Blade II (NL - BD)
Chris also got his hands on the sequel to the popular comic book vamp movie
Set two years after the events of the first movie, Blade II opens with our intrepid human-vampire hybrid hunting his old mentor, Whistler. It seems that Whistler didn’t die in the last movie after all, but 'turned' and was kept alive in stasis to be periodically taken out and tortured for amusement. Once rescued, and after a miraculously short period of convalescence in which he is cured of vampirism, Whistler rejoins Blade and his new partner, 'Scud', another mechanical and weapons genius.
Meanwhile in the vampire underworld, things do not go well. A new breed of vampires, dubbed the Reapers, has appeared, led by the mysterious Jarred Nomak (a reborn Luke Goss). The Reapers are as different to vampires as vampires are to humans, and indiscriminately feed on both forms of life. Fearing for their position at the top of the food chain, Damaskinos, the head of the Vampire Nation, sends his elite vampire fighting force, the Bloodpack, to meet with Blade and convince him to join the fight against the Reapers.
Recognising the threat that the Reapers pose to humanity, Blade reluctantly enters into an uneasy alliance with the Bloodpack, and soon the group are heading into the heart of the vampire underground to hunt the foul creatures. Unfortunately the Bloodpack underestimates the strength of the Reapers, who are immune to most of the conventional methods of dispatching vampires, and their team is decimated. Blade and the remaining Bloodpack members must work together to discover the Reapers' origins, but what they uncover is more startling than they could ever have imagined...
As with the previous film I'm going to keep my comments brief, because Blade II is a relatively old and familiar movie. I'm sure most people will be aware that the film was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who at the time had yet to become the hot property that he is today. However, his talent was clear to see back in 2002 when he took what could have been a very trashy sequel and crafted something hugely entertaining. It's not quite as thoughtful as Norrington's Blade, but it's extremely stylish and ramps up the action to hitherto unforeseen levels. Like the original this RCV BD is region free, which could make it an attractive alternative to the Canadian Alliance Atlantis disc.
Presented close to its theatrical widescreen ratio at 1.78:1 (1080/24p VC-1), the quality of Blade II’s video doesn't quite match that of its predecessor. While it is most certainly an upgrade over the standard definition DVD release I did notice a couple of problems with this Blu-ray, possibly due to the relatively low bitrate VC-1 encode. (I'm led to believe that VC-1 needs a lot more room to breathe than AVC to achieve comparable results, but any video encoding gurus feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). In any event, when capturing the images for this review I spotted instances of what appeared to be macroblocking, usually manifesting in the darker areas of the screen. Now the macroblocking wasn't really obvious when viewing the film in motion on my HDTV, but I have a feeling those with projection screens could have a different experience so I thought it prudent to mention it. There are also numerous film artefacts littering the print, including at least one distractingly large example on the left side of the frame early on.
Now I know I started with the negatives, but it's not all bad. Blade II easily packs more visual information than the impressive (for the time) DVD release, which is evident in everything from facial textures to clothing and scenery. While screen shots are often a good indicator of visual quality, they aren’t the be-all and end-all, and Blade II looks more impressive in motion than it does in the static shots on this page. This is probably because the grain is less obvious when you’re actually watching the film, but it is there and thankfully it’s pretty healthy for the most part (unlike the upscaled DVD, where it’s sadly lacking). Colour rendition is also just that little bit better than the standard-definition version, with flesh tones in particular benefiting from the hi-def makeover due to the absence of the red push that afflicted the DVD. Blacks are still a little muddy and inconsistent, but this would appear to have more to do with the manner in which the film was photographed than anything else, and as such I can't really hold it against the Blu-ray. There doesn't appear to be any real edge enhancement either, which is a nice surprise.
Of course one of the pitfalls of enhanced resolution and clarity is that dodgy CGI looks even dodgier, and Blade II has some very dodgy digital effects. I'm sure most of you will know which scenes I'm referring to, as del Toro himself has made his displeasure known on numerous occasions. Think digital doubles in tight black outfits. I've no idea if the Canadian disc is any better than this release in the visuals department, but I wouldn't be hugely surprised if they came from the same source. At any rate it's a pretty film-like transfer that offers a decent bump in quality, even if the upgrade isn't as obvious as with the original Blade.
As with Blade we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as the sole offering on this disc. While I might have some minor reservations about the visual quality of this release, the same cannot be said for the audio. Like its predecessor, Blade II opens with a fantastic action sequence that really allows the track to flex its muscles. There's an incredible amount of directionality in the opening scenes as, as motorcycles, bullets and Blade's trusty old 'glaive' fly all over the place. One incredibly neat effect occurs when Blade decapitates a vamp and a shower of sparks shoots from the front to the rear of the soundstage, and a tremendous amount of bass reinforces every bone-crunching punch, kick and howitzer-like blast from Blade's gun (even more so than the previous film). There's also plenty of subtlety to be found, from warehouses filled with dripping pipes and hissing steam, to the city streets at night and the eerie sound of the sewers. Things continue in this vein throughout the duration of the film, with the subterranean battle against the Reapers serving as the highlight.
Marco Beltrami's score is understated and creepy, while the soundtrack features a plethora of dance music and hip-hop collaborations, with some of the best music (courtesy of Brian Transau) playing during the House of Pain scene. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the whole thing is very reminiscent of the opening scenes from the original movie, right down to the banging techno ('Blood is Pumping' by Voodoo & Serrano features some serious bass) and strobe lights. Blade himself even acknowledges this fact with a nice throwaway line! Music played a big part in the original Blade, and in my opinion the sequel matches it blow for blow. This track really is a corker.
As with the original, Blade II has removable Dutch subtitles that must be deactivated when the film starts if not required. Once again all of the vampire language and scene captions feature burned-in English language subtitles, which is a big plus.
Nothing to see here, again. All this disc offers is a series of relatively low-quality trailers for other RCV titles like Drag Me to Hell and The Transporter 3. Don't worry, you can skip them (and you will). As I said in my last review, I'm not particularly bothered by the absence of extras, but I can understand that it might be a problem for some people (especially because the DVD release is packed with extra goodies).
On balance I think I prefer the original Blade to this sequel, but del Toro still managed to create a hugely entertaining movie that really should have been the end of the franchise (let's face it, Goyer should stick to writing). Visually the film isn't as 'shiny' as its predecessor, so it would be unfair to criticise it on an artistic level, but the presence of artefacts is slightly disappointing. Even so, they don't immediately jump out and slap you across the face and the disc is still a clear step up from the DVD visually. Audio, on the other hand, is top notch throughout, and almost worth the price of the disc alone. Whether you're a massive fan or are looking to make your first Blade II purchase, it would appear that this is the version to own.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
For persons aged 16 years and over
Release Date: 4th November 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Luke Goss, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Norman Reedus, Leonor Varela
Genre: Action and Horror
Length: 117 minutes
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