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New Line Home Cinema presents
"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."
DVD ReviewThere is nothing better than a well made action film that effectively allows both the atmosphere and characters to simply beam off the screen and into your imagination. Watching a film so full of energy feels like an out of body experience, if only for a short while. These instances are few and far between, and I often find them in action and suspense pictures done so perfectly that time seems to stand still, allowing for the wonderment of the film to simply suck you in and let you go only once the credits roll. Guillermo Del Toro's Blade II is such a film.
Picking up shortly after the events that transpired in the original 1998 smash, Blade II finds the titular hero in a new location with new adversaries, new gadgets, and most importantly a new director. Guillermo Del Toro steps behind the camera for the second in what looks to be a long string of feature films featuring the Marvel comic book hero Blade, a half man, half vampire who retains the strengths of the blood suckers but none of their weaknesses. What Del Toro does best is that he wisely sees the atmosphere needed to make an effective thriller and in doing so, creates a film that works just as well in a franchise as it would on its own merits.
The sequel finds Blade (Snipes) in Prague where he is searching for his lost partner Whistler (Kristofferson), who was captured at the finale of the first film and is likely either dead or well on his way to becoming one of the undead. While rescuing Whistler, Blade and his new partner Scud (Reedus) receive a visit from Nyssa (Varela) and another vampire, who come to Blade with a plea. It seems that those under the rule of Damaskinos (Kretschmann) are soon to be an endangered species, thanks to the creation of a new form of vampires called the Reapers, an evil group that terrorize both the human and vampire colonies. If the Reapers win, both races will be wiped out in only a short amount of time. Soon Blade joins forces with the vampires to rid Prague of the Reapers, all the while keeping an alert eye on his new comrades.
Blade II is a stunningly effective example of employing style over substance into a mix where, for once, it works. Del Toro's ability to create sequences that are effectively creepy, as well as brilliantly designed sets that are as equally gothic and haunting as the subject matter, help to make Blade II perhaps the most atmospheric horror film in recent memory. The script by writer David S. Goyer does not fare as well as the visuals; the plot seems but a loose companion. Goyer does craft elaborate action sequences that keep viewers on the edge of their seats up until the admittedly mind-boggling, but abundantly entertaining, finale.
Del Toro also does a fine job in the action sequences, as the director who made subways creepier than they already are in Mimic and orphanages frightening in The Devil's Backbone, effectively creating haunting sets out of rather normal locations. A duel between Blade and a Reaper in a rundown building as well as a terrifically tense search through the sewers of Prague are meticulously crafted in their setup. I enjoyed Blade II as much as I have any film in recently and I believe it is in large part to Del Toro's work. He has a way of moving the camera and relying on old-fashioned methods rather than computer generated effects to provide truly frightening moments. While Blade II has impressive visual effects, the most breathtaking aspect of the film is Del Toro's vision.
Wesley Snipes once again takes on the role of Blade and in his second turn he seems to be more comfortable with the character. Having set up what exactly makes Blade tick in the first film, this sequel allows Snipes to simply be a dominant force to be reckoned with—something he does very well. With a cool swagger, Snipes embodies Blade as a sort of Shaft-like figure (without the women) as he walks from battle to battle with very little fear and tons of charisma. Where the first film had a deliciously over-the-top performance by Stephen Dorff, Blade II is lacking a strong villain; its chief villain is rather mundane. Supporting performances by Ron Pearlman (who starred in Del Toro's similar vampire-themed Cronos) and Kris Kristofferson are also worthy of mention.
Those who enjoyed the first Blade film will undoubtedly enjoy this sequel, and even those who did not may still find this worthy of their time. It is that rare delight of a film that greatly improves upon its predecessor in nearly every aspect.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Blade II is not a terribly vibrant film in terms of the color palette, which makes it all the more remarkable that the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer literally jumps off the screen in terms of quality. This is simply the best transfer I have seen in some time, a high mark considering the number of discs I spin up in a given week. The dim amber and yellow sets look crisp and amazingly detailed, which is a refreshing plus. Sharpness and detail are great, giving the image a very film-like look that rivals the print I saw during its theatrical run. The source used is free of flaws, while black levels are perfect and edge enhancement is nonexistent.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: On par with the video portion of the disc are two amazing audio tracks in both Dolby Digital 5.1EX and DTS 6.1ES. Being able to take advantage of the added rear speaker, I listened first to the DTS track; it instantly grabs for the throat and never releases its grip. Watching the film in a darkened room, I found myself even more immersed, thanks to the high quality sound design. The mix is never flashy in the way it is constructed, relying more on the ambient effects rather than the split surround speakers. The surrounds do come into play on more than one occasion, especially during the action sequences, the best of which being in chapter sixteen. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout while the .1 LFE channel provides tight, crisp bass that supplements the already active five channels.
