Blade (NL - BD)
Chris checks out the Dutch BD release of this gory comic book action feature...
Blade tells the story of a human-vampire hybrid possessed of superhuman strength, reflexes and regenerative capabilities. However, unlike his blood-sucking brethren Blade is immune to the usual devastating effects of sunlight, and together with his mentor, Whistler, he hunts down and kills vampires while trying to fight his ever-increasing blood lust-with the aid of a special serum.
Meanwhile, vampire overlord Deacon Frost is attempting to capture Blade in order to use his blood to awaken La Magra, the vampire god who will spell certain doom for the human race. Caught up in this struggle is Karen Jenson, a haematologist Blade saved from one of Frost’s henchmen. Unfortunately Karen was bitten and must now find a cure for her own vampirism while simultaneously searching for a way to end Blade's dependency on his serum.
I don't think I really need to go into too much plot detail for a twelve year old film that was one of the DVD format's biggest sellers. In fact the region two release was one of the very first reviews I did for the site way back in 2001, and although I'd like to think that I've honed my reviewing skills in the intervening years I don't think there's really anything I can bring to the table with a lengthy review. Blade has always been one of my favourite comic book movies and as such it was a title I was looking to get in hi-def, but until recently I was only aware of the region-locked Canadian Alliance Atlantis release. Luckily I learned of this relatively cheap region-free Blu-ray from Dutch distributor RCV and jumped at the chance to own it.
This Blu-ray release presents Blade at its theatrical widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC). This is one of the major advantages over the Alliance disc, which has a heavily cropped 1.78:1 transfer (way to go Alliance). I was initially wary of buying a disc from an unknown (to me) Dutch distributor, but as soon as the film began all of my misgivings vanished. Now the DVD release of Blade was actually one of the better titles back in the early days of the format, but that was over ten years ago and visually this Blu-ray release is a improvement over the DVD in just about every conceivable way.
The first thing that struck me was the level of detail, which simply blows the standard-definition edition away. The upscaled version of the DVD has a distinct lack of clarity and exhibits a lot of compression artefacts, but here everything is extremely sharp and clean. The opening scenes at the makeshift 'rave' are superbly rendered, allowing you to pick out individual drops of blood, vamps' fangs, and the detailing on Blade's costume and weaponry. Facial textures are also very impressive and contrast is much improved, with scenes that appeared slightly washed out on the DVD looking much better on this release. Colour rendition is also improved, especially the reds, which is important in a vampire movie with so much blood on show. DNR is never an issue, and there's a reassuring layer of grain present throughout. There's what looks like slight edge enhancement to be found, along with some moderate posterisation, but aside from that the transfer is largely artefact-free. All things considered this is a very pleasing effort that came as something of a surprise.
The disc features a solitary DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track that ticks all the right boxes. There’s plenty of directionality, with some impressive ambient effects and a great soundtrack. Perhaps the best example of all of these elements working in unison is during the opening 'blood rave', with crowds of screaming revellers and showers of blood filling the soundstage to the thumping tune of New Order's 'Confusion'. Things get even better when Blade makes his entrance and starts slicing and dicing vamps, as gunfire ricochets off of walls and blood-suckers cry out in pain. There’s also a really neat three-hundred-and-sixty degree effect when he uses his 'glaive' weapon to decapitate a group of henchmen.
The track continues to impress as the film progresses, with some wonderfully subtle touches like the fluttering of paper across dark alleys and cargo trains screeching over rusty old tracks. The aforementioned ‘Confusion’ isn’t the only example of pounding bass either, as pretty much every action scene beats the subwoofer into submission. Mark Isham’s score is another highlight, providing a moody foundation for the rest of the elements to build upon. It perhaps lacks the refinement of a modern soundtrack, but for sheer balls-to-the-wall goodness you’d be hard-pressed to find a better effort. Hey, if anything it’s worth it for the chance to hear Bang Wa Cherry’s ‘Chin Chin’ in Master Audio!
It's also worth mentioning that the disc includes removable Dutch subtitles that are activated by default, so native English speakers will have to remember to turn them off when the film starts. Thankfully the English subtitles for the vampire language are burned-in, rather than player-generated.
Well this won't take long. The disc is practically a bare-bones affair, aside from a few standard definition trailers before the film starts. The quality of the trailers is very poor, but at least you can skip them. I guess the lack of extras could be a problem for those of you who have the time to wade through such things, but I'm finding myself increasingly unconcerned with bonus material on DVD and Blu-ray so I wasn't all that bothered.
Blade is an enjoyable comic book romp from a time when Wesley Snipes still had a career, and this BD release is a satisfying and worthy upgrade over the now-ancient DVD incarnations. Sure it's a little light on bonus material, but if you're just after an audio-visual upgrade you will not be disappointed. Phew, I got all the way through that without using the Paul Ross-esque 'fang-tastic' pun. Oh...
* 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
Release Date: 15th August 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Stephen Norrington
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N'Bushe Wright, Donal Logue
Genre: Action and Horror
Length: 120 minutes
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