Late in the Summer of 1998, the original "Blade" was released. Although the trailer seemed to dazzle most audiences, vampire films hadn't met with much recent success and Snipes' box office record hadn't been particularly good. However, the film opened and actually delivered on the promises of said trailer - after a solid opening, the film went on to gross over 100 million dollars and become one of the Summer's biggest hits. Surprisingly, original director Stephen Norrington did not return for the sequel. Instead, director Guillermo del Toro ("Mimic") takes the helm and actually delivers a sequel that surpasses the excellent original, if not by a massive degree.
The sequel, also scripted by David S. Goyer, has half-vampire Blade returning to his fight against his vampire foes. Soon after the film opens, he's reunited with his former mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), who was captured by the vampires. During an early attack, Blade finds out that the vampires actually want a truce in order to have him lead a band of warriors to wipe out a new breed of vampires called "Reapers", who want to attack both vampires and humans.
There's not a lot more story to be discussed and what story there is left unsaid is better left to surprise those who have not seen the picture. Both the original picture and the sequel have a fair amount of differences. Director Norrington approached the original film with a crisp, cold feel that actually aided the drama - the story was more involving because the characters were played with such perfect seriousness. Del Toro goes a different way, but one that's still equally involving - the sequel doesn't take itself quite so seriously, but still remains serious enough so that the story has punch and remains engaging. The sequel is a little less dark visually as well as a lot more graphic in terms of the violence, too.
The acting is again quite good in the sequel. Going with the overall tone, Snipes remains serious, but there's also a few more moments of underplayed humor here. Fine in supporting roles are Ron Perlman ("Alien: Resurrection") and Lenor Varela. Still, this isn't a film without faults. As impressive as much of the action is, there are a few sequences where CGI is obviously assisting in the fighting. As amazing as CGI can be - and there are quite a few instances in this film where it is used quite well - this kind of effect still is not seamless, at least in my opinion (part of one of the CGI fight sequences reminded me of the ninja cats in "Cats and Dogs"). A stoner sidekick for Blade, played by Norman Reedus, is also remarkably irritating.
Still, a few concerns aside, I found a lot to like about "Blade II". It delivers almost continuous action, moves along at a crisp pace, delivers a few surprises and provides the visuals and performances that fans were expecting. Again, while I only found it a slight improvement, I must praise director Del Toro, cast and crew for delivering a sequel that at least partially surpasses an original film that was quite good itself.
VIDEO: "Blade II" is presented by New Line Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I've gone into great discussion in the past about the high level of quality that the studio's presentations offer. However, the image quality of "Blade II" exceeds even the quality of the best New Line product that I've seen in recent memory. Even though this is - not surprisingly - a dark film, the level of fine detail present is nothing short of extraordinary. There is a "three-dimensional" feel to the image that is highly pleasing, as well.
Trying to pick out any sort of faults with this presentation was certainly difficult, but I did find a couple. Edge enhancement was not spotted duiring the film, nor was any pixelation, making for a smooth and crisp looking film. In fact, the only flaw that I noticed was that there were a few tiny little specks on the print used in a couple of scenes. These were extremely small and definitely will likely go unseen by many.
The film's rich, dark color palette - often showing strong yellows, reds and occasionally, blues - looked stellar. Colors appeared vivid and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults. Overall, this is outstanding work from New Line.
SOUND: "Blade 2" is presented by New Line in both Dolby Digital 5.1-EX and DTS 6.1-ES audio. As outstanding as the video quality is on this DVD, the audio quality is equally amazing. This is an extremely aggressive soundtrack, with surrounds that push both music and sound effects with exciting, full-throttle force. What's really enjoyable is that the audio doesn't sound "speaker specific"; instead, the film's audio really provides a seamlessly enveloping and immersive feel. Even with the heavy surround presence, the audio is skillfully mixed so that the attention is never drawn from the screen to what the surrounds are offering. I also liked the fact that, while the action sequences provided dazzling use of the surrounds, some quieter moments also made nice use of the rear speakers for more subtle ambience.
Audio quality is as forceful as the soundtrack is aggressive. Strong, deep bass is present throughout much of the film and sound effects come through with an unusually high level of clarity and presence. Marco Beltrami's score - which is often electronic, but occasionally tribal and slightly "Crouching Tiger"-ish - also was crisp and clear. Dialogue sounded natural, as well. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks provided an enjoyable audio experience, although the DTS soundtrack did seem to provide noticably richer bass and a stronger level of clarity and detail. Either way, this is quite the thrilling soundtrack - the definition of "wake the neighbors" audio. Note: Del Toro's "Mimic", which can be found in many places now for around $9.99, also offers amazing sound design.
