“You obviously do not know who you are f***ing with!”
Right now there’s a series of very annoying commercials making their run of the airwaves. Perhaps it is that sheer annoyingness that brings them to mind. They’re for Yoplait yogurt, and feature two girls extolling how “good” this yogurt is with a series of pointless metaphors. (Oh, and what I wouldn’t give to see a Humanities student do an essay on them entitled “Gender Bias and the Depiction of Cultured Lactate Products in Mass Communication.”) “This is deserted island good.” “This is long nap good.” You get the picture. When I started thinking about Blade II, this commercial came to mind. Except that their metaphors don’t fit. Blade II is throwing back shots of Jack Daniels good. It’s kicking that snotty bouncer in the head good. It’s being handcuffed to the headboard good.
Blade — half human, half vampire, all badass killer. He has all the strengths of a vampire, without their aversion to sunlight — in vampire circles, he’s known as the “Daywalker.” He uses his powers to fight and kill vampires everywhere. While in Prague, Czechoslovakia, he’s approached by representatives of the vampire clans to form a truce. Seems there’s something worse than vampires and worse than Blade out on the streets — a mutant strain of vampires called Reapers, which are preying on vampires instead of the Happy Meals with legs. (Sorry, I guess I just can’t avoid Buffy the Vampire Slayer references.) Blade reluctantly agrees, and hooks up with the Bloodpack, a crack commando group from Vampireland. His distrust is warranted, because they turn on him and he must not only stop the Reapers from taking over the world, he has to fight for his own life.
A few months back, I had an afternoon to myself and decided to go to the movies. Given the options at the box office, and the lack of my wife to turn me away from the more gruesome choices, my options were Blade II and Jason X. I chose Jason X, and oh, how wrong I was.
I missed Blade during its theatrical run as well, discovering it on DVD. I was won over by its blend of two things I love in films — vampires and martial arts. It struck the right balance of action, fighting, special effects, humor, and inky black darkness. When I heard of a sequel, I had my doubts that the first flick could be topped. Like The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back, this is one of those rare instances when the sequel is better than its inspiration. It takes everything that was so right about Blade and ups the ante at every point. To say I was blown away by this movie would be a grave understatement. There’s not a single misstep. There’s not a single problem. There’s nothing that wasn’t (for this type of movie) sheer perfection. Yes, it’s that good. From beginning to end, it’s filled with the zenith of action and horror imagery, a feast of visual carnage. While the filmmakers deign to call it horror, it makes American films of the genre look tame. Remember the computer-assisted martial arts of The Matrix, or the wire fu of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? They’re Sesame Street calisthenics compared to what Blade II has in store.
Yes, it’s that good. And we owe it all to Guillermo Del Toro.
I admit, I’m not that familiar with his work, except for the giant cockroach flick Mimic (which I think I only saw because Mira Sorvino was in it, back when she was the Next Big Thing). Like that film, Blade II exists in the dark, the dank, the world beneath our own where mere mortals fear to tread. Though Mexican-born, Del Toro has a very European sensibility to his visual aesthetic, the sort of look American audiences may only be familiar with from Jean-Paul Jeneut’s work on Alien Resurrection or Alex Proyas’ The Crow or Dark City (um, guilty as charged). Blade II is glorious to behold, because not only does it revel in this darkness, it also is very aware of Blade’s comic book origins — so it not only succeeds as martial arts flick, horror film, and action movie, it’s the ultimate capture of the comic book page on celluloid. Earlier this summer, I may have given that title to Spider-Man, and indeed it does still stand as one of the best examples of mainstream comicdom, but as a snapshot of the look and feel of the comic book frame and flow, Blade II wins hands down. At several points during his commentary (more on that later), Del Toro fills us in on the visual homages to comic book greats, from Frank Miller to Jack Kirby to Frank Frazetta. One of the scenes that captures this best is the first fight between Blade and a gang of motorcycle-riding baddies. Every kick, every slicing boomerang, every jump is carefully choreographed to look like a comic page brought to life.
But, back to that reveling in darkness comment for a moment. I’m not a horror connoisseur by any means, but I’ve seen my share of the slasher greats. Blade II‘s level of gore and grue puts them to shame. Consider it fair warning that there is some serious blood and guts here. Particularly nasty is a vampire nightclub — imagine a human S&M club, only with vampires who can regenerate and have an insatiable thirst for blood. Remember that blood shower at the beginning of Blade? It’s zestfully clean in comparison. Every dark and seedy corner is filled with vamps sucking on humans or on each other — the last part is the worst, with the monsters flaying and cutting each other in ways you can’t even imagine and that make you wonder what kind of sick bastard this Del Toro guy really is. It gets worse when the Reapers attack Blade and the Bloodpack. One shot that has to be seen to be believed involves a Reaper disemboweling…itself. Yes, it’s gross, but it’s that good kind of gross that can only come through the vicarious thrills of the movies (one would hope, at least).
