New Line Cinema's "Blade" movie franchise proved to have box-office sustenance from 1998 to 2004. In the title role, Wesley Snipes carried the urban vampire saga sturdily on his shoulders, rousing up a cult legion of fans. It was really not that surprising when, in 2006, New Line and Spike TV announced a forthcoming TV series based on the films. The big question was, who could possibly take on the role that was so definitively embodied by Snipes? When the series finally did air, it failed to gather the audience that the movies achieved and was cancelled after one season due to poor ratings. Undaunted, New Line has released the feature-length pilot episode on DVD in hopes of appealing to the smattering of viewers they had.
Taking the form of a vampire crime drama, "Blade: House of Chthon" continues the title character's agenda to rid the world of vampires. Blade (Kirk "Sticky" Jones) is a half-human/half-vampire who has developed a serum that allows him to suppress his thirst for blood. With the assistance of Shen (Nelson Lee), he keeps track of vampire activity and destroys the night stalkers with a formula made from garlic. His prime enemies are the pure-breds, that is, vampires who are conceived and born of two vampires rather than made by the bite of one vampire. These pure-breds control "houses" where the vampires meet and recruit. The House of Chthon is just one of many that Blade has his eye on.
Enter Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), a former soldier whose brother was recently murdered. In her quest to find out what happened to him, Krista discovers that her brother was actually involved in vampire activity. Going through his apartment, she finds strange symbols and powders. Seeking the help of Professor Mevlin Caylo (an uncredited Randy Quaid), she learns of the existence of vampires in contemporary society. Not one to shy away from danger, Krista actively seeks out the vampires, which leads her to Blade. Though at first he discourages her from becoming any more involved, he eventually decides to use her as a double agent to infiltrate the circle of Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), a vampire who is unwisely seeking media publicity.
What Blade is not aware of, however, is that Marcus and his followers have conducted a series of experiments to develop a serum that will make them immune to all known vampire weaknesses. They hope to create a breed of super vampires to establish world domination. Once Krista is in their circle, they seize the opportunity to involve her in their scheme to work against Blade. Krista's struggle to maintain her allegiance becomes the chief dramatic focus and, subsequently, the driving force for the rest of the series.
Watching this pilot episode, it is easy to assess the series' strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, the show is given a visually appealing look, with great use of shadows and fluid camera movement. The action is kinetic and convincing, though the unrated version on this DVD naturally contains much more gore than what could be shown on network TV. Unfortunately, lead actor Kirk Jones simply does not have the charisma to carry this pilot, let a lone an entire series. This is the crucial weakness. While physically perfect for the role, the muscular star has neither the screen presence nor the forceful energy to convey the heroic or dangerous nature of his character. While no one else in the cast could be accused of being a great thespian, they have far more presence than the lead and effectively drown him out.
The story itself, while not deeply engrossing, is adequate fodder for a weekly TV show, and it kept my interest well enough. Placing an attractive female at the center of the action was a valiant attempt to separate the show from the movies, but there is an ever-present element of "been there, done that." With the double agent angle and the vampire action, the story plays much like "Alias" crossed with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." From what was presented in the pilot, it is fair to say that "Blade: The Series" would not have had either the dramatic scope or the acting talent of either of those two shows to last very long. I am not surprised at all that the series was quickly cancelled, though the pilot on its own makes an entertaining, if lackluster, TV movie.
New Line Home Entertainment delivers the movie in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen. The transfer looks very nice, with rich, deep blacks to convey the great shadows and dark locations. Colors are nicely rendered with good skin tones. Contrast is excellent, and the picture looks very clean throughout.
The audio is also impressive in a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. The action scenes especially benefit from the surround distribution, as bullets and bodies seem to fly around you. Music and voices are clearly presented. A stereo track is also included, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Starting off the special features are two audio commentaries. The first is by director Peter O'Fallon. He provides a low-key commentary, pointing out various aspects of production and development. The second track features writers David Goyer and Geoff Johns. Their discussion is a bit livelier, and they too offer background information on the story and the direction they chose to go. While all three commentators tend to be a bit self-congratulatory at times, they do provide some good information and are well worth listening to if you enjoy this movie.
Next is the documentary, "Turning Blade." At roughly 62 minutes, this is a surprisingly informative feature, with interviews with various cast and crew members discussing everything from the casting and the writing to the makeup and costumes. We are also treated to a ton of behind-the-scenes footage throughout. The documentary is divided into eight chapters that may be viewed individually or all together.
Lastly, New Line has provided a gallery of TV promos for the series. For those with DVD-ROM capabilities, there are some additional features as well. Oddly, my DVD would not play on my computer, so I was not able to see these. I'm assuming we're mostly talking about links to the film's official website and other New Line sites.
While "Blade: The Series" did not have the longevity that its cinematic counterpart had, the pilot feature has some merit that diehard fans may find appealing. On its own, it contains some decent action and a very attractive cast to look at. As long as you don't expect the intensity of the movies or the charisma of Wesley Snipes, this can be a satisfying diversion that is at least worth a rental.