Posted: 05/24/2001

 

Blade

(1998)

by Del Harvey



The best example, to date, of a comic book brought to life on the big screen.


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A vampire film, a martial arts film, and an action film, Blade combines the best elements of these genres and is the very best example of a comic book transformed into a feature film. Starring Wesley Snipes as the enigmatic vampire hunter Blade, the film eclipses that other masterpiece of comic book art, The Matrix, in all areas except special effects. Snipes’ Blade is every bit as complex and Keanu Reeves’ Neo, with layers of conflict and subtlety which elevate Blade to a higher level of suspense and generate greater personal investment for the viewer.

Blade was born to a mother who died from a vampire’s bite. Because of this, he possesses unique powers or, as several of his enemies note, “all of the strengths with none of the weaknesses,” of a vampire. He can walk about freely in full daylight, for example. And he is impervious to silver’s deadly bite and can see his reflection in mirrors. His strength is equal to and often greater than a vampire’s. He has the potential to be a superhuman supernatural, except for one small detail; he chooses to resist the bloodlust of the vampire.

He keeps the disease constantly within by using a serum created by his conspirator, Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). Blade’s very existence is driven by his craving for vengeance upon the vampire who bit his mother and changed the course of his life forever. When Whistler found Blade he was a young boy wandering the streets and alleyways drinking the blood of the homeless. Whistler saw something in the young man which made him decide to take the boy home and try to help him.

His assistant, Whistler, has his own reasons for vengeance. Whistler’s wife and two daughters were killed by a vampire who first attacked Whistler and left him unbitten but badly maimed. The demon allowed Whistler to watch his family being slaughtered.

Blade and Whistler are tracking an ambitious vampire named Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) whose plans to reincarnate himself as a vampire god of legend threaten not only the human race but the many leagues of vampires who have learned to live off of mankind without calling attention to themselves. Stephen Dorff is one of the best vampire villains to emerge in many years. He exhibits cunning and cruelty with an authority unmatched by more recent vampires such as those in John Carpenter’s Vampires or The Forsaken. His chief lieutenant is a good old boy of a vampire named Quinn (Donal Logue—The Tao Of Steve, TV’s Grounded For Life), who seems to keep losing his hands whenever he runs into Blade. Good thing he’s capable of regeneration. Frost’s main squeeze is Mercury (Arly Jover, a British actress making her U.S. debut), the feminine counterpart to Frost in every way and truly nasty.

N’Bushe Wright plays Dr. Karen Jenkins, bitten by Quinn early in the film and saved by Blade in a rare showing of benevolence to one who has been bitten. Since she is a hematologist, she not only joins their little crusade, but tries to help solve the riddle of the bloodlust.

The battle scenes are incredible. They might not have the stylized stop-motion effects of The Matrix, but a few rival the very best of Jackie Chan’s martial arts work. Snipes is a physical actor and a martial arts expert, and his physique and athleticism are used to good effect in the film. Director Stephen Norrington has crafted a forceful suspense story with Snipes the unifying focus of this very thrilling and captivating film. The story, adapted for the screen by David S. Goyers from Stan Lee’s comic book, is perfection in its construction and cohesion. The pulse-pounding music suits the mood and heightens the intensity of every scene.

Blade is, in my opinion, the best attempt at translating a comic book character to film, yet. There have been talks of a sequel which, if the story is as tight and the acting and direction as determined as the first, will be a blast. If you have not seen this film, and enjoy action, vampire or martial arts films, then rent it as soon as you can. Better yet, buy a copy. It’s worth owning.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and lives in Chicago. He is a survivor of Lucasfilm, The Walt Disney Company, and The Directors Guild Of America.



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