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All photos © New Line
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
et’s get this out of the way: “Blade: The Series” is an ass-kicking, neck-chomping, garlic-sizzling good time. In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I’m as guilty as anyone of completely blowing the show off when it aired on Spike TV, but it’s a huge shame it was canceled after only one season of 13 episodes – the 90-minute pilot counts as two episodes in the set’s overall tally – as this material could have stretched out over another three or four seasons.
The show picks up somewhere after the third film, although it stands alone and is best appreciated without carrying the over the top baggage of the film trilogy. “Blade” writer/director David S. Goyer was inspired by shows like “The Sopranos” and “Wiseguy” when he imagined “Blade: The Series.” His idea was to create a world with 12 separate vampire houses, in which various characters were continually at odds with each other in their diverse attempts at taking or maintaining control over the vampire underworld. He throws in an engaging spy, a sympathetic villain, corrupts cops & politicians, and drug abuse (in the form of snorting vampire ash) as a means of giving weight to what might otherwise be a silly world. You’re saying, “Getting high on vampire ash isn’t silly?” Yeah, it sounds stupid in theory, but this series makes it work. And then there’s Blade himself, the half-human/half-vampire daywalker, whose sole mission is to wipe out bloodsuckers and protect humanity. Funny thing about Blade: He’s the most boring aspect of the franchise, and the live action installments of “Blade” sink or swim based on the ideas and people that surround the character, rather than by the effectiveness of Blade himself.
The action turns on Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), a sergeant in the Army who recently returned to Detroit from the horrors of Iraq. It doesn’t take long for greater horrors to overwhelm her, kicked off via the murder of her twin brother, Zack. Having been informed by a seedy cop that he was involved in gang-related activities, she takes it upon herself to uncover the truth, which leads her to the vampire House of Chthon, its leader Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), and eventually to Blade (Sticky Fingaz, credited here as Kirk “Sticky” Jones). Van Sciver is dubbed the “Donald Trump of Detroit” (admittedly a dubious distinction), but he’s got loads of charisma, looks & personality and under his scheming, watchful eye it’s no surprise that vamp culture flourishes in this city. Upon realizing Van Sciver killed Zack, Krista goes after him only to find herself on the other end of his pristine chompers. Blade takes pity on her and inducts her into his serum-based method of keeping vampirism at bay. Then a deal is brokered between the pair with Krista agreeing to play double agent, dancing between Van Sciver’s worldly charms and Blade’s streetwise sensibilities. Only who’d a thunk the bad guy would be so easy to get along with, and that the good guy would take all the fun out of being a vampire?
Since the series’ budget is only a fraction of what a feature film has to work with (the entire season likely cost less than one of the movies), it avoids elaborate action set pieces and over the top special effects. This isn’t to say that “Blade: The Series” wusses out in the whooping ass department, but the pared down action scenes are perhaps more realistic than what a feature might offer up. There are fewer MTV-style cuts and edits, and the fights have a seamless texture as a result.
So instead of wall-to-wall action, the show emphasizes character, mood and plot and it’s in those areas that “Blade: The Series” achieves its successes. There’s a labyrinth of engaging folk and storylines that pepper this show and keep it moving at a rapid pace. The standout is Wagner’s Krista, who’s as sexy as she is believable, and, despite the show’s title, is really the central figure. Krista’s the perfect device through which to view this world: The life of the vampire is seductive, but at the end of the night, who really wants to be an animal? Wagner’s got the most meat to chew on and she does it with an appetite. She’s an actress we have to see more of in the future. Not far behind her is Jackson’s Van Sciver, a guy who slowly earns viewer sympathy (as well as Krista’s), whilst simultaneously wreaking havoc right and left. He’s easy to root for and after viewing episode 10, “Angels and Demons,” you’ll be hard-pressed not to jump on his malevolent bandwagon. Van Sciver’s right-hand woman Chase (Jessica Gower) would be the token eye candy if this weren’t a series that demanded she grow beyond her blond locks and stunning appearance. As the movies had Whistler, Blade’s weapons guru, so the series has Shen (Nelson Lee), who’s an energetic, refreshing change of pace from that old codger Kristofferson. There are at least a half a dozen other memorable figures unveiled over the course of the season, but some surprises are best discovered along the way.
Finally there’s Kirk “Sticky” Jones’ Blade. It’d be all too easy to write off inadequacies within his performance by saying that Wesley Snipes owns the role, but the truth is that Blade just isn’t a terribly interesting superhero (Snipes or not). He’s predictable to the umpteenth degree and series television exposes the character’s weaknesses in ways that the fast-paced movies were often able to gloss over. The great thing about this show is that there’re so many other things going on it doesn’t matter – as long as the dude wipes the floor with the bad guys once or twice an episode he’s doing his job. Jones struggles for much of the season to bring depth to Blade, until things start changing around episode 8, “Sacrifice.” That installment offers up a series of flashbacks detailing the insanity of Blade’s childhood, and by the last three episodes the writers find a comfy groove for the daywalker that works for everyone. But sadly, by then it’s too late because the series is over.
The final episode does end on a cliffhanger, but it’s not the sort of thing that’ll have you flinging your remote at the TV and it’s an oddly small moment the season had clearly been building toward. If anything, the finale offers up a doozy of a resolution to one of Van Sciver’s grand plans and it’s a lot more satisfying than one would expect from a series so unceremoniously canceled. Blade and Van Sciver realize their goals aren’t always that far apart, and with Krista somewhere in between the finale displays just how far the concept could have been taken. For better or worse, it’ll leave you wanting more.
Special Features: The most special aspect of this set is that it’s “Unrated” with “Never-Before-Seen Footage Too Graphic for TV.” This is a clever way of saying that the producers shot extra footage with an eventual DVD release in mind. There are numerous tit shots and dropped f-bombs that surely weren’t in the broadcast version. As far as gore goes, I’ve no idea what’s new and what was there to begin with. It is a gory series that pulls no punches in the blood and guts department, and would easily earn an “R” rating were it shown theatrically. The liner notes indicate that only one episode on the set (#12 - “Monsters”) is “presented as originally aired,” so it’s safe to say there’re plenty of new bits for someone who watched the broadcast versions.
The pilot film (subtitled “House of Chthon”) occupies Disc One and was released by itself last year -- it’s the only disc with any other special features and what’s on here was on the single disc release. Two separate audio commentaries – one from pilot director Peter O’Fallon and one from Goyer and co-writer Geoff Johns; the latter’s the more engaging and it’s especially noteworthy to listen to Goyer’s thoughts on the “Blade” universe, which he’s guided since the first film. “Turning Blade” is an hour-long documentary that focuses on the genesis of the series and the making of the pilot. Lastly, there’s a cross-section of TV spots that demonstrate the flawed folly of marketing. Too bad more commentaries weren’t recorded for some of the later episodes, but it’s certainly no more of a tragedy than the fact this is likely all we’ll ever see of a series loaded with potential.