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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  • English: DTS 6.1 Surround ES
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • Deleted scenes
  • Teaser trailer
  • Theatrical trailer
  • 2 Audio commentary
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette
  • Production notes
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • 1 Music video
  • Storyboards
  • Documentaries
  • Original screenplay - (extracts)

Blade II

Roadshow Entertainment/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 117 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Single-handedly reinventing and reinvigorating the vampire genre, Steven Norrington’s gloomy comic-book adaptation Blade was the unexpected box-office hit of 1998. An action-packed, (interestingly pre-Matrix) mix of lone wolf, kung fu and bullet ballet, Wesley Snipes’ dark avenging angel, fuelled in equal parts by hatred and self-loathing, provided a fresh take on the slayer myth. Four years on, this mean motor scooter finally returns to our screens in an adrenaline-charged blood-bath of a sequel.

Immediately following his turf war with vampire rebel-rouser Deakin Frost and the subsequent loss of his crusty old partner Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), the day walker starts hearing whispers; rumours of his life-long partner. It turns out that Whistler might not be quite as dead as he first thought; having turned vampiric just before his attempted suicide, being captured, and now remaining a permanent guest of his enemy. For several years Blade has searched for his friend; the rumours eventually leading him to Prague - seemingly the heart of Vampiredom on Earth - where he has re-established his slaying operation; taking on a new partner in Scud (Norman Reedus), and biding his time with a little of the old ultra-violent.

But finally Blade’s dogged persistence is repaid. Extracting Whistler’s location from a particularly unlucky suck-head, Blade unleashes the full weight of his fury against the safe house where Whistler is being held; extricating him from the blood tank where he remains suspended, and administering his patented vampire anti-viral solution. But back at Blade’s lair-come-workshop, no sooner have Scud and the newly installed Whistler begun to bicker, than the three receive a pair of unwelcome visitors: vampire ninjas Nyssa (Leonor Varela) and Asad (Danny John-Jules) who, after trying to cut Blade’s head off (just for fun), deliver an invitation for him to parley with vamp overlord Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann).

For all is not well in vampiredom. Evolving seemingly overnight, and manifesting itself in original carrier Jared Nomak (Luke Goss), a new strain of the vampire virus has surfaced and the resulting leech-like über-vamps are a far more deadly species than their quailing predecessors; preying on humans and vampires alike. With their razor sharp teeth, lightning speed and an unquenchable thirst, these ‘Reapers’, these perfect killing machines, are quickly multiplying; threatening the rapid extinction of both the human and vampire species. And so an unlikely alliance is struck, Blade agreeing to lead a cadre of hardened vampire mercenaries known as ‘The Blood Pack’ - a group of assassins who have trained ceaselessly for the last two years for the single purpose of eliminating the day walker – against the Reaper threat.

In Blade II, Mexico-born director and gothic maestro Guillermo del Toro has taken Steven Norrington’s original film and discarded what didn’t work; distilling and heightening the essence of Blade to produce a breathlessly frenetic, unabashedly exploitative action-horror film. Going for a hyper-realistic, self-professed anime feel to proceedings, del Toro’s Blade II is a product of the digital world; overflowing with digital visual effects and over the top comic-book violence. So too the horror aspects have been heightened; the reapers providing a much more monstrous, gore spewing outlet for del Toro’s signature, stylised splatter. Make no mistake, Blade II literally runs with blood.

In general, the digital effects have been used to great effect in the film; employing CG animated ‘virtual stuntmen’ (as seen extensively in Spider-Man) to heighten the sense of hyper-reality. Shots involving trajectory, and starting and finishing with the real actors, are perfectly contrived; providing a realistic alternative to wires. We see Blade leap from high-rise buildings and land guns a blazing. Nomak and Blade hurl each other across rooms and smash into far walls. But it’s the shots involving limb movement – fighting moves and wall crawling reapers to name just two - that reduce the impact of the technology; looking obviously, and disappointingly, artificial on the small screen. In particular the movements of the CG animated combatants in several early fight scenes look plainly fake, and even del Toro voices his disappointment with these sequences (in the strongest possible terms) during the commentary track. This said, despite one or two low points, the remaining action scenes are stunning; a break-neck concoction of martial arts choreography and ferocious Matix-style gun battles.

