Blade: Trinity - Extreme Version Review

You’ve got to feel sorry for Blade. He’s had a tough life. Growing up part-man/part-man vampire after his pregnant mother was bitten by a “Creature of the Night”, he roamed the streets trying to sate his bloodlust; until he was discovered by a crusty old man named Whistler. With his unique ability as a “Daywalker”, Blade was offered a destiny by his new-found mentor. This meant dressing up in head-to-toe leather, and hunting down the suck-heads with an arsenal wider than the Pentagon. He takes great pleasure in vanquishing the undead, yet he still has to inject a serum, which keeps his desire for plasma at bay. So, what to do? Save humanity of course! First, he took on the vampire nation single-handed, before joining forces to face a new menace entirely. For Blade: Trinity, he’s back to turning vamps into ash...

As the film begins, we’re whisked away to the Syrian desert, where a troupe of sun-guarded vampires unearth something sinister in a tomb. It’s pissed, and clearly craving the beating heart of a virgin. Meanwhile, Blade (Wesley Snipes) is having fun using his latest batch of toys; taking out vamps left, right and centre. But tragedy strikes - walking into their trap, Blade kills a human by mistake - an act which is caught on camera. Now, he’s got the United States government after him too. To help him survive, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) has assembled a team to watch his back. They’re called the Nightstalkers, headed by Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds), a wise-cracking former vampire-cum-hunter; and the sexy Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel), long-lost daughter of the Old Man himself. The Trinity must work together in order to defeat Dracula (Dominic Purcell), awakened by villain Danica Talos (Parker Posey); in a bid to accomplish the vampire’s “final solution.” Bloody battles, and bloody awful music ensues!

Let’s get one thing clear - I love the Blade series. Stephen Norrington’s original was a blast of white-hot cool; Marvel’s first battering ram at the international box office. The comic property was about to become big business, with Norrington’s action picture exceeding expectations - especially since the title character was such a third-tier entity. Created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, Blade first appeared in the fabled Tomb of Dracula comic series (which makes a brief, but welcome appearance in Trinity). His tough, street-wise nature didn’t earn him many fans, and appearances in Amazing Spider-Man aside, he was largely ignored. For whatever reasons, his silver screen counterpart clicked with a whole generation of cinema-goers. With Snipes at the wheel, Blade became an icon; revelling in the Blaxploitation vibe, and exaggerated violence.

Released four years later, Blade II was just as successful, this time helmed by the wonderful Guillermo del Toro. He took the series in a different direction, with plenty of blood, and an emphasis on gothic imagery. It was also pumped-up, and difficult to dislike. Which brings us to Blade: Trinity. This time, New Line was getting complacent. They decided against hiring a seasoned pro for the director’s chair, offering the task to David S. Goyer - writer of all three films (and the modern classic Dark City). It might have seemed like a good idea on paper, but Goyer was a disastrous choice. Trinity maintains the stigma most “final” chapters are burdened with - it’s tired, strewn together, and lacking what made its forerunners so enjoyable. It’s entirely Goyer’s fault, with his inexperience stopping the film dead in its tracks. He also tries to inject life into the series with some awful narrative decisions, made all the worse by his hyperactive direction. Like Blade said in the original film, “some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill.” With Trinity, he tries too hard to please, and fails miserably.

The film has crater-size flaws, and critics didn’t resist the temptation to pick apart Goyer’s witless narrative. But it has some good points, occurring every now and again, like a blip on a radar. First of all, lets talk about those Nightstalkers. The entire promotional campaign for the film seemed to centre on Biel and Renolds; restricting Snipes to the background. He may have above-the-title-billing, but the new blood dominated the press. They add a fresh angle to the series, creating a contrast to Blade’s stoic persona (a lot like the Blood Pack from Part II). They also pack a serious amount of weaponry, that put Whistler’s efforts to shame - such as Abigail’s prized bow and arrow, which fires around corners; or Hannibal’s impulse handgun, which records streaming video of its targets, on an in-built CD-ROM. Why? For the post-battle exposition, of course.

After intense training, Biel and Reynolds certainly look the part. They match Snipes during the frequent gunfights, and are convincing as action heroes. Hetero men won’t complain about the athletic Biel, who looks astonishing here (and naturally, she has a shower scene). Everyone else should admire the improbably buff Reynolds, who gets to flex his muscles in the final reel, in a skirmish with gargantuan wrestler Triple H. That alone, should warn many viewers about the cast - Blade: Trinity has the weakest performances in the trilogy, but Biel and Reynolds slip into their roles with relative ease. The former is mostly underused, deployed by Goyer as mere eye candy. It’s a shame, since Biel has proven her worth as an actress in the past. When not dispatching vamps, Reynolds is there purely for comedic effect - which is a good portion of the run-time. Goyer complained that most of his humour was deleted from previous scripts, and is clearly making up for lost time. 90% of Hannibal’s dialogue is laced with juvenile jokes, even during the heavy exposition. He’s over-used, but Reynolds is frequently hilarious.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is decidedly poor. As Dracula, Dominic Purcell is pathetic. He doesn’t have an ounce of menace, and even his kill sequences lack any tension. The script doesn’t give us a reason to fear him either, with Goyer resorting to well-trodden cliché, and hoping for a response. He’s supposed to be the most feared vampire in existence; the progenitor of his race. Yet, Blade seems to be his equal - a sure way to kill any suspense stone-dead - and he even appears to fear the Daywalker; especially during the foot chase through the city, in which Dracula (or “Drake”, as he’s known here) attempts everything to get away! The other villains face a similar fate. Dispensing with whatever indie cred she had, Parker Posey is very unthreatening as Danica. In fact, she seems to be recalling her bitchy character from Dazed and Confused, with better dental work thrown-in. Heck, have you ever seen a vampire with bad teeth? Now there’s an original concept...