And what about the action? Blade had its share of martial arts, blood sucking fiends, and high tech weaponry, all working together for some truly memorable action setpieces. Taking its cue from Emeril, Blade II kicks it up a notch. Oh, while we’re at it, let’s make that two notches. Hell, why not just kick it up so far that we’re not even in the same kitchen? This jaded action flick junkie’s mouth was agape during much of the film. Action scene after action scene pummel you into groggy submission, each more impressive than the last. Think it’s cool to see Blade take on a couple of motorcycle-riding baddies? Well, let’s throw him against a vampire stronghold! Think seeing the Bloodpack fight a handful of Reapers is cool? How about a sewer system full of them! Each fight scene is deliberately unique in its filming style and fighting techniques so, even though the movie is nearly non-stop action, it never feels repetitive. And wait until you get a load of Blade’s fight with the ultimate baddie at the end. I watched it two or three times in a row just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. It takes fight choreography and filming techniques to levels that the Wachowski brothers are going to have a hard time topping in the sequels to The Matrix.
Whew. I could talk about Blade II all day long, so let’s move to the DVD, shall we? However, you’ll find no respite from the superlatives. New Line is second to none when they do balls to the wall DVDs, and Blade II is no exception.
Blade II is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. There’s some occasional edge enhancement, but only the nerdiest of videophiles will find cause to complain. This transfer is otherwise perfect. As you’d expect, it’s a very dark transfer, but not at the expense of shadow detail or other colors, of which there are plenty — Del Toro went for a comic book look, remember? This is reference quality all the way, baby.
Audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround, DTS 6.1 ES, as well as two-channel surround for those with truly anemic sound systems. As mine is only partially anemic, I viewed with the Dolby Digital track. Three words, two of which I can’t say in case my mom is reading, so I’ll paraphrase: Holy Freakin’ Crap! Filmmaking may be primarily a visual medium, but movies are so much more enjoyable when they bring your other senses into the experience as well. This isn’t a John Waters movie, so you don’t get to use taste or smell (go make some popcorn for that), but you will most definitely hear and feel Blade II. This ranks right up there with Terminator 2, The Fifth Element, and The Phantom Menace as the best audio tracks in my DVD library. It competes with U-571 or Saving Private Ryan for sheer floor-rumbling bass levels — the LFE meter on my receiver never stopped twitching, and the other channels are very bass-heavy as well. Effects originate in all the surrounds, and sweeping/panning effects are used frequently. Dialogue is cleanly balanced with the effects and music.
On Disc One of this two-disc set, extras consist of three alternate audio tracks. Two are commentaries, one by director Guillermo Del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt, the other by Wesley Snipes and writer David Goyer, while the last audio option is an isolated score. The Del Toro/Frankfurt commentary is definitely the best of the two. If you read Judge Bill Gibron’s excellent interview with Del Toro, you might have seen what a garrulous, opinionated, and highly knowledgeable film geek he is. He’s running on all cylinders here. There’s nary a pause to catch your breath, as either Del Toro or Frankfurt has a comment on every aspect of Blade II. Not only is it entertaining and informative, it’s also honest — Del Toro is quite frank about what he thinks works and doesn’t work in the film. He’s not above saying that he hates an obviously computer-generated stunt scene early in the film, and is candid about changes made when test audiences had trouble following certain scenes and plot threads. Snipes and Goyer follow suit in their commentary. It’s not quite as interesting, because neither seems particularly comfortable with the commentary track format, especially Snipes, who is laid back to the point of stand-offishness. The isolated score is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. It’s a great showcase for Marco Beltrami’s tense, percussion-heavy score, but I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t a full isolated music track as well — watching the club scene sans its Ecstasy-addled beats is like sex with your clothes on. Still, Beltrami is one of the best score-writers for horror, having scored the Scream franchise, The Faculty, Joy Ride, and Del Toro’s Mimic, among many others, and these tracks are always welcome.
Disc Two is laden. Packed. Bleeding with extras. The main menu, deceptively, presents you with only three options: Production Workshop, Deleted and Alternate Scenes, and Promotional Material.
