Sunday, April 08, 2007

Blade – review

Director: Stephen Norrington

Release date: 1998

Contains spoilers

Blade (Wesley Snipes) was a comic book hero, from the Marvel stable, who first appeared in ‘Tomb of Dracula’ #10 back in 1972. A fairly obscure character, despite appearing in Spiderman, this was his first big screen outing and the film would spawn two sequels and a short lived TV series. This marks the beginning of a 'Taliesin Meets the Vampires' Blade series.

What we essentially get is high octane, action packed comic book cinema that might necessitate a couple of leaps of faith but all in all does what it says on the tin. With Blade they introduced an anti-hero to the world, and that always gets my vote. But the film starts at the beginning of Blade’s story and so must we.

The prologue is set in 1967, we see a woman, Vanessa Brooks (Sanaa Lathan), wheeled into hospital. She has a bite on the neck and is heavily pregnant. The doctors manage to deliver the baby but she dies. Here we have the birth of Blade. In the movie vampires are divided into two (technically three) groups. Pure bloods are born vampires, they have never seen the light of day and control the vampire nation. Turned vampires are humans who have been bitten and contracted the vampire virus.

I said there are technically three groups as we have Blade, the daywalker. Blade’s DNA was altered in the womb by the virus his mother contracted. At puberty his vampire aspect awoke. He suffers none of the vampire weaknesses (ish) but has all their strengths. I say ish because he has one weakness – the thirst. It is that inner turmoil, the inner demon of his vampire nature, that makes Blade the anti-hero.

Cutting forward to the present day a man is in a car with a woman, she takes him to an underground rave which is being staged within a meat packing factory. There are bodies being packed also, but he is distracted from this by being kissed – yes, we men can be that shallow. Things change inside the rave, he seems to be being treated like dirt by all there. A drip falls on him, blood, hands are raised in the air and we see a sign behind the DJ which says Bloodbath. Blood pours on the dancers from the sprinklers and our panicked man is the only human in a room of vampires.

Beaten, kicked and generally toyed with, by the time the blood flow ends he is crawling across bloody tiles and ends up in front of blade. Cue high octane fight sequence with special effects aplenty. Blade has many weapons to hand, utilising silver and garlic both of which vampires are highly allergic to.

It is worth noting here the special effects.
The vampires dust when killed and the effects are generally well done, not only in the fight sequence but throughout the film. Later we get the use of anti-coagulant EDTA as a weapon, which causes vampire blood to boil and explode. The stretching of vampire skin and subsequent explosion in a shower of blood were, perhaps, the only weak link in the special effects.

After the fight there is Blade, the unfortunate human and a vampire named Quinn (Donal Logue), henchman of our main bad guy Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), left. Blade pins Quinn to the wall with silver stakes and sets him on fire. There is movement and Blade checks the neck (unbitten) of the human and vanishes as police and firemen enter the room. Quinn is put out and shipped to the hospital morgue.

We cut to a pure blood council meeting of the House of Erebus. In the blade universe the vampires divide themselves into various houses. It is a concept that develops through the films and TV show. Head of the house is Dragonetti (genre favourite Udo Kier) who berates Frost for his raves. Frost, for his part, shows no respect and bemoans the treaties that the vampires have with the human authorities and the fact that they live in the shadows. As you watch this in isolation it means little, but as the series developed one wonders why Dragonetti just didn’t kill Frost for being an upstart.

Quinn is in the morgue and coroner Dr Curtis Webb (Tim Guinee) has called on the assistance of his ex, blood specialist Dr Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright), as something is odd. He is making an insertion when Quinn grabs and bites him. He grabs the fleeing Karen and bites her, out in the corridor, when Blade arrives. Blade has managed to take his arm when security arrive and start shooting. Quinn escapes and Blade is going to leave Karen when something about her reminds him of his mother (so we assume his vampire nature has allowed him to remember his birth). He manages to get away with her, but one questions why hospital security would have such high powered weaponry – except, of course, we are in a comic book world.

