Whereas the first "Blade" disc was an early Special Edition DVD, "Blade II" takes advantage of the ridiculous storage capacity we now enjoy, packing a huge amount of making-of material to satisfy avid collectors and "Blade" fans.
Disc 1 contains an excellent transfer of the film, capturing the director and cinematographer's chiaroscuro lighting scheme, which combines various shades of darkness with stylish sets and compositions reminiscent of key comic book artists. The meticulously planned visuals of director del Toro and cinematographer Gabriel Beristain also include cobalt-blue and yellow lighting for an early ninja attack, icy soft blue tones for the daylight scenes, and warm, amber textures for the evening sequences. The transfer also maintains balanced levels of black, as Blade himself is attired in a different set of black shades to set himself apart from the elite vampire team he's obliged to work with, ridding the world of virulent, zombie-like "reapers."
The film's surround audio mix combines a few pulsating songs with Marco Beltrami's synth/orchestral shadings and saturated sound effects, meant to evoke the emphatic "bang!" and "pow!" texts natural to comic book frames. Beltrami's score is also isolated on a separate 5.1 track, so fans of the composer ("Scream" and del Toro's own "Mimic") can enjoy the soundscape without dialogue or sound effects.
The film's production minutia are explained by del Toro in one of the set's 2 feature-length commentary tracks, accompanied by co-producer Peter Frankfurt - an excellent companion, who maintains a steady pace. Del Toro went back to New Line and examined every bit of footage shot by "Blade" director Stephen Norrington; he absorbed the pre-determined style of the franchise, yet discovered key aspects that could be expanded in the sequel.
"The Devil's Backbone," made before "Blade II," was a more cinematically reserved film in which del Toro respected the continuity axis of the camera, and he employed a much slower pace; with "Blade II," he decided to have pure fun, drawing from the comics that have excited him since childhood. With co-producer Peter Frankfurt, the two articulate filmmakers cover the movie's complete evolution from David Goyer's early drafts to final film, and the payoff is a lively (and sometimes hysterically profane) account of making a movie, with an energy current that will easily attract budding filmmakers and film students.
The second commentary track, however, is rather disappointing. Star Wesley Snipes was edited into the fluid commentary track of the first "Blade" DVD, but this time with 2 hours at his disposal, the facts are fewer, and the tone very laid-back. Screenwriter Goyer attempts to start new discussions, but gaps form, and Snipes comes off more as a former character-actor, now focused on his love of martial arts, and as an executive producer, concerned with the full exploitation of the Blade franchise.
The extra goodies:
Disc 2 starts off with an 83-minute documentary covering the sets, costumes, make-up, locations (in Prague and California), and uses plenty of behind-the-scenes footage with amusing preambles from del Toro. A branching option, via an onscreen vampire glyph, adds 8 extra side-discussions (some with Goyer and Frankfurt) that can also be accessed in a separate menu, in case you missed them.
The doc's length becomes somewhat obvious once the production glamour ends, and a final 18 minutes with composer Marco Beltrami and del Toro at the recording sessions deadens the pacing. Much of the footage varies in quality - the soft-focus Handycam material really stands out - but it's still a rare glimpse at the recording of a full-blooded horror score, with the director making editorial decisions so the final music score fits into the "Blade II" soundscape.
Other production sections include "Sequence Breakdowns," covering 6 key fight scenes and locations, and offers viewers the chance to read the scene in Goyer's screenplay, compare it with the final shooting script, view the scene through storyboards, jump to the scene in the finished film, and view video footage from the set. The cameraman, using consumer-grade video gear, points out the location, relevant lighting (with occasional details from the gaffer/head electrician), and camera positions. Explanatory text - either definitions, explanations, elaboration or date of the filming - periodically flash onscreen. The cameraman's voice, though, is often obliterated by set noise - something that could have been fixed by separately miking the cameraman during filming.
"Digital Stuntmen" covers the fusion of CGI stunts between key live-action shots to form smooth yet stylized "liberated" camera movements, such as Blade leaping from a window - the camera following, swooping beneath, spinning around, and crabbing around him as he glides, lands on the pavement, and forms a defensive stance before several waiting vampires.
"Digital Maw" covers the reaper mouth, which splits open and exposes a twisting, tentacle proboscis that drains a victim's blood as the expansive parts grip and hold the victim in place. As dictated by del Toro, the film's effects had to combine live action, puppets, animatronics, and high-end CGI, to effortlessly follow a reaper's full attack on a victim.
"Progress Reports" is a 53 minute (!) assembly of video footage from Steve Johnson's lab, so the director could check the progress of the film's special effects. Fans will be delighted in watching the creation of the vampire fetuses, the animatronic maws for the reapers, and the amazing construction of the life-size cadaver for the film's infamous autopsy scene. The evolution of Kris Kristofferson's body, seen floating in a watery tube for blood 'milking' early in the film is similarly engaging: body casts, skeletal construction of moving parts, latex moulds, water tests, and hair-by-hair insertion as an exact replica of the actor comes to life.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes can be watched with or without del Toro's acidic commentary, and the whole session is preceded by a brief video intro from the director, admitting that much of what was deleted is "crap," though he maintains a sadness for the loss of the final scene's "sperm removal."
The disc's Publicity section includes a trailer for the video game, and original theatrical trailer and teaser, and a typically ludicrous music video which incorporates "Blade II" footage in an otherwise irrelevant storyline set in the 'hood.
Finishing off this beefy release are several still galleries covering characters, costumes, sets, and storyboards, plus snapshots of del Toro's elaborate notebooks, where the director scribbled and drew his early ideas - many of which were closely realized. You can also check out the original theatrical press kit with actor and production crew bios, and film synopsis.
Writer David Goyer later helmed the bland and unnecessary sequel, "Blade: Trinity" in 2004, and the franchise was further expanded into a TV series, in 2006.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan