The Test of Time: Blade (1998)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: Stephen Norrington
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, and Kris Kristofferson

In case you recently woke from a 15-year coma, times have changed. Back in 1998, things were different. Seinfeld still ruled TV, Mel Gibson was a superstar, people still bought things called CDs, and superheroes, especially from the Marvel world, were a cinematic afterthought. Just the year before Batman and Robin had taken a massive shit in theaters worldwide, assumingly killing the genre.

But that didn’t mean studios wouldn’t try. In fact, one could argue that 1998 started the Marvel movie empire. Sure, New Line Cinema stayed away from tights, but they brought a new kind of hero to the big screen and went dark - real dark - with it. However, in a day and age where Marvel and DC rule PG-13 cinemas, does an R-rated horror-action movie still hold up?

Under the examination: BLADE.

THE STORY: Written by DC’s go to superhero expert David S. Goyer, BLADE is about…you guessed it…a dude named Blade. The film opens with his birth (and his mom’s death), but fast-forward a few decades and he’s now a half-human, half-vampire adult with a bad attitude. Since Starbucks rejected his application, Blade now works as a full time vampire hunter, slaughtering bloodsuckers while living with an aging country star named Whistler. Blade’s life soon gets complicated when he meets a new foe who has plans to do bad things to the human race.

He doesn't give good high fives

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Perhaps the best thing about BLADE comes in the first 15 minutes. After his birth and emotional death of his mother (it is gut wrenching), we transition to a rave so intense that we end up with a two literal bloodbaths. And damn, it’s one of the best openings to an action flick as blood sprays from the overhead sprinkler system while our hero slices, dices and shoots just about every fang in the room…complete with blaring techno music. That’s entertainment. 

I can only assume that director Stephen Norrington was a one hit wonder. His next movie, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, remains an absolute cluster and ...well…he hasn’t directed a film since. But the man showed chops with BLADE as the slick style and pacing hold. Norrington never allows a dull moment, keeping the intensity turned up to 11 and thankfully never letting off the throttle. The fists keep flying and the swords keep swinging throughout the runtime.

Blade doesn't like to be touched. 

Smartly, BLADE has a helluva cast, too. Say what you want about Wesley Snipes (and I do below), but the man has had quality roles. Still, it’s safe to say Blade still remains his most well known and perfect role, and when Marvel resurrects him, any actor will have trouble sliding into the trench coat. (I hope they bring Snipes back.) Plus, he looks damn cool, like a dude who could actually kick ass and kill a legion of the undead. Snipes wasn’t part of the 1980’s muscle action movement, but he easily could have been. Bigger than life.

As for the rest of the cast, even though Stephen Dorff’s career never took him to the A list (do those fake blue cigarette ads count?), he’s a fantastic villain here as Deacon Frost. He broods and plays the part of a cocky asshole with perfection. His best scene comes when he rips the throat open of a rent-a-cop and gives a young lady a nasty, blood-filled French kiss. Talk about vampire rock star. Everyone else brings game including the always evil Udo Kier, Gotham’s Donal Logue (I knew I remembered him from somewhere!), and the great Kris Kristofferson, who plays Blade’s mentor and advisor. 

Det. Bullock isn't looking too good. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: What hurts in revisiting BLADE is that we’ve been drenched in vampire movies over the last decade. Just as the zombie genre has now been stretched thin like a pulled-out small intestine, vampires need to get back in their coffins for a bit. Granted, that isn't BLADE's fault, but vampires are tired at the moment.  

As the movie quickly approaches legal drinking age, it already shows signs of rust, notably from the CGI, which looks like…bad CGI (including a pathetic slow-mo dodging bullet scene). I still think CGI movie blood looks bad today, but it looked really bad in 1998, and BLADE used the hell out of it. I’ve seen worse for sure, but the fact that it is noticeable yanks me from the story and that’s never a good thing. Even more annoying: at about the 40 minute mark, ┬áduring a brief car chase, someone in the production decided speed up the footage of the chase to make things appear faster. Man, it’s painful to watch. The kind of movie “magic” you’d expect in an old Police Academy film, not this. 

That's a painful fist pump. 

As for Snipes, somehow years after a prison stint and the fact he hasn’t had a starring role in a theatrical feature since 2004 makes watching prime Snipes a downer experience. He's at the height of his movie badassness here, but you can see trouble looming on the horizon. The man probably had too much control and influence (he is a producer) with too many near-winks at the camera and too many goofy moments for a slayer of the dead (like that fist pump). Plus, he delivers lines like “Frost…you’re nothing to me but another dead vampire” with such exaggeration that I half expected him to twirl that thin mustache.  

THE VERDICT: Not only is BLADE freakin' great, but it proves that an R-rated comic book film can not only work, but make money too. Sure, it only had a $40 million budget, yet it grossed nearly triple that. Snipes might not be the star he once was, but damn it, the flick shows what he once was.



The weirdest behind the scenes picture ever.



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