Bloodrayne (Unrated Director's Cut) Review
Three strangers - Vladimir (Michael Madsen), Sebastian (Matt Davis) and Katarin (Michelle Rodriguez) - ride into a small village in search of food, drink and rest for the night. Tired from a long journey, they enjoy a glass of wine but are troubled when they are joined by one unknown to them. Seeing that this man casts no shadow in a mirror, Sebastian, without turning to him, pierces his heart with his sword whereupon he falls to the ground. Before those who've stopped to look, this corpse quickly ages and turns to dust. Life in the village quickly returns to normal, leaving us in no doubt that not only are vampires an everyday threat but that so too are vampire-slayers.
What the Vladimir, Sebastian and Katarin learn is that a circus outside of the village is holding a savage young woman who drinks the blood of animals and who appears to have supernatural powers. Believing her to be a vampire, Vladimir is wary of Rayne but seeing her wear a crucifix, he realises she is something else - part vampire and part human...a dhamphir. Escaping from the circus, Rayne begins a quest to seek out the vampire who killed her mother but, in doing so, learns that this creature, Kagan (Ben Kingsley), is the most powerful vampire in the known world. Joining with Vladimir - who is revealed to be a member of the secretive Brimstone Society - Rayne sets out to take her revenge on Kagan but betrayal and a terrible secret await her and Vladimir...
Mostly, there's little basis to the grumbling of videogames fans as regards the often terrible film adaptations of their favourite games. In spite of the grey cloud of criticism that refuses to move away from the two films sprung from Capcom's Resident Evil - due, I'm sure, to the involvement of Paul WS Anderson on both - they're both quite wonderful when compared to the shoddy live-action footage that opens the original game. For anyone who remembers the quite shocking line-up of actors that opened Resident Evil - those actors playing Wesker and Chris Redfield looked to have come straight from the adult film business - not to mention the rubber dogs that looked unconvincing even in grainy black-and-white, Anderson worked wonders in producing a film that avoided such lines as, "You were almost a Jill sandwich!" and "You...the master of unlocking!" Actually writing this down brings back the horror of it all - an unintentional horror, admittedly - leaving it difficult to connect Resident Evil with the outrage that followed the appointment of Anderson as director.
Equally, it's hard to believe that there was genuine concern over the quality of the Doom movie, itself based on a game the plot of which could have been written on the back of a beer mat in larger-than-usual handwriting. That they hired The Rock to star in this story of a teleportation-experiment-on-Mars-gone-wrong actually serves to flatter Doom more than the career of the one-time wrestler who's known to his mother as Dwayne Johnson. Duke Nukem, Baldur's Gate, Far Cry and even Tekken are all films stuck in development hell, leaving fans continuing to fret and wring their hands over quality of the finished film. In the case of Tekken, that is, in case anyone's missed that particular game, a beat-em-up based around a martial arts tournament in Japan that features, amongst other characters, a robot, a man with the head of a tiger and, in Tekken 2, a demon. Frankly, I'd have higher hopes over a videogame adaptation of Q*Bert set in the world of interior decorating.
It's fitting that the world of videogame adaptations has so drawn Uwe Boll to them, like a particularly clumsy moth to a very bright flame. In a way, they deserve one another - Boll keeping going in his chosen career taking not the slightest bit of notice of any of the criticism - whilst an equally stubborn set of fans rouse themselves on occasion to oppose him. And yet, they're unavoidably drawn to one another - Boll to videogames and gamers to Boll and I, for one, can't help but admire him, much as I do Paul WS Anderson. There is, though, a vast difference between admiring Boll for his perseverance and for his films and whilst one can enjoy how he persists with videogame adaptations, it's much more difficult to actually enjoy one of his movies.
Cheap even by the standard of some very inexpensive films - in addition to previous Uwe Boll films, I can also point you towards Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxas as a comparison - BloodRayne is the kind of film where you find yourself thinking that Michael Paré will be along in a minute. And, as if knowing it to be a fait accompli, Boll has him wander in, playing Iancu as a kind of Q for the Brimstone Society, arming them with, amongst other items, "black powder from China." In itself, this is something of a nod towards the tendency of fantasy films to refer to something in the most oblique of terms - hence the avoidance of saying 'gunpowder' in favour of something that hints at the mystery of the Orient - but given that Paré delivers it with all the exoticism of a advertisement for Kwok-Man's Chinese Takeaway, it falls out of his mouth with such a thud that you can feel the vibrations as it lands.
It does feel slightly unfair to Paré to single him out for criticism as he's very far from being the worst actor here. Which, to anyone who's seen Paré in, well, anything, is testament to how poor the quality of the acting is. Meat Loaf Aday - or just plain old Meat Loaf to those who once wondered what he and Ellen Foley were up to during the sports commentary on Paradise By The Dashboard Light - is also in here but appears to have taken his cue from the opening minute of You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth on Bat Out Of Hell. Lolling about around some naked women in his playing of a vampire, one does wonder if he'll ask, "On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red rose?" Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez, perhaps in an effort to stretch the film out that little bit longer, speak very, very slowly whilst Kristanna Loken did much better as the mute female Terminator than she does here, although, unlike Rodriguez, she's prepared to reveal herself - figuratively and literally - in her playing of the half-human/half-vampire that is the star of the film. Together, they are working to a standard that will be recognisable to anyone who has attended a murder mystery weekend, wherein actors seem to wander in without warning and appear to make random announcements that may, under close scrutiny, have something to do with a plot.