Back at Blade’s hideout we meet the other member of Blade’s team, Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). During the film we hear that Whistler found Blade as a bloodthirsty teen and, realising what he was, managed to get him on a serum that controls his thirst. Blade is developing immunity to the serum necessitating higher and higher doses. This background is changed slightly in the TV series. Whistler is disgusted that Blade has brought a stray back and says she is about an hour away from being too far gone to help. He injects her with garlic, which causes the wounds in her neck to steam.

Meanwhile Frost is having a run in with Dragonetti again, who mocks him for trying to translate the vampire bible. Let’s cut to the chase here, for the translation is what the film is all about. Frost unravels the prophecy of La Magra, using the blood of the daywalker and sacrificing twelve pure bloods he can transform into the blood God, a being that can turn any in his path.

Karen is drawn deeper into the plot when Blade uses her as bait and manages to get hold of Frost’s familiar. The familiars are human servants of the vampires, each marked with a glyph tattoo. Karen manages to develop a retro virus that will reverse the turning process.

I have mentioned most of the vampire lore used in the film but not, as of yet, sunlight. Vampires burn in UV and we see this in full effect when Frost kills Dragonetti, a nice bit of effects comes into play in this sequence. We do see Frost in daylight, due to the liberal use of sunblock. Whistler has developed a UV lamp for Blade as a weapon and we also see this in action.

I should also mention the monstrously fat Pearl (Eric Edwards), whom Karen, at Blade’s behest, uses the UV lamp on. Pearl is the archivist of the vampires and is a fascinating creation who really isn’t explained or investigated in any detail what-so-ever.

Finally, lore wise, we also discover that the turn process does not always go to plan and the person becomes a zombie (though one with the power of speech). Such a fate befalls poor old Curtis – Karen’s ex. It should be noted that such creatures are not mentioned again in any of the films or in the series.

The acting is good enough for this sort of film. Blade is stoic, to the point of being accused of being cold hearted. Yet we also see the deep, if unspoken, affection he has for whistler. Snipes looks the part and brings an anger to the character that is perfect. Dorff might not be the first actor you’d think of as a sinister bad guy, but he shines in the role of Frost, carrying a measured menace.

Top of the tree, however, is Kristofferson as world weary, demi-redneck Whistler, a fantastic character who, unfortunately, is bitten and left for dead. Whistler shoots himself, but we do not see the shot…

The soundtrack is filled with pounding dance music, not my cup of tea but it fits the mood of the film perfectly.

There is quite a bit of story and background crammed into this movie but, ultimately, the film is one thing and one thing only. It is a balls-out action comic book film and it does this with style and panache. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


mice said...

Some clever ideas including the blood rave and the vampires with motorcycle helmets.

The sequels were not eqaually as inovative.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mice

I don't totally agree in that, if you look at the Blade 2 score you'll see I rate it higher. Better directed and the reapers were innovative enough for me.

That said I'm posting the blade trinity review later and you'll see that I really didn't get on with that 'chapter'!

mice said...

Thinking about it... the ending was weak in Blade 1. I should proably watch them all again before I go running my gob.

Taliesin_ttlg said...


don't be so hard on yourself, your opinion is valid... My love of del Toro's style will always place 2 ahead of the others for me, but that is a very personal viewpoint.

That said you do pick on things watching them back to back with fresh eyes... like the ripped off scene from Blade in Blade Trinity that I mention in the Trinity review.

Anonymous said...

The vampires were trashy idiots, and there was no style or fun. Fat monster... oh, dear. What a stinky movie.

DarkwingDave said...

Excellent reviews with a true love of the genre. A minor correction if I may; the name of the vampire house is Erebus. Keep up the great work!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

thanks Dave - corrected

Anonymous said...

It was very interesting for me to read that blog. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to this matter. BTW, why don't you change design :).

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers anon.

btw, what's wrong with the design, simple, sleek and black.