Sunshine, Lollipops, and Vampires
Blade is an intellectual and observant splatter film. Grisly, yes, but an utterly compelling race allegory.
The villain here is Frost (Stephen Dorff), an anxious, rich 20-something vampire spawned of white privilege. He is dissatisfied, lusting for power, but spoiled. Frost has a living room swimming pool. It spills over and below the high rise apartment. The space is neat, reflective, and clean. The materials are expensive; the room exudes prosperity. This is a character greedy for power. His worry is control.
Blade dwells in a ghetto, the type where discarded newspapers scatter in the wind. Production design slathers Blade’s domain in the makeshift — parts to machines are everywhere, cluttered. It’s an abandoned warehouse and there is little wonder why. He sells luxury (scavenged from his bloodsucking victims) to a pawn shop in order to survive. This is his goal: survival rather than materialism.
Blade is the expressive opposition to all of the vampiric fluff
Blade is the expressive opposition to all of the vampiric fluff
Between the martial arts eccentricities, cut with the wily flash (albeit speedier) of vintage Shaw Brothers productions, the film is insistent upon dividing lines of color. Vampires, it is stated, are a “superior race” and of pure blood. Blade is considered a half breed, a further minority.
“There’s a war going on out there,” audiences are told. Blade is sure of its depiction. Wesley Snipes is assaulted by police with immediacy, fired on with minimal provocation. He’s forced to be elusive. Society won’t accept him — Blade is different, and the affluent white vampires want Blade for blood. Tied together, such symbolism is almost egregious and would be were the movie not so raucous.
There too is much direct talk of race in Blade, a never subtle film. Comics are often brilliant in this way. Few see them for what they are, least of all Blade with its noxious exploding heads, searing flesh, and flying skeleton angels. This is an aggressive and loud film — most of the ‘90s were. Bass is persistently thumping and Blade himself exudes cool. His sunglasses are critical. This film came from no other decade.
Hacking, slashing, disintegrating. Vamps are dismantled with flair, beaten by their close-minded limited worldview brought on by ludicrous opulence. Blade’s sword doesn’t kill them. The effects of the income gap will. They believe they’re invincible because money blanketed them in feelings of false superiority.
Comparable vampire films have little counter to their lavishness. Bela Lugosi stayed among the walls of Dracula’s (1930) towering Gothic castle, cobwebs and darkened rooms an unusually decrepit scenario if still representative of a fortune. Even something as eye-rolling and mundane as Twilight is a situation within an upper class high school — the Cullen family matriarch is a doctor, the problems that of a white teen girl.
Blade is the expressive opposition to all of the vampiric fluff. Angry. Fierce. Ferocious even. There’s enough reason to be livid. Blade is entirely responsive. It is sympathetic, engaged to the black perspective and it remains so over decades out. In reality, it shouldn’t be. Things should be quieter. Blade feels like the voice of someone screaming but unheard. Maybe it’s not so much loud as it is desperate to be understood.
Warner’s HDR pass spares little. Blade thrives on deep, dense black levels and superior highlights. Both shadows and contrast hit their absolute limits, a challenge for any display on both ends. Peak brightness gives Blade an intensity, the visuals formed by reflections or specific lights sources. The eye is constantly drawn around the frame by the HDR alone, and those more astute will pick up on the visible textures on Blade’s all-black garb, low light or not.
Given a new master, the 4K scan finds detail galore. Behind a thin, mostly imperceptible grain structure, facial definition soars. Added resolution benefits this presentation, sightly in natural, 35mm qualities. While not a constant, signs of processing and edge enhancement do intrude. One of the first shots in the morgue (where Karen is first introduced) produces hefty halos. The smothered look suggests DNR too. Thankfully, it’s uncommon; you can count the misfires on one hand. Most of Blade represents a pure, organic film stock.
Graded for cool, the blue tones dominate, day or not. There’s rarely a reprieve, and primaries follow. Even blood skews toward the blue tint, if one of the more vibrant objects. Primaries stay controlled by the aesthetic, rarely rich, if occasionally apparent. Deep color keeps things pure in appearance.
No surprise given the late ’90s techno tracks, but the bass lines in this Atmos track are killer. Throbbing music attaches to most action scenes, each thump refusing to minimize range. Action serves the mix equally well, gunshots strikingly powerful. Substantial rumble continues for most of the runtime, giving the subwoofer few reprieves. Wait for Blade to blow open a heavy door to get a great blast and rumble.
A little too aggressive in spots, the positional work accentuates rears and overheads, used frequently – even constantly – overshadowing the front soundstage. Heights pick up scattering paper when in the city, pleasing ambiance in a movie often thick in massive, loud sound. A subway sequence follows the passing trains effortlessly. Shattering glass pushes into every speaker, and fights track punches and kicks in the stereo split. Electrical prods crackle as they swing. It’s a lot, but entertainingly brash mixing.
Commentaries feature on the UHD and Blu-ray, one involving Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, writer David Goyer, cinematographer Theo Van De Snede, production designer Kirk Petruccelli, and producer Peter Frankfurt. The other comes alongside an isolated score, pushed along by composer Mark Isham.
Other bonuses sit on the Blu-ray, unchanged from the previous releases. That begins with a 15-minute making-of, an older but excellent piece. Blade’s production design is explored for 22-minutes. A 12-minute look at the comic looks at the character origins and Goyer’s inspiration. Blood, from religious and science perspectives, is focused on in a unique 20-minute piece.
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Blade’s smart approach to vampires uses engaging martial arts and splashy visual effects to show an allegory about race and generational division.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 59 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: