Review: Blade

Blade (1998)

In my somewhat controversial review of Wonder Woman 1984 (controversial in that I actually enjoyed that silly and overly fantastical romp, a fact that seems to infuriate some people), I mused about whether you could really enjoy the movie if you weren’t raised on and invested in not only the tropes of the 1980s but also the storytelling style of comic books and superhero movies of that era. With the subject of today’s review—1998’s Blade—there’s nothing to speculate about. If you don’t outright love everything about the late ’90s, this standalone, pre-MCU Marvel comic adaptation probably isn’t for you.

 

In fact, if we were to retroactively create a time capsule for the late ’90s in hopes of explaining that era to future generations, I think I would pass over The Big Lebowski, Being John Malkovich, Pi, Gods and Monsters, Go, and any number of other vastly superior contemporary films in favor of Blade. To varying degrees, those films have all stood the test of time. Blade, on the other hand, is little more than an artfully arranged pile of action-movie clichés of its day: Every gun is a pistol-grip machine 

gun, every line of dialogue is an oh-so-gritty catchphrase, every character wears black leather or rave-culture clubwear, every artist on the soundtrack either has or is a DJ, and for inexplicable reasons every no-name goon is proficient in some form of Asian martial art.

 

But what can I say? It all just works. Yes, if it’s been a while since you saw the movie, it comes off more like a satirical Key & Peele sketch sans punchline than it does the sort of serious-action-movie-meets-Fatboy-Slim-music-video director Stephen Norrington thought he was making. But in a weird way, that’s part of the Blade‘s lasting appeal. It’s pure B-movie schlock on an A- budget.

 

I’m relieved that I’m not the sort of reviewer who regularly summarizes plots, as it would be difficult to do so in this case without sounding like a stroke victim. The long and short of it is this, though: The titular hero is a sword-toting half-vampire vigilante who hates him some bloodsuckers 

BLADE AT A GLANCE

The digital enhancement in this pre-MCU slice & dice vampire romp is a little too heavy-handed but it’s still a big step up from HD.

 

PICTURE     

Edge enhancement and grain scrubbing unnecessarily obscure the movie’s film-stock origins, but HDR brings a richer and more nuanced palette to the effort.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos mix is appropriately relentless, delivering a full-throated surround sound assault.

because they killed his momma right before he was born. Along with his mentor/quartermaster “Whistler” (played to hammy perfection by Kris Kristofferson, who chews up the scenery like a Hungry Hungry Hippo), Blade uncovers a plot to awaken the blood god “La Magra” and trigger the Vampire Apocalypse, which of course can only be stopped by an over-the-top mix of capoeira, jujutsu, kung fu, and ninjutsu. And then he goes to Russia—because of reasons.

 

If that’s not your bag, the new UHD/HDR release isn’t going to do anything to change your mind. If you are a fan of the movie, though, you’ll be happy to hear that this new transfer is a pretty significant step up from previous releases in several respects. It isn’t perfect, however.

 

Unexpectedly for a movie shot on 35mm relatively recently, the 4K resolution brings out a lot of the sharpness and detail missing from the numerous DVD and Blu-ray releases. Unfortunately, whoever mastered the movie this time around didn’t trust the viewer to appreciate the fact that film equals grain, and as such, a lot of the movie’s texture has been scrubbed clean by digital noise reduction that sometimes goes too far. To compensate, the transfer has been artificially sharpened by a process known as edge enhancement, which leads to ringing edges on high-contrast areas of the image. You can really see this any time there are baked-in subtitles (like in the meeting of the council of vampire elders). And I’m not sure if it’s the edge enhancement or simply the increased resolution, but for whatever reason the film’s mid-budget, low-pixel-count CGI effects also look goofier than ever before.

 

On the other hand, HDR is used to especially good effect, although if you’re looking for a demo-movie to push your video system to extremes of brightness, this one doesn’t fit the bill. Instead, it’s the wider color gamut of HDR10 that really adds something to this presentation as compared with previous releases. There’s simply a richer and more nuanced palette to work with, and there’s a purity of tone that’s missing from past transfers. In A/Bing between this new release and the most recent 

1080 transfer (again, there have been a few), I also noticed that while there are some enhancements at the lower end of the value scale, the biggest benefit for the new HDR grade is a whole lot less clipping in highlights and brighter scenes. In other words, there are simply more shades of “almost white” to work with, which makes previously washed-out shots look a lot more dimensional and resolved, even if they’re not particularly intense.

 

So, long story short: If you’re looking for a substantial upgrade over previous home video releases of Blade, this one is unquestionably it. But if you’re looking for a perfect remaster of the movie, the egregious artificial smoothing and sharpening keeps this transfer from being everything it could be.

 

As for the Dolby TrueHD Atmos mix included with the Kaleidescape download of Blade? I really only have one word to describe it: Relentless. Of course, that’s always been true of the movie’s soundtrack. In fact, the original DVD release of Blade, way back in 1998, was one of my favorite demo discs at a time when I was still assembling my first halfway decent home theater system. I learned quite quickly, though, that the little Sony satellite speakers that had served me well as surround channels in the LaserDisc era were no match for this movie’s full-throated surround-sound assault. They died an uglier death than any of Blade’s 

Blade (1998)

onscreen adversaries. And I brought that DVD along with me when auditioning replacement speakers at my local Circuit City, just to make sure they would survive the onslaught.

 

The Atmos remix doesn’t substantially tinker with that experience, other than to extend it upward. This is still a hard-hitting, techno-heavy, effects-driven sound mix that only shows its age by virtue of its ostentatiousness.

 

So, yeah, in the end, the UHD/HDR release of Blade has its virtues as well as its flaws. Hopefully by the time Warner Bros. gets around to releasing the superior sequel in 4K, they’ll have learned from the mistakes of this one and give us a straight scan of the 35mm negative, free of the unnecessary digital manipulation. But, again, if you’re a Blade fan, don’t let the occasional visual distraction turn you off of this release. It’s still an appreciable step up from the HD transfer.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

No Comments

Post a Comment