Impressive as the action is, the remainder of the film is rather poorly written, filled as it is with one-dimensional supporting characters that provide little more than reaper-fodder. Given little to work with, del Toro has a hard time extracting anything but wooden performances from the Blood Pack (with the exception of Danny John Jules – you gotta love that guy) and it falls to Snipes, Kristofferson and surprisingly Luke Goss to carry the film. Thankfully, Wesley literally lives and breathes the character of Blade, and despite the removal of Blade’s most appealing character trait – his deep and personal self-loathing – Snipes is as impressive here as in his original incarnation. Luke Goss also puts in a memorable, truly sinister performance as head reaper Nomak; presumably all those years as a part of ’80s boy band Bros providing firsthand insight into the mindset and motivation of an evil leech. Re-inventing himself here as a serious actor, I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of him.

OK, so Blade II won't be winning any Oscars - we knew that already. The fact is, despite its problems Blade II is one hell of a good action film; two hours of ultra-violent, adrenaline-charged, and rather guilty pleasure that fans of the original film are going to consume with gusto.

  Video
Contract

There’s only one word to describe Roadshow’s anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer of Blade II and that is stunning. A lush blend of deep, deep shadows and rich, vivid reds, the fruits of their labour is a razor sharp, crystal clean, richly detailed, and totally devoid of artefacts of any kind.

As you might expect, the majority of scenes in Blade II take place either at night or in dimly lit surroundings, and yet cinematographer Gabriel Beristain has managed to capture a wealth of detail that recedes into even the deepest of shadows; detail mined from Prague’s seedy backstreets and ancient interiors, and the superb, feature-rich production design of the film’s mammoth sets. This impressive level of detail is faithfully reproduced by the transfer, in both foreground and shadows, without undue edge enhancement or the introduction of aliasing-related artefacts of any kind.

Although red is certainly the film’s signature colour, deep blues can also be seen in the flash of welding torches and the pallid complexions of various reapers, and the transfer renders these and the breadth of mid-range hues beautifully. Flesh tones also appear faithful - although with all the shadows and black leather it’s sometimes difficult to tell – and good contrast helps discern the black clad protagonists in the gloom. The many instances of smoke and ash (unlucky vamps burn by the hundreds) are handled without a hint of posterisation or macro-blocking.

The only negative I can point to, (and I am loathe to do even that) comes from the source material itself in the form of a little film grain creeping into one or two scenes. Given that nearly every scene occurs in some varying shade of darkness, I’m amazed that there isn’t more grain on show, and casual viewers will no doubt miss what does exist in the heat of the moment. The layer change is also a little disappointingly placed. Coming right in the middle of one of the more quiet dialogue scenes it’s a tad distracting, and a scene boundary would have served better.

But these small quibbles aside, Roadshow have done a characteristically spectacular job with Blade II; an essentially flawless transfer that will have you drooling.

  Audio
Contract

Roadshow’s spectacular video presentation is perfectly complimented by superb audio; presented in DTS 6.1 EX, Dolby Digital 5.1, and plain old Dolby Surround. Reference quality soundtracks in every way, Blade II is the kind of audio experience that brings home cinema into its own. You can bet the film never sounded quite this good in the local multiplex! Well, not with those giggling teenagers sitting behind you it didn’t...

With all channels blasting forth at every opportunity, Blade II surrounds the viewer in a continuous, perfectly constructed cocoon of sound. Channel separation is amazing, with bits of smouldering vamp swirling around the room, and from all directions heavy munitions erupt, bullets ricochet and hungry reapers screech in a violent audio symphony. Panning effects are also common, with helicopters flying and machine guns strafing across and down the room, and the whoosh of striking martial arts limbs surrounding the viewer as the camera spins around the combatants Matrix style (well almost). Ambient sound is also wonderfully detailed, from the rumbling of Prague’s trams, blaring police sirens and the street’s constant stream of night-crawlers, to the more subtle drip, drip of the city’s ancient sewer system and the scuttling of reaper claws on floor, wall and ceiling.

