Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“I’m gonna be a naughty vampire god!”


It was 1998 and the comic book movie genre was effectively dead after things like Batman and Robin. A Wesley Snipes movie was released about a half-vampire that hunted down vampires with extreme prejudice. It turned out to be a pretty successful action flick, but most audiences at the time didn’t know that the characters involved were (rather loosely) based on an obscure vampire huntin’ superhero created by Marvel back in the 70s. The movie made enough to support a franchise, and the modern superhero film was ushered in.

Plot
So there’s a guy who hunts vampires in the back alleys and discothèques of New York. He’s supported by a crotchety mentor figure, and rescues a woman who’s been bitten by one of his targets. That target vampire works for an up and coming vampire who wants to shake the status quo up a bit by unleashing a vampire god upon the world. In 120 minutes, things go from bat to worse. (Oh yes, I went there)

Characters
Blade: Wesley Snipes is the stone-faced, thoroughly antisocial Blade. He’s a half vampire, known as the Daywalker among his prey since he has all of the strengths of a vampire (strength, healing, being able to sense them) and none of the weaknesses (garlic, turning into a wicker man at dawn’s early light), though he does have a mean thirst. Now, granted, Blade only has about one expression throughout the film: pissed, but at least they give him a good reason for it, ie. His mother was bitten during labor. Blade survived, she didn’t.

Whistler: Kris Kristofferson as Blade’s crotchety old mentor with a limp and a foul mouth. His family was destroyed by a vampire attack, so that’s why he’s pissed at them. He’s like Blade’s surly, foul-mouthed version of Q, coming up with gadgets and devices to kill vampires. It was a hard choice, but I think I’m going to go with him as this film’s badass, but only because they didn’t give him any scenes to angst about near the end. No special powers, just piss & vinegar and a hatred of vampires keep Whistler truckin.’

Dr. Karen Jenson: N’Bushe Wright as the unfortunate doctor who gets attacked by a vampire while examining him in the morgue. Blade rescues her, and she becomes our point-of-view character in this war. She also brings some comic book science into play, having discussions with Blade & Whistler about vampires, and what can make their blood explode. Ostensibly a love interest, but aside from one or two scenes, there’s not much of a love story.

Deacon Frost: Stephen Dorff plays Frost, an upstart vampire kid who isn’t a pureblood (he was “turned” while a mortal) His band of bloodsuckers is a motley one, but he’s got ambition and the desire to bring about some kind of vampiric apocalypse by unleashing a blood god. He’s smarmy, sarcastic and highly animated, an interesting foil to the “all business” Blade.

Quinn: Donal Logue is Frost’s right hand man, a colorful, violent vampire who has a habit of surviving fights with Blade with only a missing limb here and there. Logue plays him over-the-top, sociopath (even for a vampire) and its fun to watch.

Mercury: Arly Jover is Frost’s lover, a white-wearing vampiress with a foreign accent and peroxide-blonde hair. She doesn’t say much compared to Quinn, but seems the more business oriented of Frost’s associates.

Elder Dragonetti: Udo Kier is the most vocal of the Vampire Council, and he makes it perfectly clear that he doesn’t like Frost and his punks trying to stir things up. This is a bad move on his part.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Considering that this was 1998, I’m largely willing to give a pass to some of the CGI effects. Most are pretty good, like how vampires turn to skeletons and then ash when killed (usually). However, the blood stuff near the end, well, it hasn’t aged as well. Certain physical effects are really nice though, like the big, fatass vampire in the archive that Blade encounters when he’s looking for information.

Stephen Norrington handles the visuals rather well here. I understand that he was also the director of the…not well received League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but we’re not getting into that. The pacing of the film is rather good, there are only a few slow spots here and there. The action scenes, being the whole point of the movie, are all well done. Blade has some interesting toys with which he puts the undead in their place, and Snipes is very good at killing vampire stuntmen in an interesting manner.

There are two non action oriented things I would like to commend the movie on. The first is the time lapse photography of New York daytime turning into night. There is just the slightest hint of otherworldliness involved that adds menace to the transition location shots. The other part is that Norrington shoots the heroic characters as being alone, outside of the locations around them. Blade stands alone in every scene he’s in, which is fitting for someone who doesn’t belong in either world. It’s a very subtle thing, and it carries over to Whistler and Karen, but its very effective at communicating mood.

WritingThe script is by David S. Goyer, whom you’ll likely hear more about as we delve deeper into the Modern Superhero Film Genre. Goyer introduces some new(ish) things among vampires, like the two classes bickering, the temporary sunscreen thing, the “EDTA makes vampire blood explode since its an anticoagulant” and the fat vampire living in a basement. Sure, the concepts might not stand up to scrutiny, like, if sunblock can keep vampires from getting all roasty, what about their eyes? Still, they’re trying new things with vampires, and its kinda nifty.

One problem I did have was that it really wasn’t clear about the nature of the vampires. Are they mystical in origin, since they have a “vampire bible” and a blood god they want to summon? Or are they simply a genetic mutation, something that can be cured by SCIENCE, like how the doctor lady posits? The end result is rather vague.

Sound
The techno/hip-hop soundtrack during action sequences works quite nicely. Unfortunately, I can’t remember a single thing from the score by Mark Isham.

Conclusion
Blade is a very fun, surprisingly competent superhero movie (remember, for 1998). There isn’t a lot of meat to this film, the bulk of it being “what if a dhampir was a superhero and killed vampires in New York?” Sure, it’s a bare bones concept, but the movie succeeds in delivering just that without too much annoying baggage. Certainly recommended.


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