Blade II (UK - BD RB)
Chris Gould takes a look at Guillermo del Toro's crack at the Blade franchise
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 of the vampire elite. Once rescued, and after a miraculously short period of convalescence in which he is cured of vampirism, Whistler re-joins 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.
I’ve previously reviewed the Dutch RCV release of Blade II, so that will be used as a reference point when assessing what’s on offer here. Like the Dutch disc the film is presented close to its theatrical widescreen ratio at 1.78:1 (1080/24p AVC), but there are a number of subtle differences. At first glance the image appears much softer than the Dutch release, with a corresponding reduction in detail, but appearances can be deceiving. What looks like additional detail in the Dutch image is simply the result of artificial sharpening, which really brings out the grain and makes the image look quite harsh. This grain here is more natural and detail is actually of a similar level, although I can't rule out the minimal application of DNR. Another major boon in the superior compression; it really is much better than the Dutch disc, which suffered from some quite noticeable artefacts. The source also looks to have been in better all-round shape, with fewer and less distracting film artefacts.
There are also subtle differences in the palette and an overall reduction in the brightness of the image, the latter of which actually goes too far in my opinion. Black crush is evident in a number of scenes that look perfectly normal in the Dutch offering. Even so the positives easily outweigh the negatives here, and this is an altogether more natural looking presentation of the film. I'm sure some people will take one look at it and decide that it doesn't hold up to the very best the format has to offer, but Blade II was never the most beautiful film to begin with. This is an accurate representation of the original material, which is all you can really ask of any Blu-ray.
Curiously, the disc includes not one, but two DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. Accompanying the standard 5.1 track is a 7.1 effort for those with the hardware to take advantage of the additional channels. I'm still on 5.1 at home so I went with that track, but I did switch between the two at various points for comparison purposes (more on that in a bit).
While I might have some minor reservations about the visual quality of this release, the same cannot be said for the audio. The film 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 around the soundstage. A tremendous amount of bass reinforces every bone-crunching punch, kick and gunshot, but 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 a particular 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. If I were to be extremely picky I would say that transitions between the various speakers aren't as smooth as the very best releases, and the dynamics aren’t quite perfect, but as far as balls-to-the-wall tracks go this is pretty damn good.
The 7.1 mix is a slightly different kettle of fish. It’s generally similar save for a lower overall volume, but bass is rather lacking (even when volume matched) and dialogue isn’t as clear. This could be because I was listening on a 5.1 setup, but technically that shouldn't make any difference.
This is where the UK release really scores points over the bare-bones Dutch disc. If memory serves, most of the content from the comprehensive DVD set is replicated here (bar the isolated score), which makes for a veritable feast of extras. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s on offer:
- Audio Commentaries: There are three commentary tracks: one from director Guillermo del Toro, another with del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt, and one with Wesley Snipes and writer David Goyer
- 'Director's Notebook': This virtual book includes hand drawn artwork and notes, accompanied by video segments from the director
- 'Blood Brothers': This is a retrospective featurette in which David Goyer talks about the genesis of the film and how del Toro came to be involved
- ‘The Blood Pact’: A thoroughly entertaining documentary that runs for over eighty minutes and features extensive behind the scenes footage and interviews with the creative talent and stars
- ‘Comic Book Origins’: This is a self-explanatory featurette that explores the beginnings of the Blade character
- ‘The Vampire Mystique’: This faturette discusses the historical and social evolution of vampire legends around the world
- ‘Damaskinos Blood Bath’: A extended look at the filming of a specific scene featuring the ancient vampire, including some dialogue excised from the final film
- ‘Alternate Sunrise Music’: Alternate score for a single scene
- ‘Percussion Instruments’: An odd still gallery that describes various musical instruments
- ‘Sequence Breakdowns’: A look a number of scenes in various stages of development, from original script, to shooting script and storyboards etc.
- ‘Visual Effects’: A look at some of the VFX sequences, including the dodgy CGI stuntmen
- ‘Script Supervisor's Notebook’: Similar to the Director's Notebook, but this time focussing on Lori Wyant
- ‘Unfilmed Script Pages’: A selection of scenes that were cut before principal photography began
- ‘Art Gallery’: A number of still galleries
- ’Storyboards’: You guessed it, a selection of storyboards
- ‘Deleted & Alternate Scenes’: Sixteen excised scenes are present, each with optional commentary from del Toro
- ‘Cyprus Hill and Roni Size Child of the Wild West Music Video’: Pretty much what the title says
- Trailers: The teaser and theatrical trailers are included
I still prefer the original Blade to this film, but del Toro crafted an enjoyable sequel with plenty of memorable set-pieces. Visually the movie is fairly gritty, so the Blu-ray was never going to look as good as the trilogy's other instalments, but it's still a satisfying reproduction of the original intent. The fact that it's a tighter encode than the Dutch disc is just the icing on the cake. On the other hand the audio is top notch throughout, and the bonus material is actually pretty great by Blu-ray standards (even if much of it is recycled from the DVD and Wesley Snipes is conspicuous by his absence). I'll avoid the terrible vampire puns and simply say that this is a great release that should leave Blade fans more than satisfied.
* Note: The images below 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
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 10th September 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Documentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Video, Trailers, Still Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Luke Goss, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Norman Reedus, Leonor Varela
Length: 117 minutes
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