The score is also a key component of the audio experience, with pumping techno and hip-hop tracks mixed beautifully between the front and rear channels and surrounding the viewer during key action scenes. Thankfully, the producers resisted the temptation to roll out yet another cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper. The choice of thumping bass-heavy music means that the subwoofer, not content with rolling thunder, the rumble of trams and helicopters and adding body to the fiery consumption and dull thump of fist and foot on unlucky vamp, gets to add some serious doof to the pounding hip hop beats.

The only deficiency in the soundtracks is inherent in the source material; the odd line of dialogue that is almost impossible to distinguish. Now don’t get me wrong, the audio tracks themselves are spot on, delivering the dialogue clearly and distinctly throughout without synch issues. The problem is Wesley’s incoherent mumbling - hard to understand at the best of times - and the many and varied Eastern European accents that get trundled out.

In so far as the old DTS vs Dolby Digital 5.1 debate is concerned, this time it's a bit of a no-brainer. With an extra surround track afforded the the DTS 6.1 EX mix, and being slightly better in terms of channel separation and fidelity, the DTS track is a clear favourite. But don't get me wrong, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix provided here is nothing short of spectacular, and at the end of the day, no matter which audio option you choose here, you win. But by all means, have fun comparing for yourself!

  Extras
Contract

Accessed via some nicely animated, decidedly red anamorphic menus, Roadshow’s two disc Special Edition release of Blade II represents a mammoth undertaking, for both the producers and the viewer; with hour upon hour of exceptional supplementary material compiled for you eager fans out there.

DISC 1

With DTS and Dolby Digital trailers preceding the feature itself (the piano and the canyon respectively) the special features available on the first disc are restricted to two audio commentaries - one reasonable, and one truly exceptional.

Commentary – director Guillermo del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt: “If logic is your forte, go see AI”... A very funny commentary from two good friends whose banter, containing the odd expletive, covers all kinds of anecdotal and technical information about their film. A wonderfully entertaining commentary, del Toro has a fabulously enthusiastic, totally sarcastic and geeky personality and revels in the work he does, never taking anything too seriously. With his ‘cavernous voice and thick accent’ (his own words) Guillermo’s is one of best film commentaries I have ever heard. God it was wonderful hearing the Spanish director’s scathing rant about the digital scenes that he ‘f*cking hates’ – as it happens the same one’s you’ll hate too. Even after two hours, it left me wanting more. Thankfully, the second disc provides just that.

Commentary – writer David Goyer and Wesley Snipes: “Oh, who they gonna replace you with man? Morgan Freeman?”... Goyer says ‘pretty cool’ about 70,000 times, and Wesley mumbles in agreement, as the two relay yet more anecdotes, discuss the performances (especially Wesley’s), and how the various elements of the film finally came together. But basically these guys just have a ball watching the film. After a few laughs at the expense of all and sundry, Wesley really warms to the task and, as the commentary progresses, offers an often animated and always interesting perspective on the production. All in all it's an entertaining and informative commentary, but nowhere near as funny as Guillermo's.

DISC 2

Still giggling from the Guillermo commentary, the mind-boggling amount of material contained on the second supplementary disc will satisfy any question that remains unanswered, and tickle any funny bones that remain untouched..

Production Workshop
Gathered under the banner of ‘production workshop’, over three hours of video material and countless other still frames, script pages, and storyboards are presented, covering every conceivable aspect of the production and forming about as comprehensive and engaging a look at the making of a film as I have ever seen on a supplementary disc.

