Blade Trilogy (1999 – 2004)
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson
When I first read about “Blade” and saw the trailer in 1998, I dismissed the film as another stock action vehicle for Wesley Snipes – anyone remember “Passenger 57”, “Money Train”? And so when the opening weekend box office numbers came back at number one I was shocked. The film went on to make a respectable $65 million domestically. I still resisted seeing the film until it was released on ahem… VHS.And then having seen the film, I was thoroughly impressed. The opening scene sets the tone of the series perfectly. A typical rave – a late night crowd of youthful dancers pack the basement of an urban nightclub. When the music reaches its peak the overhead sprinklers turn on, raining down buckets of blood. All the ravers then turn on one hapless soul who discovers they are all raveonous vampires. Before he’s sucked dry, Wesley Snipes, dressed in black leather, with an artistically patterned hairstyle, a cape, and a badass sword emerges and wipes out all the vampires with impressive skill. Cool.
That’s a fabulous start to a series that would spawn two sequels and kickstart the careers of three emerging directors. The first was Stephen Norrington, who establishes the look and tone of the franchise. He shoots the film with glorious anamorphic lenses and gritty florescent lights. The soft glow shines nicely against Blade's black leather and slick black sunglasses. Remember this was a year before “The Matrix”, which must have been watched by the Wachowskis before making their films. Norrington, who came from a special makeup effects background, showed a remarkably confident grasp with action, set a high bar and delivered a fantastic film.
When time came for the sequel the producers grabbed Guillermo Del Toro, the Mexican genre director who burst onto the scene with his uniquely creative monster film “Cronos” in 1992. His American debut “Mimic” failed and it took a smaller though critically successful Spanish/Mexican film “The Devil’s Backbone” to give the producers confidence he could make a successful sequel. “Blade 2” took some liberties with the first film by arbitrarily inventing an excuse to bring back Whistler from the dead and disposing of the Karen Jensen character from the first film. Instead Blade finds himself in Europe searching for Whistler with a new weapons expert played by Norman Reedus. The Vampire politics are complicated with the introduction of a new species of vampires called Reapers who target both vampires and humans for blood. Blade teams up with his own enemy, the vampire Bloodpack to hunt and kill the Reapers. Del Toro cast some major ass-kickers as his Bloodpack, including Hong Kong choreographer Donny Yen and the smirking giant Ron Perlman.
Del Toro’s sense of gothic design oozes through the material. Most of the film takes place underground in a sort of Russian vampire catacombs. The design of the Reapers’ mouths is a cool hybrid of “Predator” and “Alien”. Clever makeup and CG effects create a horrific new addition to the vampire genre. Del Toro is equally adept with the action as Norrington and Snipes is still as badass as in part I.
The success of “Blade 2” allowed Del Toro to make his passion project “Hellboy” – Coincidentally Mike Mignola, the creator of the “Hellboy” comic was an artist on “Blade 2”. With Del Toro off to bigger and better things it was natural that the sole screenwriter from both films David Goyer step forth and direct the final episode. In addition to “Blade” Goyer was a hot property having co-written the as-then-unreleased “Batman Begins” – arguably the best comic book film to date. Goyer added hot buff actors Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel to the mix as human vampire hunters. Goyer succeeds in keeping the tone and style of the storytelling the same, but as a director the film was a few notches down in skill level. The pacing was off, in fact speeding along at a pace too fast for the rest of the series. On a technical level the shot selection and editing of the action scenes were clunky and rough. The stunt casting of Triple H was undignifying and Eric Bogosian, Parkey Posey and Natasha Lyonne seemed to be acting in a different movie altogether. In the end “Blade Trinity” was the least successful film of the three.
The “Blade” trilogy succeeds because of its action, plain and simple and at best was a showcase for young filmmakers to exercise some stylish muscle. So what ever happened to the “Blade” alumni? Stephen Norrington went on to direct an adaptation of Alan Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. Though the film was a famous flop I actually enjoyed the film as a wild and fun comic fantasy. Unfortunately Norrington hasn’t directed a feature since. Guillermo Del Toro directed the acclaimed and successful “Hellboy” and then his ‘critically-respectable’ masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth”. And “Hellboy 2” is in production. David S. Goyer directed the moderately successful thriller “The Invisible” in addition to writing more high-profile action films, namely Doug Liman’s “Jumper”, “The Flash” and “Magneto”.
The “Blade Trilogy” is now available in one set from Alliance Films and New Line Cinema. The set doesn’t add anything extra other than the already-stacked special features of the individual movies. It’s a solid pick up for your comic book film DVD collection. Enjoy.
The Blade Trilogy (Blade/ Blade II/ Blade: Trinity)