couple of minutes of alternate music cues which don’t really add anything.
Visual Effects gives us a further 6 minutes of background detail into the effects-work done, with three mini-featurettes: Synthetic Stuntmen, The Digital Maw and Progress Reports.
Comic Book Origins has del Toro himself spending 5 minutes relating Blade – as presented in his movie – to his comic origins.
The Vampire Mystique does with same with vampires, looking at vampirism and its place in real history and legend, for just a brief 5 minutes.
Blood Bath is shorter at 4 minutes and looks specifically at the literal blood bath that the vampire elder has, humorously discussing the difficulty they had in keeping it consistent.
Music Video has Cyprus Hill and Roni Size doing Child of the Wild West (the censored version). It’s a great track, even if the video’s a little dated.
Art Galleries is split into Art Gallery; Storyboards Gallery; Script Supervisor Notebook and Percussion Instruments Stills which are all fairly self-explanatory.
Trailersround off the disc, allowing us access to the teaser and theatrical trailer for the main feature.
Extras score : 10
In the tradition of Aliens, Terminator 2, X-Men 2 and The Dark Knight, Blade II was one of those still relatively rare sequels that not only equalled the first movie but – for many – arguably even topped it. Despite the fact that he had little more than the same limited budget as the filmmakers had on Blade, celebrated modern horror director Guillermo del Toro worked wonders with this project, taking franchise writer David S. Goyer’s unusual script and championing the different direction that it took the characters in.
The end result? A sequel which didn’t just look and feel bigger and tougher, but also took the time to further develop the characters and take them on a pretty damn good journey to face off against a thoroughly worthy enemy. Playing the vastly outnumbered card from Aliens, whilst ramping up the tension by having Blade team up with his sworn vampire enemy to take down the new, deadlier reapers, this tremendous movie boasts an action-career-high Wesley Snipes kicking ass and taking names, and a superb supporting cast to back him up. The most fun del Toro’s ever had making a movie? Well, you can certainly tell. Enjoy.
Continuing my retrospective look at the Blade Trilogy, after my review of Blade here, we now finally get to look at the sequel on Blu-ray with its much delayed release both in the UK and the US. It finally arrives on Region B-locked UK Blu-ray and, whilst it’s been a long, hard wait, it was arguably worth it. We get good video presentation and simply perfect, demo quality sound, as well as a stunning set of extra features that tops that which was already available on the 2-disc DVD with yet more contributions – another del Toro Commentary, a wonderful Interactive Director’s Journal and a great retrospective Interview between him and the writer, Goyer – and all newly-recorded, no less. Let’s not forget the remaining two commentaries, the feature-length 8-part documentary, the half-hour of deleted scenes and the numerous featurettes and endless archive material too.
If you enjoyed Blade then you surely loved Blade II, and if you loved Blade II then you’ll love this release.
Overall score : 9
2,767 word review written by Cas Harlow.
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