Starting in fine style, the first cab off the rank, The Blood Pact – Making of Blade II provides an 83 minute ‘interactive’ documentary (yes - 83 minutes!) into the making of the film. Interspersed throughout the documentary, extra material can be accessed using popup ‘white-rabbit’ style glyphs. Presenting in-depth interviews with the actors, director del Toro, writer Goyer, producer Peter Frankfurt other crew members and all interspersed with long sequences of the director and his actors working on-set, this is one of the best making of features you’re ever likely to see. Topics covered include preparation and scripting, the wonderful Prague locations, the professionalism shown by the Czech crew, production design, creating the mammoth sets, and much, much, much more. Most interesting is the detailed discussion of the reaper effects, the tradeoffs between using live actors, puppets and 100% CG visual effects, and del Toro’s memorable observation on selling digital effects – “Faith is only hopeful ignorance”. The interactive snippets, five in total adding more than 15 minutes to the running time, provide extra in-depth material on certain topics that I’ll wager was just a little verbose to make it into original documentary.

Moving right along, we arrive at sequence breakdowns, a collection of segments providing an in-depth technical deconstruction of six key scenes. For each such scene we are given the opportunity to read Goyer’s original script, read del Toro’s shooting script, view the storyboards and effects breakdowns for the scene, view fantastic on-set footage annotated using text and in some cases audibly by the director himself (as he points out the lighting setups and other technical titbits), and finally view the finished scene as it appeared in the film. Scenes presented include the opening blood-bank one, the ninja fight, the house of pain and the fight in the chapel.

Visual effects are next, where we find three engrossing featurettes. The first, entitled synthetic stuntmen (6:03), sees the visual effects technicians from Tippet Studios talking about the creation and ‘seamless’ incorporation of the digital versions of Blade and Nomak into the completed action sequences. The second, the digital maw (3:23), is similar to the first, but focuses on the creation and digital addition of the reaper makeup onto the faces of the live actors. Lastly, progress reports (54:30) presents a video diary of makeup designer Steve Johnson and his team’s progress as they worked on the film’s more traditional models and gooey puppets. This diary footage, itself having been used by Guillermo as a means of keeping abreast of the team’s progress, will answer any question you ever had about the non-digital horror effects created for the film. A truly wonderful addition.

With a short video introduction from del Toro, we are also provided with scans of pages from his pre-production diary (that served as a source for the film’s visual references) and also that of the script supervisor (responsible for continuity) containing countless Polaroids taken daily during the shoot. I still haven’t finished perusing all the images contained here, but this is certainly a fascinating resource for you budding filmmakers out there. Additional excerpts from Goyer’s original script detail three scenes that didn’t make it into the final film.

Lastly, we round out the production workshop with an art gallery presenting countless examples of the pre-production conceptual artwork grouped loosely into six categories: sequence concepts, props and weapons, costume design, set design, character design and storyboards.

Deleted and Alternate Scenes
“Heehee, look at that f*cker!”... The next section, which Guillermo likes to call Sperm Removal, contains in his own words “mostly crap”. Quite. Optionally presented with a continuous commentary from Guillermo and Peter Frankfurt, what we have here is 16 segments over 25 minutes that contain discarded shots, changes in music and mood, elevators, wigs, albinos and the aforementioned sperm removal. Guillermo’s synopsis of the material is pretty damn accurate, but like his commentary of the feature, the commentary track here is absolutely priceless.

Promotional Material
Rounding out disc two we have a collection of promotional material for the film; all gathered together in the one place so it can be conveniently ignored by us all. Here you will find a Blade II video game survival guide (basically a three minute advertorial), a theatrical press kit which includes cast and crew bios and production notes, a teaser trailer, a theatrical trailer and lastly a music video Child of the Wild West from Cypress Hill and Roni Size.

  Overall  
Contract

Despite a few flaws, Blade II still stands as one of the best action films of 2002. Chock full of stylised comic-book violence, this check-your-brain-at-the-door piece of pure escapism has enough martial arts, heavy munitions and slavering monsters to please the faithful, and maybe even bring some more into the fold.

Even better, Roadshow's two disc release will go above and beyond your wildest expectations. Featuring stunning video, amazing audio, and hours of engrossing extras, it easily qualifies for our covetted DVDnet gold status. A required member of any action fan's collection, you should not hesitate - rush out and grab yourself a copy of Blade II this instant!


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  •  DVD NET Gold Review List 
      And I quote...
    "One of the best action film's of 2002, Roadshow's two disc release will go above and beyond your wildest expectations..."
    - Gavin Turner
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