Judge Mike Rubino was turned away by the vampires after they realized he didn't know how to dance in a night club.
"Sun's down, time to make some new friends."—Blade.
The Blade franchise is one that I never expected to be successful; but I also love it dearly. This short-lived television series on Spike TV was a noble effort in continuing the film series, but sadly I don't think it could survive without Wesley Snipes attached.
Blade: House of Chthon is a feature-length pilot episode of the series, and it has all the aspirations of its big-screen predecessors. Unfortunately, a low budget and sub-par acting keep it from surviving through the night.
Facts of the Case
We are living in a world in which vampires live among us, secretly meeting in dance clubs and dressing like Eurotrash, undermining our culture and preying on the innocent. They've even infiltrated human society, paying off the police and government to supply them with fresh blood and cover from the law. It's a dark world that only one man can penetrate: Blade, the vampire hunter.
You see, Blade's mother was bitten by a vampire whilst she was pregnant, resulting in Blade being born half-man, half-vampire. He conveniently has all the strengths of being a bloodsucker, without any sensitivity to light, garlic, or techno music. Of course, Blade does hunger, and for that he needs his serum twice daily. A small price to pay for kicking butt nightly.
After spawning a successful movie trilogy, this semi-obscure Marvel Comics vampire hunter made the jump to cable TV. Originally developed for Showtime, Blade: The Series ended up in the capable hands of Spike TV. After Wesley Snipes and Jessica Biel opted not to be in the show, Spike recruited the likes of Kirk "Stinky Fingaz" Jones and Jill Wagner.
This DVD release features the original, uncut, 90-minute pilot episode of the series. While the show isn't currently getting picked up for a second season, this episode alone brought in the largest ratings Spike TV ever had.
Blade has long been one of my favorite Marvel franchises. I consider the original Blade to be the influential springboard for all of Marvel's success in Hollywood, and one of the best comic-movies around. Blade II was a pretty successful sequel, and Blade Trinity was a misstep for sure. As you follow this series downhill from the original film, you'll discover that Blade: The Series rests peacefully at the bottom.
I think of this show, and especially Blade: House of Chthon, as a noble, yet fruitless, effort.
The pilot episode opens with Blade back in Moscow, chasing down a Ruskie in some sort of underground tunnel. It was a cool way to start the show and introduce the character. From there, the episode jumps around and quickly introduces a number of other plotlines—all taking place in Detroit. You meet Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), who returns from duty in Iraq only to find that her brother was killed by some mysterious gang; then you meet Detective Brian Boone (Bill Mondy) who is working for the vampires as a "familiar"; and finally you meet the bad guy of the series, pasty philanthropist Marcus van Sciver (Neil Jackson).
The show does its best during this 90-minute pilot to sum up the entire Blade backstory, the network of vampires, the supply-and-demand economy of blood, and Sciver's plan for vampire shenanigans. While it's a little weird that Sciver lives in a stereotypical vampire castle situated in downtown Detroit, it's even stranger that they introduce some sort of Native American link with vampires. I don't recall if they explored that later in the series, but it is only alluded to during the pilot. They essentially set up enough during these 90 minutes to require you to watch the remaining 11 episodes (which have yet to be released on DVD).
The action in the episode is surprisingly good for an original cable television series. I read reports that Spike TV was strapped for cash while making this show, but it isn't as obvious as you might think. The special effects from the films, including that cool vampire-explody-charcoal one, are in the show in a dumbed-down fashion. But there is plenty of blood and acrobatics to make up for it. I have to wonder though, why does Blade bother fighting these vampires in hand-to-hand combat when he can just stab them with his silver stakes and get it over with? I guess it wouldn't be as entertaining.
Unfortunately, while the action is pretty good, the acting is not. The casting of "Sticky Fingaz" wasn't a terrible decision (after all, he does sort of look like Snipes), but you quickly find out that he isn't half the actor Snipes is. That's saying a lot. The rest of the cast is okay, but not great. I wish people didn't always play vampires as such sleazy, horny cornballs. Seriously, why are these people so intense all of the time? It should be easy to tell who is a vampire and who is normal, because the vampires always dress like they are going to the club. Blade is also paired up with a new sidekick named Shen, since his former friend Whistler died in the movies. He fits that typical wisecracking Asian archetype, and really just seems to annoy Blade round the clock. Honestly, though, most people aren't tuning in to this show for some amazing acting…it's all about the vampire-killin' action; in that regard, the show succeeded.
The pilot was directed by Peter O'Fallon, who has directed his fair share of television shows. He does a great job of mimicking the style of the three Blade films, while also giving this show its own identity. At times, the show falls in to the routine employed by many TV action shows: lots of quick cuts during a fight scene, and loads of angles showing Blade driving his muscle car. They needed to switch those two methods of filming around: show us a small portion of Blade driving, and a lot of Blade fighting. Alas, I guess you do what you can with the budget you're given.
Blade: House of Chthon was shot in high definition, and it really shows on this DVD release. The picture looks great for a television show, and really makes this feel like another addition to the Blade movies. Good video quality like this is very important for a show that spends a lot of time in the dark. The show sounds good, too, with a pounding techno-rock soundtrack in surround sound. The only weird problem was with the fighting sound effects, which all sound like someone breaking raw eggs. Why is every punch wet and crunchy?
This DVD also comes packed with a very extensive hour-long documentary, broken up in to several parts. The documentary, called "Turning Blade," features interviews with the cast, director O'Fallon, and series writer, producer, and overall guru David Goyer. While the documentary drags a bit, it is very detailed and thorough; it covers everything from the creation the series down to the details about Blade's weapons and costume. The documentary talks about the series as a whole, but stays focused just on this pilot episode, which was a smart move. Also on the DVD are two commentary tracks, one by director O'Fallon and one with the episode's writers, Goyer and Geoff Johns. Both are fairly interesting to listen to, with O'Fallon offering up more dry details than Goyer and Johns.
The DVD packaging is pretty solid here, and it captures the feel of the series very well. Heck, at first glance, you might even think that's Wesley Snipes on the cover. I do question the title of the pilot, "House of Chthon." It's odd to give your big debut episode a title most people wouldn't even know how to pronounce. The "unrated" tag also seems a little unnecessary here, considering that there are only brief moments of R material in this release. I guess more people will buy something if it isn't rated…
Blade: The Series wasn't the worst movie-to-television series to come along in recent years, and I have to give these folks a lot of credit for going the distance in terms of production values. It was a flawed show, hurt mostly by its lack of a budget and some weak cast members. That said, Blade: House of Chthon doesn't totally stand on its own, so if you want any sort of closure, get ready to buy the rest of the series when its released sometime down the road. But if you love all things Blade, and you've got the hunger for more…then get this release.
Guilty of being a mindlessly entertaining continuation of the Blade franchise that is supposed to hold you over until the entire series is released.
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• "Turning Blade" Documentary
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