MENUS: New Line provides some flashy animated main menus for both discs. Although those are quite nice, what really continues to please me about New Line's menu design is how terrifically easy the studio makes it to navigate through the material. Things like the fact that even the additional seamless branching material for the documentary has its own index makes the DVD experience easier and more enjoyable.
Commentaries: "Blade II" provides 2 excellent full-length audio commentaries. The first commentary is from screenwriter/executive producer David S. Goyer and actor/producer Wesley Snipes. The commentary with Snipes and Goyer is absolutely wonderful, as Snipes - who plays such a serious character - has a surprisingly wicked sense of humor and is occasionally hilarious. Goyer is quite entertaining, as well and sometimes does a nice job playing interviewer. Although a lot of their chat is relaxed and general, the two also manage to add a fine amount of in-depth detail about the production and some of the technical elements.
The second commentary provides the thoughts of Guillermo del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt. This commentary is similar to the other track: Del Toro is frequently witty and hilarious, while Frankfurt often serves as interviewer. Del Toro provides a terrific amount of information about shooting in Prague, some of the technical details and even some funny tidbits, such as how the director bought back some of the props from the first film which were auctioned on Ebay.
What I really loved about both of these commentaries is that they're not simply discussing how great everyone was or talking about what's happening in the film; they're providing genuinely interesting chat about what happened on the set and seemingly having great fun remembering working on the film. Both commentaries are highly recommended listening.
Isolated Score: The first disc includes an isolated score in Dolby Digital 5.1
The Blood Pact: This is the first feature of the Production Workshop, which is the first section on disc two. Ranking along with "Under Pressure" (on the "Abyss" DVD) as one of the most in-depth "making of" documentaries that I've seen, "The Blood Pact" runs no less than 83 1/2 minutes. Director Del Toro, actor Snipes, writer Goyer and many others take part in interviews, most of which are on-set. The documentary also includes a solid amount of on-set footage in Prague, allowing the viewer the chance to watch the crew working out the scenes. The documentary explores all aspects of the film, from the pre-production and story/concept creation to story to action to scoring. New Line even adds to the documentary experience by providing additional footage that viewers can optionally access at different points via seamless branching.
Scene Breakdowns: This section provides a more in-depth look at six sequences from the movie. Viewers are offered the chance to read and compare the shooting script to the final script (with a couple of exceptions where only one or the other is available), look through storyboards and FX planning sheets, watch a featurette that shows the scene being filmed or watch the final sequence as it is in the film. As I commented before, New Line's menu design is excellent and it adds to this area, as all of the elements are presented in a way that allows quick and easy access.
Visual Effects: Synethic Stuntmen: Although I mentioned in the review of the film that there were a few CGI shots during the action sequences that I didn't find entirely seamless, this fascinating documentary does at least take a very interesting look at the how the effects were completed. The visual effects artists are interviewed and discuss their work, but what I liked about the documentary is that much of it actually shows the visual elements being put together as the effects artists talk.
Visual Effects: The Digital Maw: This short featurette looks at how the effects artists added to some of the creature make-up work in the movie.
Progress Reports: Throughout the film's pre-production stage, makeup designer Steve Johnson kept director Del Toro updated of the work that he was doing for the film through videotapes. Although I expected this section to contain a few short clips, it actually offers what must be much of the footage that was videotaped - nearly an hour's worth. Viewers get a chance to watch as the effects artists prepare some of the many large and small physical effects seen in the film.
Notebooks: This section provides a few pages from the director's and script supervisor's notebooks. While the text is near-impossible to read, it's very cool to see some of Del Toro's early pre-production sketches that are included.
Unfilmed Script Pages: Script pages for three scenes that were never filmed.
Art Gallery: This still gallery is split into several sections, including: "Sequence Concepts", "Props and Weapons", "Costume Design", "Set Design", "Character Design" and "Storyboards".
Deleted Scenes: About 25 minutes of deleted scenes are included in this section, all of which can be viewed separately or back-to-back. Optional commentary from director Del Toro and producer Frankfurt is available here too and is actually occasionally quite funny, as Del Toro doesn't always have a very high option of some of the scenes that had to be deleted. The section even includes some very slight bits that were edited out.
Also: Trailer and theatrical trailer (Dolby Digital 5.1); Cypress Hill music video; "Blade II" video game promotion and DVD-ROM features, including script-to-screen viewer.
Final Thoughts: As much as I enjoyed the original "Blade", I felt that the sequel actually managed to slightly surpass the first film in many ways. New Line has produced one of their finest DVD releases so far for this picture - not only does the DVD provide stunning audio/video, but loads of supplements, too. Definitely a must-see DVD release.