If youíre looking for a full-out assault on your senses then look no further than "Blade II," the latest offering in New Lineís Platinum Series DVDs. While itís certainly not a film for everybody, thereís no denying that this is one of the best all-around discs currently available.
The first "Blade" movie snuck up on audiences back in 1998 and became a decent enough box office success. But where that film really took off was on the still relatively new DVD format when it arrived in December 1998 as one of the best special edition DVDs that viewers had yet seen. At the time everyone bought or rented this disc just to check out an SE done right and the quality of the film itself was almost an afterthought.
There has been a resurgence of late in film adaptations of comic books and the first "Blade" really got the ball rolling for Marvel Comics whose previous movie efforts had been less than successful. Soon after "Blade" filmgoers were treated to "X-Men" as well as this summerís smash hit, "Spider-Man." With a whole slate of upcoming screen adaptations itís a great time to be a comic book fan.
If youíre a longtime fan of Marvel Comics then you know that one of their trademark stylistic devices is the unobtrusive way in which they summarize the origins and powers of the major characters as well as any ongoing plot lines within the first few pages of their monthly publications. A casual reader can pick up a comic in the midst of the most complicated story arc and feel right at home within minutes. Fortunately for those moviegoers who missed the first film and may not be comic book fans, "Blade II" retains this device and offers up enough background information to bring folks up to speed on the events of the previous movie and the motivations of the main characters.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the sequel tries to do the original one better in just about every imaginable way and while it may not stand as a better film than the first it certainly isnít for lack of effort.
Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a hunter of vampires whose mother was bitten by one of the vicious creatures while he was still unborn. As a result, Blade carries many vampiric traits such as great strength and a thirst for blood while his human side serves to circumvent many of the typical weaknesses such as the inability to walk in daylight -- hence his nickname, Daywalker.
Since the end of the first film a new species called The Reapers has arisen. These mutated vampires feed on their former kin and the vampire nation is forced to turn to its sworn enemy for help. Soon enough, Blade has partnered with the Bloodpack -- a vampire hit squad that was specially formed just to kill him -- in order to ferret out and destroy this new threat to the world.
And in classic sequel style, Bladeís mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), who everyone assumed had taken his own life at the end of the first film, turns up to lend a hand along with Bladeís new sidekick, Scud (Norman Reedus).
Thatís about as complex as the plot gets and itís all just there to set up a non-stop series of wonderfully choreographed and blood-filled fights that take their stylistic cues from Hong Kong action films, Anime, and video games.
There really isnít much point in going into any lengthy film criticism as this is very much a love it or hate movie along the lines of most classic horror/slasher flicks. If vampires, gushing blood, and abundant gunplay are your cup of tea then "Blade II" is sure to please. If not, well, then donít waste your time with the review or the disc.
"Blade II" is presented on DVD in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and itís a beauty. The overall image is nice and sharp and packed with such fine detail that the transfer seemingly comes alive. There is no noticeable edge enhancement or defects of any kind. Colors are wonderfully garish as befitting a comic book adaptation while black levels are rock solid. This film takes place almost exclusively in dark places and even the deepest shadows are detailed and revealing. This disc must be viewed in very dark conditions or youíll miss an awful lot. This is as fine a video transfer Iíve seen and the very tricky nature of the filmís style makes the job done for this DVD that much more remarkable.
If you think the video is good just wait until you hear the audio. Presented in your choice of English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX or DTS 6.1 ES (as well as a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix) "Blade II" offers up an aural assault of the highest magnitude. Dynamic range is top-notch with crystal clear high notes and an almost constant LFE presence. Surrounds are also used seemingly non-stop and serve up abundant thrills as well as more subtle atmospheric effects. The musical score comes across well but is rather non-descript and at times the hip-hop tracks get a bit annoying. Dialogue always remains understandable even during the most frenzied action. The soundtrack can be played at low volume or cranked to ear-bleeding levels without compromising quality or audibility. Never shrill or tiring to the ears, "Blade II" offers up an amazing audio experience.
