Vampires! Swords! Guns! Blade promises action and delivers it with gusto.
Vampires had been enjoying something of a renaissance a few years back, with the relative success of Interview With A Vampire and Dracula : Dead And Loving It. Well, not the last one actually. Based on a Marvel comic created by Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan, Blade tells the story of a modern day vampire hunter, half man, half immortal. Blade is known by the vampires as Daywalker, and has all of their strengths, and none of their weaknesses.
The film opens with some gimpish fool being dragged to a party in an abattoir, and understandably gets ditched by his date quickly. He's having no luck with the rest of the ladies present, and as he thinks can't possibly get worse, blood pours from the sprinkler system. Lots of blood. Copious quantities of the old claret. The reason for this being, of course, the place is full of vampires. Kids, always be aware of the dangers of underground rave culture and vampirism. It can be deleterious to your health. He does a good job of panicking, but before he can be put on the menu he is saved by the appearance of Blade, and his ninja-skills sword & shotgun techniques. Blade, played with a perfect blend of take-no-nonsense bad-assed-ness by Wesley Snipes, gets to the killing as most of the more sensible vamps make for the exit. The few who choose to fight barely have time to regret the decision as Blade shows us how to quickly and efficiently remove problem vampires from a location. Director Stephen Norrington shows real flair with the cinematography, throwing the camera around while keeping Blade at the centre of the action at all times, showing off the atmospheric lighting by director of photography Theo Van De Sande. It adds immensely to the already kinetic physical performance from Snipes, and with the soundtrack chosen & composed by Mark Isham pounding away in the background it make for one of the most exciting and tone-setting openings in movie history. This short scene shows off most of Blade's skills and weapons that will be relied on throughout the rest of the film, such as his guns, stakes, swords, chop-sockey and his groovy shuriken-boomerang type thing, which may well have a proper name which escapes me. Answers on a postcard. This ass kicking ends with Blade skewering one of the lieutenant vampires, Quinn (Donal Logue) to a wall with two stakes and setting him on fire.
The charred cadaver is brought to a hospital where haematologist Karen Jenson (N'Bushe Wright) is working the samples from the DOA seem a little odd. More odd is the way the charred body rises from the examination table to snack on a poor pathologist. Karen is bitten, but before she's finished Blade appears to finish Quinn off. Unfortunately, the hospital rent-a-cops provide the necessary distraction for Quinn to escape. Blade takes off with Karen back to his hideout to see Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), who firstly berates Blade for not killing this prospective vampire, and then injects the poor Doc with garlic to head of the vampire infection. Kristofferson wouldn't have initially sprung to mind for me in this role of gruff, world-weary mentor but after seeing him play it for even a second it's difficult to imagine it being anyone else.
Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) was the organiser of the gatecrashed party, and is being given a dressing down by the assembled heads of the vampire nation. He's not really in favour of the current policy of integration, feeling quite reasonably that you shouldn't be making treaties with your food. He leaves with a new-found sense of disdain for his superiors. If there's a weak spot in the casting of the film it's Dorff. It's not obvious here, as he can convey the proper feelings of menace in the spoken parts of his role, but later on it's difficult to believe that the comparatively weedy Frost could pose any physical threat to the ass-kicking machine that is Blade.
Blade pops into the local vampire hunter's equivalent of a supermarket to pick up more serum. Blade does share one weakness with the vampires - a need for blood. He injects a serum to counter this, but he's building up a resistance to this. Whistler reckons Karen could help find a cure or a better solution to Blade's plight. Blade seems to be in favour of her leaving town for her own protection. Blade gives her a lift back to the city in the Blademobile.
Frost is waylaid by the head of the council in the vampire archives, where Frost is trying to translate the ancient texts with the aid of one of those unnecessarily complex Heath Robinson computer programs that have lots of symbols flying around matching up with other bits and bobs. Pretty, but pretty unnecessary.
Karen returns to her apartment, now understandably paranoid about the presence of vampires. She starts packing, as Officer Kreiger shows up. Unfortunately he's one of Frost's familiars and tries to kill her, but Blade's not about to let that happen. He eventually manages to scarper, but Blade tails him in his car with some unnecessary time lapsed, speeded up photography to yet another vampire night-spot. Blade and Karen storm their way into the underground archives and do a spot of investigating.
Frost's having another party, but he's not taking part in the festivities. He's sat in front of a laptop again running the unnecessarily complex translation program, which completes and shows him a nice schematic of something or other. It pleases him. He instructs the now largely healed Quinn to bring in Blade - alive.