Here you get “The Blood Pact,” Sequence Breakdowns, Visual Effects, Notebooks, and Art Gallery. “The Blood Pact” is an 84-minute documentary on the making of the film, interspersed with branching scenes (five of them, totaling about 15 more minutes of footage) that look in more depth at certain topics. This feature is very highly recommended, as it presents more behind-the-scenes footage than most looks at the making of a film, and the talking heads actually have interesting things to say. Plus, bonus points for text-based trivia details that crop up occasionally. (By the way, Carol Spier must be the most talked-about production designer working on films today. Between this and the hour-long piece on her career on the Canadian DVD of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, she gets a lot of coverage, and deservedly so.) Sequence Breakdowns takes six setpieces from the film and gives you different looks at their filming. Each one includes Goyer’s script for the scene (both his original draft and the shooting script), a gallery of storyboards and effects breakdowns, on the set footage (running from two to six minutes), and the finished scene from the film. Visual Effects presents three featurettes on the, natch, visual effects. “Synthetic Stuntmen” is about six minutes on the use of computer-generated stuntmen for some of the hairier stunts in the film. While the actual discussion focuses almost entirely on the opening fight that culminates with the vamps on motorcycles, you see before and after shots of other scenes from the film. “The Digital Maw” is three minutes of an effects artist telling you just how they managed to have the Reapers’ jaws open like they do. “Progress Reports” is over 50 minutes (!) taken from videotapes sent from Steve Johnson’s XFX effects house to Guillermo Del Toro to apprise him on the work being done. Wow. If you’re interested in effects work, especially practical effects, this is the thing to watch. Unlike the other features, this one is raw footage, taken with a handheld camera and talking with the grunt workers who get all this behind-the-scenes stuff working. I have to admit, starting this up I thought it would be a bit monotonous, but dang, this was one of the most interesting things on the disc. Notebooks presents stills from notebooks kept by Del Toro and the script supervisor, as well as script pages for scenes that weren’t filmed (hey, I guess they had to put them somewhere). Art Gallery is your usual selection of pre-production sketches, photographs, and storyboards.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes
This is 24 minutes of sixteen deleted and alternate scenes (again, natch). They’re mostly alternate versions of things that were in the film. Especially interesting is an alternate cut of the club scene that doesn’t do quite as good a job of mixing together the various characters and their fights with the Reapers. Optional commentary with Del Toro and Frankfurt is available. You can view the scenes strung together, or you can view them separately.
In the long tradition of lame movie tie-in video games, there’s a lame Blade II tie-in video game for Playstation One and Two and the XBox. A three-minute commercial-slash-“survival guide” introduces you to the game and gives you some gameplay hints. The press kit comes in its own screen. There’s two trailers, a short teaser and a longer full trailer, both available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and anamorphic widescreen. A music video by Cypress Hill (you mean they haven’t gone insane in the brain from all the grass they smoke?) and Roni Size rounds out the section.
If I had one complaint about the movie, it’s that the club scene is a bit confusing the first time through. With all the members of the Bloodpack off fighting on their own, plus Whistler and Scud (Blade’s new “Q,” played by Norman Reedus) outside, it’s hard to follow the action. Subsequent viewings make this much easier.
The movie is definitely not for everyone due to its excessively graphic nature, but as a DVD Blade II deserves to be in every home in the greater Northern Hemisphere. It succeeds not just on the technical DVD presentation level, but also manages to set a new bar for quality supplemental material — the commentaries are well worth listening to, and the documentary features on the second disc will give you greater appreciation for the level of detail that goes into creating a major motion picture.
It’s that good.
I have a few loose ends to wrap up that even I in my excessive verbosity have not managed to fit in.
I have to give mad props to Guillermo Del Toro for being one of the few directors willing to cast Ron Perlman in major films. He’s not the best actor, sure, and I’ll always associate him with the Beauty and the Beast television series, but I love him in movies like this. He has a great sense of humor, and positively exudes badass charm — he’s the coolest. Perlman will be headlining Del Toro’s upcoming adaptation of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comic book, set for release in 2003.
Some longtime readers may recall my alternating exasperation and bemusement caused by a website called the ChildCare Action Project, wherein an ultra-ultra-ultra-conservative documents everything he thinks is wrong in movies. Here’s a few quotes from his Blade II “analysis”: “I do not think I have seen a film with more quantity of violence at a more furious rate.” “[I]f you are looking for evil darkness and gory blood-sucking and flesh eating, this is the [film] for you.” “The technology behind the making of the sci-fi/thriller was astounding, but the artistry used presented such ugliness, gore and evil as I have not seen that I can recall.” Cool.
I’m knocking one point off the video score for the occasional edge enhancement. If you think it should be more, you can go smoke a rope.