As for the Dolby Digital vs. DTS debate, both mixes sound very similar with the DTS track being a bit louder and more seamless in its use of surrounds.
As a Platinum Series SE it should come as no surprise that "Blade II" is packed with bonus features. Disc one offers up two running commentaries -- the first features director Guillermo del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt while the second has screenwriter David Goyer and Wesley Snipes. Both are quite informative and feature in-depth discussions of stylistic choices and the process of filmmaking overseas in Prague. Disc One also features an isolated musical score in Dolby Digital 5.1 that focuses solely on composer Marco Beltramiís work and omits the many hip-hop songs that pepper the soundtrack.
Disc Two offers up the rest of the plentiful extras. First up is the "Production Workshop" section that opens with "The Blood Pact," an in-depth documentary that clocks in at a whopping 83 minutes. In addition to its own bountiful content, this piece also uses seamless branching to offer five additional in-depth mini-featurettes. Fortunately for a documentary of this length, an index is provided so the viewer can skip right to sections of interest. This documentary is packed with every conceivable bit of information a "Blade" fan could hope for.
The "Production Workshop" also features a section called "Sequence Breakdowns." Featuring six scenes from the film, this elaborate device allows viewers to watch each of the scenes in a variety of ways. The original script, shooting script, storyboards, special effects, finished sequence, and even film of the director in action on set are all available for examination.
The "Visual Effects" section of the "Production Workshop" offers up a handful of features exploring the plentiful use of SFX in the film. The 6-minute "Synthetic Stuntmen" and 2-minute "The Digital Maw" examine the use of CGI in the film while the "Progress Reports" runs for almost an hour and provides a wealth of behind-the-scenes information on the entire special effects process from beginning to end.
The "Notebooks" section of the "Production Workshop" opens with a video introduction by Guillermo del Toro. The "Directorís Notebook" subsection features pages from del Toroís shooting script illustrated by the director. The "Script Supervisorís Notebook" offers up even more pages from the script as well as a fair number of behind-the-scenes and continuity photographs. Finally, "Unfilmed Script Pages" provides the text for some unfilmed scenes.
The last "Production Workshop" subsection is the "Art Gallery" which is a very detailed and well-organized still gallery.
The next major section is entitled "Deleted & Alternate Scenes." This part opens with another del Toro introduction then proceeds to offer 16 deleted and alternate takes. All scenes have been fully completed and are offered in anamorphic widescreen. They can be viewed with the original soundtrack or an optional directorís commentary. None are all that special but they are still worth a look.
The last of the three sections on Disc Two is "Promotional Material." First up is "íBlade IIí Video Game Survival Guide" which is pretty much just a promo for the game. Next is the "Theatrical Press Kit" featuring the requisite cast and crew files as well as production notes. The teaser and theatrical trailers for "Blade II" are also included as is the music video for "Child of the Wild West" by Cypress Hill and Roni Size.
The disc also features some DVD-ROM content for those so equipped. "Script-to-Screen" allows viewers to watch the film in a small window while following along with the shooting script in another window. Almost the entire "Blade II" website has also been saved to the DVD which is a really nice feature for those without a broadband connection. Links to New Lineís website are also included.
"Blade II" is clearly targeted at the teenaged male demographic. If youíre looking to critique the film in terms of plot, acting, continuity, and direction then youíll have a field day but those who are just looking for a fun film that isnít afraid to offer exactly what its target audience wants should find this one to be a real blast.
Once again New Line and producer David Prior have put together a special edition package to put the other studios to shame. Audio and video quality are among the best Iíve ever seen on DVD and will put even higher-end home theater systems through their paces. The numerous bonus features are remarkable not just for their sheer numbers but also for the depth with which they examine and complement the film. Every possible area of interest is covered and the extras are easy to navigate and very much designed with both the hard-core fan and more casual browser in mind.
Setting a new standard for DVD quality, "Blade II" comes very highly recommended with the only caveat being that even the finest DVD presentation wonít be able to sway those who donít care for this type of violent gore-fest so donít say you werenít forewarned.