Back in the archives, Blade has a chat with Pearl, the record keeper. He gets some information about this mysterious computer translation from him under duress, something about a plan to awaken the Blood God. He goes over for a look in a room containing the scrolls of the vampire bible, encased in glass. You may be thinking this would be an impressive location for a fight. As if by magic, Quinn and a small vampire task force appear, surprising Blade. He fights valiantly but is overpowered through force of numbers. Things look a little bleak for Blade, but Whistler makes the save with gusto, and more importantly with a very large gun. After another brief fight Whistler escapes down into the sewers and Blade and Karen escape on a subway train. They all congregate at Blade's base, we get a little bit of exposition of the genesis of Blade and their motivation for hunting down vampires.
Frost and his goons decide enough is enough and stage a coup de tat in the vampire organisation, killing the current head of the group and 'volunteering' the rest for Project Blood God. Frost realises we haven't had the good guy / bad guy 'We're not so different, you and I' speech, so they meet in the park for a chat. It proves to be little more than a distraction for the rest of Team Vampire to attack Blade's hideout, capture Karen and destroy Whistler. Blade arrives back in time to hear Whistler spill the beans on Frost's plan to trigger some kind of vampire apocalypse using his blood. Whistler asks for Blades gun to off himself before vampirism takes hold. The emotional scene of his 'death' is nullified somewhat by the knowledge he's brought back for Blade 2.
Frost reveals to Karen exactly what the blood god is going to do - turn everyone on the planet into vampires. I'm not one to question this plan, but what exactly would the vampires eat if everyone were a vampire? Frost would seem to be a closet cannibal. Blade attacks in his usual style, but is distracted by his mother, of all people. Blade had assumed her dead, but she's now a vampire, and hence evil. While he's reeling from this particular bombshell he gets captured.
Blade and Karen are taken to the Temple of Eternal Night along with the rest of the heads of the vampire family. Blade and the rest of the vampires are moved into position, while Karen is thrown into a Bond-esque easily escapable situation. At least, easily escapable once she's beaten up a zombie. Blade is popped into a custom built bleeding chamber. Interestingly, the original plan for the final battle was for Frost to turn into the Blood God, a huge CGI monstrosity. It didn't sit well with test audiences who wanted to see Dorff get his ass kicked by Snipes, not some half-baked over the top monster. The unfinished scene is on the special edition DVD, for those who are interested. Karen busts Blade out of the chamber and allows Blade to take some of her blood to heal himself, stopping just as the blood drips onto Frost. The resultant effect is somewhat Harryhausen, but I suppose flying skeletons are difficult to pull off convincingly.
Before we get to the main event of Blood God vs. Blade, we must first have another goon disposal session. The important things during this fight are that Blade regains his sword and vitally, his shades. Again, it's impressively done, as all the action sequences are. Blade seems to have met his match against the super powered, ultra speedy, just plain refusin' to die Blood God, but of course he ends up winning. He's got a sequel to be in, dontcha know.
Before The Matrix pretty much redefined how action movies are made, Blade was perhaps the most stylish and well done brainless action flick. Indeed for early DVD adopters it was the DVD to have to show off the format's capabilities, and with good reason. It still looks great today, despite a few ropey effects, which I'm fairly sure are only noticeable because they were done more professionally in the higher budget sequel. It's only this minor niggle, and my (very) slight reservations about the casting of Dorff that edge Blade out of top mark territory. Sure, the plot won't be remembered as the greatest in history, in fact you'll be luck to remember it ten minutes after ejecting the disk, but that never seems to matter in this context. At the risk of sounding like I'm writing for The Sun, Blade is a high-octane-thrill-a-minute-rollercoaster ride of a film.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
DVD Notes:-Two flavours - an extra free edition and a stuffed to the gunnels special edition, I believe only available in Region One form. A great commentary track from the director, producer, stars, production designer, writer and director of photography. An isolated score, with optional commentary form composer Mark Isham. Also contains some featurettes which break the mould by being interesting, including an interview with the creators of Blade and comic legend Stan Lee, as well as the usual deleted scenes, background information, filmographies and trailers. Top notch stuff, and gratifyingly not stuffed on a second disc just for the sake of it as a great many other special editions are.
Stephen Dorff (Deacon Frost)
Kris Kristofferson (Whistler)
N'Bushe Wright (Karen)