But superlative acting was never one of Blade: Trinity’s aims. It’s about explosions, and technical razzle-dazzle. In the action stakes, the film is also hit-and-miss, but it’s never boring. In fact, I enjoyed it more on my second viewing, when my fan-boy anticipation had evaporated. Goyer lines the flick with wall-to-wall stunts, and there are some enjoyable moments here. The opening car chase is a first for the Blade series, and is relentlessly OTT. He runs over motorcycle blood-suckers; kills another with his UV headlights (neat!), and even has an in-car scuffle with one foe, with a wonderful pay-off. But my favourite scene is the rescue of Blade in the FBI headquarters. Introducing the Nightstalkers perfectly, it’s Trinity’s pumped-up highlight. Even the conclusion has some worth, with the trio destroying the vampire’s hideout (which is, would you believe it, made almost entirely of glass).

In most respects, the set pieces kept me engaged. If only Goyer wasn’t a fan of MTV-filmmaking. It’s a virus that seems to be spreading throughout Hollywood - choppy editing; deafening hip-hop tracks that underscore the carnage, and digitally-altered colours that destroy the cinematography. He should have studied his predecessors, who handled such conventions with skill. There’s nothing here that will impress experienced movie-goers. But his script is the worst offender - a surprise given the quality of the previous two. He seems disinterested in the material, and it offers a variety of poor story elements - the worst of which, is the vampire Pomeranian, and Abigail’s persistent use of an iPod (which she listens to, mid-battle). And I don’t care what Goyer says to defend such flagrant product placement - no hunter would ever block one of her key senses during a fight. The story, dialogue and characterisation is a total mess. There’s no reason to care.

Well, Snipes cares, even if we don’t. Avoiding any promotion during the theatrical release, the star of the franchise was right to be angry. The emphasis on Hannibal and Abigail pushes Blade out of the spotlight for too much of the film - a reminder of the potential spin-off, which Goyer is no doubt penning as we speak. They’re entertaining characters, but New Line’s naked franchising efforts help to dull their impact. Ultimately, Blade: Trinity needed more of its title character. Snipes continues to exude cool, but he becomes a supporting player in his own movie. And for die-hard fans like myself, that’s unforgivable. The actor’s current law suit against New Line has been well-publicised; a dispute which renders any further sequels dead in the water - something which many will welcome. I wanted to love Blade: Trinity. I really did. But Goyer has taken one of the best comic characters in decades and flushed him down the toilet; exiting not with a bang, but a simper...

The Discs

The Blade films have always done well on DVD, with first-rate transfers and features to match. This is no exception. Despite the middling box office, and critical backlash, New Line have released Blade: Trinity as part of their prestigious “Platinum Series”; and the results are impressive. Spread over two discs, the extras are plentiful, and the presentation is well above-average. In other words, there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into...

As advertised by New Line, this disc includes the extended cut of the film, with 10 extra minutes. However, I didn't notice most of the new footage, and apart from a slightly-altered ending, there's nothing even remotely interesting about it.

The Look and Sound

Back in the early days of DVD, the first Blade flick set a benchmark for video quality, and it still looks outstanding today. Its sequel boasted the same finesse, so it’s no surprise that Trinity is packing heat. The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer gives the movie a beautiful look, improving greatly on the theatrical presentation. Goyer’s use of colour (mostly achieved in post-production), can give the image a gritty texture, but it’s a sharp transfer from scene one. The blacks are rock-solid, and the sombre colours are greatly rendered. It’s not a bright film, although the image handles shadows and night-time scenes with aplomb. The vampire dustings look suitably spectacular too, with the ash revealing plenty of fine detail. There are no serious problems to report here, and although Trinity isn’t as pleasing to the eye as its predecessors, the transfer is top-notch.

Audio is even stronger. You can choose either Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, or DTS 6.1 ES, and both come highly recommended. This is a loud, assaultive movie, with plenty of bang for your buck. The DTS was my weapon of choice, and Trinity is the perfect movie to crank up the volume. Hell, turn it up to 11, since the tracks are so much fun. The surrounds are always active, with directional effects projected with brute force, and the dialogue is crisp and clear. Goyer’s use of music isn’t too pleasing (rap, metal and hip-hop isn’t my cup of tea), but the score has plenty of resonance. Yet, it’s the action scenes you want to savour. Beginning with the car chase, I couldn’t fault the use of discrete sound effects; the hiss of burning vamp flesh, or the satisfying rush of Blade’s arsenal. It’s all so in-your-face, so bass-fans will be happier than Larry. Ultimately, this is some of New Line’s best work to date...

