Blade II
U.S.A. - Germany / 2002
Directed by
 Guillermo del Toro
Starring
Wesley Snipes
Kris Kristofferson
Ron Perlman
Color / 117 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC / 2-disc set)

New Line Home Video
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7
    10   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Rod Barnett
We meet Jared Nomak (Luke Goss) in the lobby of a Prague blood bank. Pasty white, with an unhealthy cough, he appears to desperately need the money being offered as an incentive to donate. He's led deep into the building, strapped to a chair and taunted by his hosts. They are (of course) vampires and have found something odd about his blood. They plan to take it all and leave Jared a desiccated husk. Nomak dispatches his would be attackers with great violence and announces to the watching surveillance camera, "I hate vampires."
    Thus opens Blade II, one of the most successful film sequels in years. We're told that Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) didn't manage to kill himself before being turned into a vampire in the previous film and Blade (Wesley Snipes) has spent the intervening two years tracking his captors. After finding and freeing Whistler from both his prison and the vampire virus, we meet Scud (Norman Reedus), Blade's newest ally and weapons manufacturer. Whistler and Scud dislike each other on sight but their animosity is put on hold by the intrusion of two vampire commandos. They claim to be messengers from the governing vampire council, seeking a meeting with Blade. He agrees to the conference, and is told about Nomak and the virulent strain of vampirism of which Nomak is the carrier. This new species of supercharged bloodsuckers are called "Reapers" and are as much a danger to the Undead as to humans. Any wounded vampire becomes a Reaper, spreading the infection. At the rate Reapers are being created the entire human race will be history in under a year. Blade agrees to hunt down Nomak with a team of vampire soldiers that were originally trained to kill Blade himself and this comic book horror/action hybrid takes off like a rocket.
    The folks behind this movie did the near impossible. They made a sequel that lives up to the original, and in some ways, surpasses it. Just when you think the film has shown you everything it's got, it hits you with something new. Unlike many sequels this film seems to actually improve on repeat viewings. When I saw this in the theater I felt it was good but not as good as the original Blade. But my estimate of its quality went up after a second trip to the cinema, and having watched it a few more times on DVD I feel it's nearly an equal to the first. I'm almost afraid to watch it again for fear I'll forget the first film altogether! The main reason for Blade II's high level of quality is the one-two punch of returning writer David Goyer and the inspired choice of Guillermo del Toro as director. Goyer proves once again that he is the perfect man to be translating this tale to the screen; del Toro was born to direct comic book films. Since both men are actually fans of comics, they bring a strong understanding of what can and cannot be put convincingly on the screen. In the past, far too many filmmakers with no love of comic books have attempted comic adaptations, always with a ham-handedness that leaves fans shaking their heads in disgust. Even the most successful of comic book films can cause that wee small 'fan voice' to cry out in the wilderness: "Why change a character and story that has been around for decades? All you have to do is tell the story as written!" Of course there are many reasons that Hollywood changes things when translating from page to screen, but often the changes made to beloved characters are so unnecessary and arbitrary that it's obvious no thought or care went into the decision. Fans are willing to accept some changes just don't treat comic lovers as if they're barely literate yokels. We love our stories and appreciate a level of respect for them. We know these stories aren't Shakespeare, but they ARE modern myths and legends and should be seen as worthy of some serious attention, not a hack job done for a quick paycheck. I'd say the same to any filmmaker... If you don't like the work you're adapting, step away from the project!
    Luckily with the Blade films we have a group of people who love the medium for both its form and content, so we've had two very good films. With this one, all involved seem to have felt that the basics have been laid out, so now we can add depth and detail to this comic book world. Del Toro brought along production designer Carol Spier and fellow Mexican national Gabriel Beristain as director of photography. Together they create one of the most beautiful and textured horror films in years. It is both fantastically detailed and hyper-real, giving a sense of an animated movie brought to (real?) life. I've been an admirer of Carol Spier's work for David Cronenberg for years but here she's done some of her best work yet. She's built huge sets combining futuristic technology with gothic stonework architecture that seem so natural and functional that I was shocked to see the seams in the behind the scenes footage.
    Another great element in Blade II is not only the truly scary and shocking design of the Reapers, but the brilliant decision to use a combination of practical, physical special effects and CGI post production effects to augment and elaborate the on-set work. This nearly seamless molding of effects makes the horrific moments even more stunning, as they are accomplished with none of the usual editing tricks we've all become accustomed to over the years. No two-second cut away of the victim's eyes to allow for the effect shot to be placed into the scene it's all right there in one bloody shot. It still gives me the shivers! Now that I've praised the CGI work in Blade II, let me also make note of my one real disappointment with the effects. There is one shot (del Toro would claim two) that really stinks; it yanks me right out of the film every time. When the two vampire messengers are fighting Blade in his hideout there is an action sequence done with CGI that looks like it floated in from a video game. Both combatants are very crudely animated, with no weight or inertia. It looks awful. I've read a lot of complaints about the CGI work in the movie but this scene is the only one I dislike. The rest flow very well and are as close to perfect CGI integration as I've seen... But that one 8 second sequence is terrible.

The latest in New Line's Platinum DVD series, Blade II is a flawless 2-disc presentation of the film. I cannot imagine a better way of watching this movie on video. The movie is letterboxed at 1.85:1, and with a choice of 5.1 Surround, 6.1 DTS Surround, or simple stereo Surround any home theater is going to sound fantastic. They've even thrown in a 5.1 mix of the score on its own isolated track and two separate commentary tracks. The first is with director Guillermo del Toro and producer Peter Frankfort and may go down as one of the funniest such tracks ever recorded for DVD. Del Toro is an amazingly funny man and his friendship with Frankfort makes for a loose but very informative commentary that shines light onto much more than just the film at hand. Some of the things they touch on are that New Line auctioned off all the props from the first movie; the film was shot without a second unit at del Toro's request and the name of the blood milking facility in which Whistler is held prisoner. Generally I feel that that once I've gotten though a DVD commentary I'll probably never listen to it again, but I've already gone back to listen to parts of this one and can't wait for others to hear it. The second track is by David Goyer and star Wesley Snipes. While good (relating even more production stories), it can't beat del Toro's profanity-laced comments for sheer fun.
    Now we come to disc number two... where the MAJOR extras lie in wait! First up is Blood Pact, an 83-minute documentary that covers most aspects of the production from pre- to post-production, even taking us inside the studio when the score was being recorded. Blood Pact's running time is deceptive, as at different spots there are branching segments that can be accessed when a vampire glyph pops onto the screen adding at least another 20 minutes to the documentary. Del Toro also pops up to introduce the Deleted and Alternate Scenes section. This bit is 23 minutes in length (viewable with or without commentary), and though the director refers to most of it as crap, it's still pretty interesting. Among the hours of stuff on Disc 2 there is a 53-minute chunk of the video progress reports the practical effects team sent to del Toro to show how their work was advancing; a reproduction of several pages of the director's notebook detailing visual ideas for the movie; an art gallery of storyboards and set design artwork; the teaser and theatrical trailers; a Cypress Hill music video and a 3-minute ad for the Blade II video game touted as a 'survival guide'. There may be more hidden away somewhere on this sucker, but I finally had to stop myself... I didn't even try to play with the DVD-ROM features! Films like this are always going to have detractors, complaining about one thing or another, but as far as comic book movies go, this is a high water mark. Blade II is a solid, very entertaining film that makes no apologies for its pedigree and invites viewers to go for a dark, violent and exciting ride. I liked the film a lot, the DVD is simply great and I hope the same team is able to pull off a successful "Blade III" someday. 10/03/02
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