Blade (1998)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #12

The power of an immortal.
The soul of a human.
The heart of a hero.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 120 minutes
BBFC: 18
MPAA: R

Original Release: 21st August 1998 (USA)
UK Release: 13th November 1998
First Seen: TV, c.2001

Stars
Wesley Snipes (White Men Can’t Jump, Demolition Man)
Stephen Dorff (Backbeat, Immortals)
Kris Kristofferson (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Heaven’s Gate)
N’Bushe Wright (Zebrahead, Dead Presidents)

Director
Stephen Norrington (Death Machine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)

Screenwriter
David S. Goyer (Dark City, Batman Begins)

Based on
Blade, a Marvel comic book character created by Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan.

The Story
When hospital haematologist Dr. Karen Jenson is bitten by a living corpse — actually a vampire — she encounters Blade, leather-clad badass vampire hunter. He mercifully takes her to his lair, where she hopes to create a cure for her impending vampirism. Meanwhile, mid-ranking vampire Deacon Frost aims to take over the world, for which he needs Blade’s unique blood…

Our Hero
The Daywalker — half-human half-vampire Blade, who can go out in sunlight (hence the nickname) and controls his bloodlust with injections. Passes his time helpfully killing vampires.

Our Villain
Being born human, turned vampire, and consequently looked down on by the purebred elders, probably gave Deacon Frost a chip on his shoulder, which may be why he believes vampires should enslave humanity. Which, despite his betters’ disapproval, he sets about doing.

Best Supporting Character
Blade’s mentor and Q-like gadgetmaster, Whistler. According to Wikipedia he was created for the film, but made his debut two years earlier in the Spider-Man animated series (voiced by Malcolm McDowell, no less). 20 years hence, apparently he still hasn’t appeared in any comics, which is very unlike Marvel.

Memorable Quote
Blade: “There are worse things out tonight than vampires.”
Karen: “Like what?”
Blade: “Like me.”

Memorable Scene
The opening action sequence sets the tone: a vampire nightclub, where the music pounds and blood pours from sprinklers, as the Daywalker slaughters everyone inside in a display of gleeful ultra-violence. Hard R indeed.

Letting the Side Down
Computer-generated liquid is still hard to do, so in 1998 it must’ve been a nightmare. Some CGI blood plays a key role in the climax — it looked terrible then, and I bet it looks worse now.

Next time…
Two direct sequels, the first directed by Guillermo del Toro, the second designed to launch a spin-off (it failed). A semi-related live-action TV series lasted one season in 2006, and an unconnected animated series was part of the Marvel Anime project in 2011. The rights have since reverted to Marvel, so there’s talk (largely from fans) of Blade joining their Cinematic Universe, with or without Snipes and possibly on the Netflix side of things.

Awards
2 Saturn nominations (Horror Film, Make-Up)
1 MTV Movie Award (Best Villain, tied with… There’s Something About Mary.)
1 MTV Movie Awards nomination (Best Fight, for “the fight against vampires”. Oh, that one!)

What the Critics Said
“Sure, the story is pretty standard, and the dialogue is laughable or worse. But creative cinematography and non-stop, decently choreographed gratuitous violence make watching this comic-book movie — Blade is a minor, almost-forgotten Marvel comic — entertaining. In fact, it’s arguably the best comic-book movie of the year” — John Krewson, A.V. Club

Score: 54%

What the Public Say
“Stephen Norrington’s direction is superb here, and he handles most of the action scenes very well, mixing some beautiful establishing shot with tighter, jumpier shots during the film’s immersive fight scenes. Fight scenes are well-choreographed and never feel like they are going on for too long, and thanks to the superb stunt work, feel thoroughly brutal.” — thatfilmbloguk

Verdict

Before comic book movies were the all-conquering box office behemoth they are today, Blade was a Marvel Comics adaptation in technicality only. A violent, dark, appropriately bloody (’cause, y’know, vampires) horror-tinged late-’90s actioner, Blade isn’t big or clever, but it has style and a glorious commitment to its extremeness. Some say the Guillermo del Toro-directed sequel is even better, but for me that came a little too far into the era of CGI dominance and comic book movie popularity — the original has a kind of analogue purity that can’t be beat.

#13 will have… moments lost in time, like tears in rain.

