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movie review of Blade the vampire from marvel comics starring wesley snipes

A review of the biggest moneymaker of the end of summer...

By C. Antonio Romero

SAN FRANCISCO, 15 September 1998 - From the constant human obsession with sex and death and the current American obsession with blood (and AIDS) may spring the current craze for vampires in American popular culture. Combine these obsessions with the millenial tendency towards conspiracy theories that informed films like The X Files, popular culture (specifically, techno music and the rave scene), and action that liberally borrows from Hong Kong cinema (and perhaps action-oriented computer games-- a friend compared this film to the ultra-hyper game MDK), and you get Blade-- the biggest moneymaker on US screens towards the end of summer of 1998.

Adapted from a Marvel Comics series, Blade is set in a fictional world in which vampires have existed alongside man for thousands of years, making secret pacts with human power establishments which allow them to harvest discreetly and amass wealth and power with minimal harassment from or even notice by regular humans. These are high-tech vampires, whose arsenal includes electronically locked coffins, supercomputers to manage their finances and translate ancient texts, and (of course) infinite-SPF sunscreen and chic sunglasses for the occasional venture into the light. An aristocracy of "purebloods"-- those born as vampires, rather than created by attacks on humans-- rules over the far more numerous vampires created through attacks on humans.

Blade - played by Wesley Snipes, using his considerable physical gifts in the action scenes, but otherwise wasted - is a sort of uneasy hybrid of vampire and human, the child of a woman killed in a vampire attack at the very end of her pregnancy. He inherited the vampire's speed, strength and senses, but none of their vulnerabilities (in this film, mostly garlic, silver weapons, and UV light). He owes his name to his inordinate fondness for bladed weapons, which he uses to dispatch vampires one or two at a time (preferring machine guns with garlic-packed silver hollowpoint ammo for the heavy work).

Having joined with a veteran vampire hunter with a grudge of his own (played by Kris Kristofferson), Blade sets out on a quest to avenge his mother's death (killing as many vampires as possible along the way), carving a swath through the vampire community in their unidentified major city (a here-unrecognizable Los Angeles was used for exterior locations). Blade's primary adversary is Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) - a young-seeming Goth-look vampire given to hosting decadent blood-soaked raves for his party-minded companions, and scheming to seize control from the snobbish purebloods. The cast is rounded out by Dr. Karen Jenson (N'Busha Wright, of the critically acclaimed American TV series "Homicide"), a hematologist who allies herself with Blade after herself being attacked by a vampire.

There's more: infighting between the pure-blooded and turned human vampires, talk of a plan to resurrect the vampire's ancient "blood god" and trigger a "vampire holocaust," a search for a cure for vampirism...but really, none of this adds up to much. The plot hangs in shreds and tatters, almost as if Blade himself performed story editing with his sword. An attempt to work in a biological basis for vampirism is so poorly thought through as to be insulting. One feels at times as though late rewrites compressed and dumbed down a story that was both reasonably smart and simply too long, producing the thing of shreds and tatters that reached the screen. Then there's the acting - if it were any more wooden, the film could have just as well been called "Stake." Snipes and the others are all capable of more than the one-note performances they give here, but neither the writing nor the direction offers them the chance to do particularly good work.

The film strives for a certain intensity, and achieves it, at least early on; the music, camera work, choreography and (sometimes genuinely novel) special effects on the action sequences all work together to create precisely the high-energy effect the filmmakers were clearly shooting for. It hardly comes as a surprise that Stephen Norrington, the director, has done extensive work in music videos - but this may also explain the wooden acting. Lacking, however, any variation in tone which would make some of its more intense moments more effective, "intense" degrades into "overwrought" and then to "tiresome" - one is reduced to thinking about whether the action, costumes and effects are as pretty as they might be (usually they are). At times, even when it's best executed the fantasy violence of the action sequences offends the intelligence as well-- mostly when Blade strikes a pose in the middle of what ought to be a fight for his life. A particularly awful coda (probably meant to set up a sequel) provides a surely unintentional groaner, sending the audience home shaking their heads.

Whatever its flaws, it manages to run 2 hours and ten minutes without seeming long. Doubtless the pace of the action, the movie's refusal to let your adrenaline levels fall off, has much to do with that. The action sequences are often spectacular-- though the hyperkinetic camera work and strobe lighting alternates between being extremely effective and at times simply baffling (severed heads and limbs go flying, but you're not quite sure how it happened). The film does excel at creating the impression that ordinary people go about their lives like sheep, completely unaware of the dark presence of vampires all around them. Conflicts sometimes play out in very public places, yet go unnoticed by bystanders who move past in slow motion. Neither side seems to want the vampire/human conflict to be noticed. Also, an occasional clever moment manages to slip past the story editors - there were four or five deserved chuckles scattered throughout the movie, most of them earned by Donal Logue, playing Frost's sidekick, Quinn.

If you find yourself needing to be somewhere air conditioned on a hot afternoon, and the subject matter appeals to you at all, Blade is not the worst possible use of your entertainment dollar. It's more thrill ride than movie - if you like that sort of thing, and really try not to notice all that's wrong with the movie, you might manage to enjoy it. A smarter story and better direction (perhaps relegating Norrington to handling the action scenes) might even make a sequel worth the effort.

Best moment: the doctor unexpectedly meets up with her ex-boyfriend.

Related Internet Sites:

Blade web site:

Marvel Comics:

Usenet: alt.vampyres

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