Speaking of which, BloodRayne is structured exactly like a videogame, which makes one wonder where much of the criticism of Boll as a director of adaptations has come from. Characters come and go - Billy Zane is in the cast but looks as though he simply excused himself during the production and never returned - Ben Kingsley...sorry, Sir Ben Kingsley is cast as a boss character and in the manner of a good many videogames, Rayne must collect three items before she can face Kagan. BloodRayne's occasional feasting on the blood of vampires is much like the first aid packs that Lara Croft tripped over or that Max Payne found in otherwise trashed toilets while her training with the Brimstone Society is akin to her leveling up. Even the gore has the feel of a videogame about it, being just too bright a splash of red.
And yet much as it delivers on the gore, BloodRayne does so in the manner of an expensive film that's been incompetently made. Where a Peter Jackson might have used porridge, ketchup and sausages for his gore or a Frank Henenlotter would have cut away from the violence such that the gore occurred offscreen, Boll has the money to put the gore onscreen but not the ability to make it look convincing. Hence, the frequent amount of cutting that goes on between a stuntman being sliced open and an entrails-filled dummy falling apart. There's a particularly terrible effect that will have you desperately looking for the wires used to pull the human model apart, not because they're actually there but because the film is so dreadful that you expect it to conform with equally dreadful effects. Yet it doesn't and in that respect, BloodRayne is very well made but because the script, acting, directing and CG effects are all so terrible, one expects everything else to be of a similarly poor quality.
And that, amongst very many things that are wrong with the film, is its main failing - BloodRayne is atrociously made but one has no sympathy for it. Unlike the manner in which I argued for Anchor Bay's Triple Creature Feature - they may well have been cheap films but, wisely, they kept the gore off the screen - I'd never make the case for BloodRayne. It's too expensively made to have be charmingly amateurish but too badly made to be any good. Not before time, audiences seem to be agreeing with Western cinemagoers beginning to turn their back on Boll and although I still maintain that videogame adaptations frequently get the filmmakers they deserve, the efforts of Uwe Boll may be a step too far even then. Unfortunately, Boll's indiscriminate dabbling in videogaming is tarring all such adaptations with the same shit-coloured brush and despite the variable quality of what we've seen to date, it's a pity that any that aspire to being very much more than a capable action movie will be thought of as yet another Boll-ism.
Of course, you expect BloodRayne to have a very good transfer and, in that respect, it doesn't disappoint. Though dark, the amount of detail is impressive and with very little digital noise in the picture, the DVD shows off Boll's very ordinary direction such that there can be few questions as to where the blame for BloodRayne lies. It's worth noting that blacks are particularly good and, given this being a film about vampires, it does follow that this is a better-than-average release. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is quite dull, however, with some use of the rear channels but not enough. Dialogue and action are both clear, albeit, given Boll's direction, sluggish, and it sounds fine but anything other than ordinary.
Commentary: Kristanna Loken, Will Sanderson, First AD Brian Knight and producer Shawn Williamson join Uwe Boll for this feature-length commentary that does a quite remarkable job of talking it up. At first, you do wonder if they're actually watching the same film but the longer it goes on, the more it becomes apparent that they are, even to the uncomfortable pause that accompanies Kristanna Loken's nude scene. Unlike the actual film, it is fast-paced (and chatty) affair and there does seem, regardless of the quality of the movie, a good-natured feel to the track.
CGI Making Of BloodRayne (5m20s): BloodRayne is not only based on a videogame but bears a similarity to the poor quality of FMV that opened last-generation Playstation games. Hard to believe, then, that the producers of this DVD think that we want to have these scenes deconstructed. Never actually showing the gently humming ranks of Commodore VIC-20s that were used in the rendering of BloodRayne, this picks out several scenes and shows how CG effects were composited on the live action footage. Played in silence - in spite of searching for an audio track for the first minute, I found none - this isn't all that interesting but is over quickly.
Dinner With Uwe (47m35s): Given the quality of the films that he produces, one expects a dinner with Uwe Boll to have a similar cheapness to it. Imagine my surprise, then, when this actually features Boll sitting at a table and not wolfing down a kebab outside of Abrakebabra on a busy Saturday night. Joined by two guests - who, whether through shyness or shame, do not reveal their names - Boll discusses his first experiments with film, that he did not study filmmaking at university (you're surprised?) and how he became attracted to genre films on seeing how much money there was to be made. Actually, this isn't at all bad as regardless what you might think of Boll's direction, he's funny and fairly frank here and talks about the various films that he's made, revealing the successes and failures in his career. There may be more of one than the other but Uwe ploughs on nonetheless with a certain, and pleasing, disregard for the feelings of others. You'd think they'd have treated him to pudding though.
Finally, this first disc ends with a set of Storyboards (5x Screens) and a Trailer (1m35s).
Bloodrayne 2 Video Game: Now we're talking! It's frankly about time that someone realised that a decent extra on a film adaptation of a videogame might be the videogame itself. After all, however much one might expect the audience for this DVD to have already played the game, that isn't always the case. At least it isn't with this viewer. So, with a second DVD containing the full version of BloodRayne 2, this release suddenly looks a good deal more appealing. One hopes, then, that future DVD releases of videogame adaptations will follow Boll's cue, perhaps prompting videogame producers to realise that, even if the game is getting on a little, it doesn't take a great deal of work to ready a game for XP. Duke Nukem Forever to tie in with the Duke Nukem movie?
Uwe Boll is clearly very proud of his film, particularly the gore - he even chooses to end BloodRayne with a short recap of the most excessive grue - so one can't help but hope that, one day, he actually manages to make a film that he should be proud of. Until then - although, beginning a sentence like that does kind of imply that it will eventually happen...which I doubt - you have a very decent release of BloodRayne with a good presentation of the film and a set of extras that borders on the very generous. It may be an awful film but I suspect that Boll's latest will somehow find its audience, at least break even and will give the good doctor grounds for preparing yet another business case. Jet Set Willy? Nintendogs? Minesweeper? We can but wait...