In the ‘90s, you couldn’t take two steps without seeing Wesley Snipes projected somewhere. A gifted actor and martial artist, Snipes demanded audiences’ attention with a varied list of projects including White Men Can’t Jump (1992); Passenger 57 (1992); Rising Sun (1993); Demolition Man (1993); To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar (1995); Money Train (1995); The Fan (1996); and Murder at 1600 (1997), to name a small few. Gratefully, he’s experiencing a resurgence in his career with roles in The Expendables 3 (2014), Chi-Raq (2015), and a scene-stealing role in Dolemite Is My Name (2019). Amid all the rises, amid all the downturns, there is one role which is, without a doubt, so profoundly connected to Snipes that the mere mention of the character by cinephiles and comic book fans alike results in an instantaneous recitation of character quotes, the most famous being, “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill.” In the film directed by Stephen Norrington (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy), Snipes took on the mantle of Marvel Comics’s fearsome vampire hunter Blade and forever changed how comic book movies would be created. As of December 1st, 2020, the now-seminal work is available on 4K UHD for the first time, bringing along with it a Dolby Atmos soundtrack for a total immersion experience.
1967, New York, and expectant mother Vanessa Brooks (Sanaa Lathan) is attacked and left for dead. During emergency treatment at the hospital, she goes into labor giving birth to Eric, before dying. That boy grows up misunderstood and angry, not realizing that he’s a hybrid, a bridge between the world of humankind and vampiric, possessing the strengths of the night stalkers and none of the weaknesses. A vampire hunter named Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) finds Eric and the two move from city to city, hunting down and breaking down any foothold vampires have wherever they go. Carrying a mixture of weapons modern and ancient, Eric is known as the Daywalker, Blade.
Back in ’98, Blade felt like a revelation regarding comic book adaptations. Goyer’s script made the story accessible to those coming in from the outside; Norrington’s direction is both artistic and moody, while being modern and approachable; and Snipes’s casting as Blade seemed meant to be. Before the days of artists drawing versions of characters in the likeness of actors (see: Eminem as Wesley Gibson in Wanted and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in Ultimate Marvel), make-up and costuming needed to work hard to convince audiences of an actor’s physical capability with a role. This was not the case with Snipes. Wearing the black pants, shirt, jacket, and shades Blade was known for, along with a little hair detailing, Snipes didn’t just look like Blade, he *was* Blade. And audience members, like myself, bought it up entirely. Coming back to the film 22 years later, the majority holds up surprisingly well, even without the HDR boost. The CG certainly hasn’t aged well, but the ideas within the film remain fresh and original. The secondary opening in modern New York remains as enticing as always thanks in part to the clever idea of taking the underground techno scene and giving it a macabre makeover with the assistance of a still bangin’ backbeat provided by Pump Panel remix of New Order’s “Confusion,” A song now synonymous with Blade taking down suckheads into rapid order. Additionally, one can’t help but notice the racial subtext within the establishment versus revolution struggle the film’s villain, Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), is engaged in. Wiser and more appropriate writers have likely explored the racial implications present in the White vs. Black dynamic at play, so, if this interests you, please go seek those works out. My guess is it’ll make for a heck of a dissection, making several aspects of Blade far meatier than they seem. Considering the little touches Norrington uses in the film, like making the sun rise appear as an atom bomb explosion, it wouldn’t surprise me if aspects of the presentation surrounding Frost explore gentrification and other New World Order concepts and are waiting to be uncovered. Whether you see these elements or not, Blade remains a kick-ass cinematic experience: intensely fun from start to finish.
For its first time on 4K UHD, the release is, admittedly, a little lackluster. All of the bonus features are previously released materials, offering no new content or insights, so the only reason to pick up Blade is the updated audio and visual components. This release does come with a newly remixed audio track playable on Dolby Atmos sound systems, enabling home viewing to take advantage of enhanced sound. According to Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, “Dolby Atmos soundtracks are also fully backward compatible with traditional audio configurations and legacy home entertainment equipment.” So good news there for folks with the most current home theater set-up. I don’t have Atmos capability in my home theater, but the sound remained immersive via my Yamaha 5.1 surround system. The beats in the club are punchy and energetic and scenes involving dialogue are beautifully mixed so that you don’t have to adjust the volume every few moments to understand the characters over the score. The HDR also gives the film a more modern feel, even though it’s obviously dated with the CG (no improved image quality can fix outdated tech). You can tell the difference in texture between each layer of Blade’s outfit, the blacks are individual and inky without bleeding into one another, the silver contains a lovely shine, and the many litters of blood are a lovely crimson, even when brushed on a dying characters face. This is one of the few recent 4K UHD films where the prosthetics don’t become more noticeable with the improved balancing of color via the greater range of spectrum displayed within the presentation. The sequence in which Frost and his team leave Udo Kier’s vampire leader Dragonetti is murdered by sunlight is one that’s particularly striking up to the moment where Dragonetti peels apart under the heat of the sun. As they move him into position, the screen is 75% black with the silhouettes visible against the remaining 25% blue dawn sky. There’s a lovely menace in the sequence, which is only slightly disturbed by the most noticeable visual artifacting in the sky. It’s not enough to ruin the moment and is not as noticeable elsewhere in the film.
Throughout 2020 Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released a bevy of first-time-on-4K UHD films. Some have been absolutely revelatory (Full Metal Jacket), while others disappointed (300). Blade sits right about the middle, offering a solid presentation that will bring joy to fans of the Daywalker, even if it doesn’t include any new bonus materials. This means that the decision to pick-up Blade entirely rests on whether or not the new presentation is worth the pick-up. Thankfully, with the holidays around the corner, you can always elect to make it someone else’s choice by putting it on your respective lists. If I’d found the 4K UHD edition of Blade in my gift stack, I certainly won’t have been mad about it.
Blade 4K UHD Special Features
- Commentary with Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, David S. Goyer, Theo Van De Sande, Kirk M. Petruccelli & Peter Frankfurt
- Isolated score with commentary by composer Mark Isham
Blade Blu-ray Special Features
- La Magra
- Designing Blade
- The Origins of Blade: A Look at Dark Comics
- The Blood Tide
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack December 1st, 2020.