I noticed no discernable difference between the two mixes aside from the increased presence of bass in the DTS mix, which seemed tighter and more dominant.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
16 Deleted Scenes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Guillermo Del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt, writer David Goyer and actor Wesley Snipes
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
A commentary track by director Guillermo Del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt, as well as a second with writer David S. Goyer and actor Wesley Snipes lead off the lion's share of extra features on the first disc. The track by Del Toro and Frankfurt is easily my favorite of the pair as the two joke about the finished product and tell entertaining stories from production, including sequences that were made up on set as well as the inspiration for several scenes in the film. From Singin' in the Rain to Japanese animation, Del Toro explains the origin of many sequences while also pointing out two effects shots that he "f***ing hates". A lively track to be sure. The Goyer/Snipes track fares a little worse but it is still an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. They speak largely about the transition from the first to the second film, as well as locations and their admiration for the work of Del Toro. Snipes does go on a bit about scenes that he had hoped would work better in the context of the picture, which is interesting given that he was a producer on the film.
As an added treat the score for the film is presented in glorious Dolby Digital 5.1.
The Production Workshop houses a large portion of the material on the second disc and, my, is it full of material. The first, and most significant, is The Blood Pact, an hour and twenty minute look at the making of the film. Every aspect of the production is covered here including Del Toro's preparation, as well as the visual effects, creature design, costumes and fight choreography. The most interesting aspects are those dealing with the creation of the look of the film and specifically the Reapers, including some very strange tests done for the makeup department to get the villains just right. The documentary also features a branching option that allows the viewer to go directly to another related supplement on the disc. This occurs five times throughout the length of the documentary and is accessible via a vampire icon on the lower righthand side of the screen. This is a terrific documentary that is as in-depth as they come.
This section also includes a series of scenes broken down into various aspects of production in which six key sequences are given the royal treatment. The feature allows the viewer to go from the mind of the screenwriter through the story board process and ultimately to special effects tests and the finished product. All of the scenes shown feature a look behind the shooting of the sequence and each offers trivia at the bottom of the screen. It is amazing to see a scene take shape and this feature shows the hard work that goes into making it happen.
Two visual effects selections are offered and include an abundance of videotaped footage shot as the special effects were being planned. The Digital Maw and Synthetic Stuntmen are the two main featurettes in this section, but further examination will lead you to a page that has nine chapter stops to the various sections of the above mentioned footage.
Finally, the Production Workshop finishes with a trio of interesting features. Notebooks, unfilmed script pages, and an art gallery are filled with useful information for fans of the film. The notebooks are a look at the thoughts and suggestions of both Del Toro and his script supervisor that were written down throughout production. The unfilmed script pages offer some interesting, unused ideas, though each sequence seems right to have been left out. Finally, the art gallery features everything from early concept art to storyboards and much much more.
A collection of sixteen deleted scenes are available with both a video introduction by Del Toro as well as optional commentary by the director and producer Peter Frankfurt. Each scene seems valid in its deletion, though there are a few that may well have worked in the film. It is fun to hear Del Toro and Frankfurt discuss their general dislike for some of the scenes, especially since Guillermo calls them "crap" during his introduction.
Finally—whew!—a selection of promotional material is the last and leanest section. The theatrical and teaser trailer are offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and anamorphic video. The theatrical press kit includes production notes as well as cast and crew bios. The special features are closed out with a survival guide for the Blade II video game as well as a music video for the Cypress Hill song Child of the Wild West.
The DVD-ROM portion of the disc includes a script-to-screen feature that is familiar to nearly anyone with a DVD-ROM, as well as the official Blade II website.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsWith a two disc set that is every bit the equal of any disc released so far this year, Blade II is as easy a recommendation as I have ever had to make. The video and audio are simply icing on the cake when you consider the amazing wealth of extra material included. This is a fun film that warrants a purchase. Highly recommended.
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