Alone in the Dark (2005)

2009 #69
Uwe Boll | 94 mins | TV | 18 / R

Alone in the DarkI’ve never played an Alone in the Dark game. I wanted to, when I was young and they were a widely-known cutting-edge franchise, but it was deemed too scary or adult or something like that and I wasn’t allowed. (By the time someone’s nostalgia revived the series nearly a decade later, I didn’t care.) I’ve also never seen an Uwe Boll film, though his reputation obviously precedes him. Considering the latter, having no attachment to the former is probably a benefit to assessing this — I understand that, story-wise, it bears virtually no relation — but I can’t say it helps much.

Right from the off, things don’t look good: it opens with an essay’s worth of backstory in scrolling text… which, just to rub it in, is also read out. It takes about a minute and a half. There are any number of screenwriting rules this not so much breaks as slowly and methodically grinds into sand. Some rules can be bent or broken to good effect if the writer knows what they’re doing, but others exist for damn fine reasons and breaking them just results in a lesser film. This is unquestionably the latter. There’s an almost-excuse: the text was added after test audiences said they didn’t understand the plot. But it’s not much of one. The relevant information is all revealed later in the film too, and neither manage to explain what the hell is going on. It’s not the audience’s fault they couldn’t understand the plot, it just doesn’t make sense.

Quickly, the poor quality opening is cemented with the addition of a dire voiceover narration from Christian Slater’s lead character. He addresses the audience in a chatty style that’s both irritating and incongruous, and primarily exists to continuously dump more useless info. That it disappears without a trace fairly early on is a relief, but proves how pointless and cheap it was in the first place.

And then there’s an action sequence, which defies logic in every respect. The editing mucks up continuity, the good guys turn into a dead-end marketplace for no reason — other than it provides a handily enclosed location for the ensuing fist fight — the bad guy rams cars, scales buildings and jumps through windows, also for no reason, and the fight seems to consist of a punch followed by some slow motion standing around (yes, it’s the standing around that’s in slow motion) repeated too often, interspersed with the occasional ‘cool’ move or shot. On the bright side, there’s one sub-Matrix, Wanted-esque shot of a bullet-time close-up as Carnby fires at the bad guy through a block of ice, which in itself is passably entertaining. You’ll note, of course, that that’s one good shot. One. Shot.

I could go through every scene in the film describing what’s wrong in this way, but no one wants to suffer that. Suffice to say it only gets worse — none of the initial flaws improve, but are compounded by more weak performances (Tara Reid as some kind of scientist?) and the story entirely vacating proceedings. Before halfway I gave up following the plot — after all, why try to follow something that makes no sense in the first place — and just hoped it could pull out some interesting or exciting sequences. But the horror sequences have no tension and the fights no coherence. One action sequence, which begins entirely out of the blue, sees soldiers shooting at beast-thingies in the dark, lit only by muzzle flashes, set to a thumping metal soundtrack. It probably seemed innovative when conceived, but instead is laughable for all the wrong reasons. Like the rest of the film.

Sadly, none of it’s laughable in a charming way — this is not So Bad It’s Good territory. Take the moment where the good guys arrive at an abandoned gold mine that’s actually the villain’s Super Secret Lair. They bring a whole army’s worth of heavily armed marines. Commander blokey insists it’s nothing like enough men… and then proceeds to enter the mine with just half a dozen of them. If there was no budget for more it might be funny, but the rest stay up top to be slaughtered by some Primeval-quality CGI. Even the ending, supposed to be ambiguous apparently, is just a meaningless cop-out that makes absolutely no sense. Like the rest of the film.

Sometimes I feel sorry for Christian Slater. He always seems a nice guy in interviews, yet this kind of drivel is all the work he can get. At the time of writing it’s the 82nd worst film of all time on IMDb (according to its own page, though not that chart). While this is the kind of status that’s often an overreaction (the number of people on IMDb declaring various films are “the worst film ever” suggests most of them have been fortunate enough to never see a truly bad movie), for once it’s justified: Alone in the Dark is irredeemably atrocious.

1 out of 5

If you want to subject yourself to Alone in the Dark, ITV4 are showing it tonight at 11pm.

Alone in the Dark featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2009, which can be read in full here.