There had been some discussions about doing a TV spin-off from the movies after Blade II, but a third movie had already been green-lit. So it was two years after Blade: Trinity that New Line Productions and Spike TV commissioned a pilot.
David S Goyer was back on writing duties only, after his turn in the director’s chair, and along with Geoff Johns turned in a script that in many ways hearkened back to the first film, and again has some interesting parallels with Buffy and Angel.
Krista Starr returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to her family in Detroit. While her mother and uncle are throwing a party to welcome her home, two police officers arrive to deliver the news that Zack, her twin brother, has been killed.
Krista goes to the morgue to identify Zack’s body and sees a tattoo on his neck, which those who have seen the films will know to be a vampire glyph, marking one of their familiars.
A quick Google search for the image later, Krista has found an eccentric professor (played by an uncredited Randy Quaid), who provides the back story that we already know: Blade, vampires, familiars, etc.
That night, she is attacked, but Blade turns up to rescue her and warn her off. She refuses to give up and Blade reluctantly gives her a chance to help him, by placing a tracking device on Marcus van Sciver, leader of the House of Chthon in the area. Failing in this mission, she attempts to kill Marcus with a sniper rifle, but is captured by Chase, one of his bodyguards. Marcus then injects Krista with his own blood, turning her.
The second half of the pilot then concerns Krista being given a crash course in vampirism, while Blade tries to track her down, hoping to be able to give her his serum before she makes her first kill – this might enable her to overcome the effects of the virus and let her act as a mole right inside the vampires’ councils.
The pilot closes with it unclear whether Krista will be able to resist the thirst and the draw of the vampire world, or if she will work with Blade and help to bring down her new family.
Woven around this are threads concerning a corrupt cop, Marcus, and his experiments into vaccines against the vampires’ weaknesses and a quite brief mention of vampire ash being used as a drug.
Is The Blade Series Any Good?
Yes. Actually, it’s really good. It feels as though Goyer found all the elements that worked to begin with, and threw away all the irrelevant things that crept in through the next two films.
Rather than toning down the violence, or developing a more comedic stance, the pilot feels like a true sequel – much closer to the original than TV Buffy was to its movie forebear.
The series is theoretically in continuity with the films. A clip is used from the first film showing Blade’s birth, and a reference is made to Summerfield and the serum inhalers that were introduced in the third. A lot of the iconic props also reappear – the throwing glaive, the UV grenades and the car. The sword and costume are somewhat different, but they haven’t really been consistent in the films either.
However, there isn’t a lot of reference made to what we’ve seen before. The series settles more for a middle ground than a reboot – nothing really contradicts the films, but you certainly don’t need to have seen them to enjoy this. In fact, the opening scene with its caption of ‘Moscow’ seems to say that this could just as easily be a direct continuation of the first movie.
What Works In The Blade Series?
In the first film, as I’ve pointed out before, Blade wasn’t the main character. Karen was our viewpoint character, learning about Blade and his world throughout the course of the film. Here we don’t need so much of an introduction, so Blade is able to be more prominent. However, for the benefit of new viewers, we have Krista who is able to pick up the information needed. As a bonus, though, once she is turned, she is in the hands of the vampires.
What this means, is that we are given more insight into the vampires’ world than we’ve had before, and this will go on as the series continues. More importantly, we are also able to learn about the vampires themselves.
There actually is some! For the first time since… well, ever. Stephen Dorff carried the first film on the basis of his own charisma, and any character that he showed was mostly in the performance rather than the script.
Here, we have Neil Jackson as van Sciver. Just as charming, still with a hard edge of menace, but shown as caring not only for his objectives, but also for the past with his restoration of historic buildings. He has reasons for doing things beyond the accumulation of power. For the first time, we have a bad guy who can be sympathised.
Chase, played by Jessica Gower, doesn’t get as much to do, but we are given glimpses of her backstory that will be picked up on later. Likewise, Nelson Lee as Shen. David Palffy as Fritz has the most underwritten part, but gives it his all – he’s big and strong, but also brave and fanatically loyal to Marcus.
Perhaps the best of the supporting cast, Bill Mondy’s performance as Det Boone helps to elevate a character that could just have been ‘Corrupt Cop #1’ into a slimy piece of work that you really want to see get his comeuppance.
Jill Wagner as Krista certainly gets the most time and attention. A war veteran who comes home only to be dragged into a different kind of war, experiencing several kinds of loss and then a brutal transformation, the repercussions of which she is only beginning to discover.
She’s also portrayed as a competent action figure, befitting a soldier. When confronted by vampires for the first time, she doesn’t cower or scream – she draws her gun and shoots them. It doesn’t kill them of course, hence the need for Blade to step in. But as she learns more about what is going on, she gains more appropriate weapons and is prepared to use them.
And what allows all of these characters to shine?
Time and Pace…
The Blade Trilogy was three movies. Each time, they had to set up the scene, explain the plot and work through to a climax in about 100 minutes, with time out for titles and credits.
This pilot has 85 minutes and doesn’t have to bring every plotline to a resolution. Instead, it can devote its time to setting up plots that will be developed later. We can have character moments, which again will pay off in the coming weeks.
There aren’t many wasted moments in the pilot, but nothing is rushed and the characters and plots are given the time that they need to play out properly.
What About Blade?
Wesley Snipes was never going to be available to play the title character in a weekly show, even without the bad blood that had come up between him and Goyer in the past. So who did they find to portray Blade?
Kirk ‘Sticky Fingaz’ Jones. He was an actor and a hip-hop performer – not necessarily a high recommendation. But he does well here. In fact, I think he does better than Snipes.
Jones doesn’t try to directly copy Snipes’ portrayal, although some of the sword flourishes in the fight scenes indicate that he has paid attention to the films and is paying homage to the audience’s expectations. But he makes the role his own.
This is a Blade who grew up on the streets of Detroit and has come home to face his enemies and also his past, as opposed to the film Blade who at times seemed to be more of a James Bond character, chasing across the world to save it from the vampires’ plots.
The role is not particularly complex in the pilot, but Jones’ performance is more even than Snipes’, who at times seemed about to grin directly at the camera. There are a few moments where Jones is able to show a little more depth, and that will continue as Blade’s story (both in the present and in flashback) continues over the next eleven episodes.
Are There Any Bad Points To The Blade Seriers?
The budget is smaller, and shooting time was much reduced. This results in a few points where it would have been better if some of the shots could have been redone, especially in the fight scenes, which are a bit less fluid. This is partly due to Kirk Jones being less versed in fighting than Wesley Snipes, but the makers went with that – Blade here is more of a bruiser than a martial artist, and this is probably easier to do on a tighter budget.
The location shooting is good, but there are a few times when a set seems to have been given a minimum of redressing to represent a different place, leading to some confusion as to whether we are in Zack’s apartment, Blade’s old home or a vampire den.
A few of the effects are a little subpar. I think that Zoic were trying to avoid just repeating the dusting effect from Buffy, but the gloopy tar effect doesn’t work as well. And one shot where Marcus tests one of his vaccines looks especially bad ten years later.
But overall the pilot works within its constraints to surprisingly good effect, keeping the action based in Detroit rather than going globetrotting the way the films could. It all works much better than might have been expected.
Keep your eyes open for my next article, a much briefer overview of the rest of the series…
Steve works full-time for the NHS and tries not to spend too much of his day plotting out his series of vampire novels. Away from the office, he divides his time between playing games where he is a vampire, playing games where he hunts vampires, and playing with Lego (he has numerous Lego vampires).