The distributor also provides a French 2.0 track.

The Menus

These menus have plenty of pizzazz, with style up-the-wazoo. They also suit the mood of the picture, with a steely-blue colour palette and over-the-top sound effects. The animation is well-handled, with the customary anamorphic-enhancement. They look great.

Bonus Material

While the extras here don’t beat Guillermo del Toro’s efforts on the Blade II disc, they put many other releases in the shade. New Line continue their high standard, with some hugely informative extras. While the film scarcely deserves such a detailed analysis (sprinkling sugar onto shit, does not a pancake make), they got my full attention.

Disc One

Audio Commentary by David S. Goyer, Ryan Reynolds and Jessica

It’s rather telling that Mr. Snipes is absent for this yack-track, but the director and his stars make a good fist of the proceedings. As you’d expect, this is pretty light on technical details, or fan-friendly facts, but pretty enjoyable all the same. Goyer asks the pair questions on a variety of topics, from their preparation, to their thoughts on the Blade series as a whole. Reynolds continues to prove his worth as a comedian, with plenty of self-deprecating comments, and good-natured piss-taking. Biel is good value too, and it’s refreshing to hear a woman’s perspective on such a testosterone-heavy film. It’s a nice peek into the trials of acting in an action picture, and while this is probably a one-listen deal, fans will find something to enjoy...

Audio Commentary by Goyer, editor Howard Smith, production designer Chris Gorak, cinematographer Gabriel Berstain, and producers Peter Frankfurt & Lynn Harris

If you want a frank and detailed discussion on Blade: Trinity, then this is the commentary to listen to. It’s a great technical insight into the production, and thanks to the number of participants, it’s never boring. Goyer lays down his desire to make a “different” Blade film, and what he wanted to bring to the series. He’s also very vocal about the challenges he faced directing a blockbuster so early in his filmmaking career. Gorak and Berstain look at the film from a technical perspective, commenting on the stylistic choices, and defending their decisions. The producers mostly complain (lest we forget, that the film lost money), but offer their two cents with knowing humour. The group seem to get on, and they had a lot of fun making the movie. A great track, overall.

Disc Two

Naturally, the bulk of material here is video-oriented, beginning with:

“Daywalkers, Nightstalkers and Familiars: Inside the World of Blade: Trinity”

This is a comprehensive, 16-part documentary, which really goes into the technical nitty-gritty. You can select each chapter from the menu, or play the piece as a whole. It’s a valid look at the filmmaking process, with well over an hour of behind-the-scenes footage. It goes through each stage: conception/writing, casting, set design, filming, make-up, action, editing, and creating the score. Most of the key figures are interviewed, with Goyer, Snipes, Biel, Reynolds and the producers all chipping in. Yet, it isn’t just the principle cast and crew that contribute - everyone from the stunt co-ordinator to the tea boy, appear to give their thoughts. It’s a lot of fun getting to see the actors in training (Reynolds is always there with a wise-crack), especially the ultra-fit Biel showing the trainer a thing or two. This is an exhaustive and highly enjoyable documentary - an early contender for 2005’s best.

Alternate Ending

Most of the time, “alternate endings” suck. They were deleted for obvious reasons - they didn’t cut the mustard. Fortunately, the one for Blade: Trinity is pretty darn great, and a wonderful short film in its own right. It’s another nod to the potential Nightstalkers spin-off, and I can see why it was cut. But it’s still worth seeing. It follows Hannibal and Abigail, as they storm a casino in Shanghai, beating up the guards (among them, David Goyer in cameo mode) while they hunt down....a werewolf. It’s exciting, funny and eccentric, making the prospect of a spin-off pretty intriguing.

“Goyer on Goyer: The Writer Interviews the Director”

Another featurette, in which Goyer interviews...himself. Thanks to computer wizardry, he sits next to himself, firing questions back and forth. This might have been fun, if (a) it didn’t repeat most of the facts from the documentary, and (b) Goyer wasn’t so smug. Perhaps he should direct a decent film before getting so cocky...

Blooper Reel

Hey, look! It’s actors! Screwing up! A mildly funny gag reel, this montage is notable for the comedic dynamo that is Ryan Reynolds. Morning, noon or night, this yokel is hilarious. His collection of ad-libs is brilliant, and there’s also plenty of failed stunts, and Snipes riffing in full Blade regalia.

You will also find two image galleries - one detailing each weapon found in the film, and the other covering production stills; a clutch of trailers for other New Line titles (as well as the feature), and last but not least, a free comic book found inside the case. It’s a “Nightstalkers” issue, direct from the artisans at Marvel; documenting the events before Trinity took place. A perfect end to a stellar collection of materials.

The Bottom Line

A hugely disappointing conclusion to a great franchise, Blade: Trinity is partially redeemed by New Line's stellar DVD release - which has plenty for fans of the series to lap up. Therefore, I recommend a rental for anyone new to the film. For Blade followers, it's probably a purchase.

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