Marvel movies are all the rage these days, but one of the best hit the big screen way back in 1998. Blade brings the famed half human/half vampire hero to life with a stellar Wesley Snipes, plenty of attitude, and even more blood. The film is new to 4K UltraHD — and it looks absolutely terrific — so after rewatching the movie itself I dug into the supplements and listened to the commentary for the first time.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Blade.
Commentators: David Goyer (writer), Wesley Snipes (daywalker), Stephen Dorff (actor), Theo Van De Sande (cinematographer), Kirk M. Petruccelli (production designer), Peter Frankfurt (producer)
1. Blade arrived in the comics around the mid 70s suggesting his mother was bitten in the 40s or 50s, but they updated it for the film.
2. Goyer and director Stephen Norrington wanted to make it clear from the opening scenes that this wasn’t going to be a “particularly gothic” vampire tale.
3. A line of dialogue was dropped from the script featuring Blade (Snipes) saying that he remembers being born, “literally being cut from his mother’s womb.” It’s his origin story and the obvious beginning of his hatred for the vampires.
4. Traci Lords was a late addition to the film and ended up being “an epiphany” to the filmmakers. “She was exactly right for the role. It really sets up this world and how arrogant and sexy, and she embodied all of that.” Her boyfriend at the time plays the large guard at the entrance to the rave.
5. Per Petruccelli, it was made clear by Norrington early on that he wanted to see a lot of “hero” shots of Blade “which meant we were going to be seeing a lot of ceilings.”
6. “I’ve found that American action films rely more on spectacle,” says Snipes, “but action films from other countries don’t do it that way.” He adds that international action is often embedded into “the emotional state and intent of the character.”
7. Blade spins and leaps onto a ledge at 9:13, but it was a tricky move. They shot nearly ten takes, but each time his body bounced on the wall and he missed catching the thin ledge. They resolved the issue by having Snipes’ stunt double stick the landing.
8. Goyer and Norrington had some battles with New Line Cinema over Karen’s (N’Bushe Wright) relationship with Curtis (Tim Guinee). The filmmakers wanted to keep the conversation going a little too long to the point that viewers are bored with these two talking about themselves, “and that’s when the vampire” rises. The studio kept requesting they trim it all down as it “sounds like Melrose Place.”
9. The scene where Quinn (Donal Logue) attacks Karen in the hospital corridor features lots of screaming, but they knew something was wrong when Logue started yelling too. During the tussle, he fell face first onto the hard floor and completely dislodged his jaw. He had broken it in an accident years prior, and opening his mouth too wide and too fast can unhinge it. They were filming in an abandoned hospital but had to rush to a real one, “but I’ve got this guy who’s dressed as a third-degree burn victim, essentially naked, running in with his jaw hanging down.” The room cleared out pretty fast.
10. A deleted conversation from the script explained how Blade’s sword originally belonged to Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) who himself was part of a long line of vampire hunters.
11. Norrington wanted Kristofferson for the role as he was “the cool grandfather, grungy type of fighting, jolly type of a guy.” Goyer actually wrote the character, though, with Samuel Fuller in mind.
12. “I don’t really like commercial movies,” says Dorff, but the script and filmmaker interested him. “I didn’t want to do a silly comic book movie.” He then goes on to say he wanted to do a movie that would “reach more people” before name-dropping the high-brow talents he worked with the year before including Jack Nicholson and Harvey Keitel.
13. The scene where Karen touches Blade’s sword (yeah, I hear it) was originally longer as she went on to discover a weird, hybrid infant of some kind floating in a tank. It came with a jump scare, and Goyer says “I think it would have scared the living shit out of the audience, but New Line felt it was just too horrible.”
14. The vampire on the street corner at 40:21 is a cameo by Norrington.
15. Goyer says he never liked the idea of crosses as a deterrent to vampires as he never viewed the creatures as religious in any way. “Also, obviously, why would a cross do anything against a jewish vampire?”
16. It was Snipes who suggested the entrance to the vampire safe room inside the club be through the walk-in freezer.
17. The blobulous vampire Pearl took four people to perform — one at the head, one at each arm, and one operating the feet. He’s surrounded by used blood bags and debris, but originally they wanted dead children scattered around as well seeing as Pearl was too big to move around easily and would need easy prey.
18. The ancient parchments hanging in the vampire archives cost five bucks each as they’re just Xerox paper with artwork that were then aged artificially.
19. The high-kicking teen vampire is played by Eboni Adams, a Billy Blanks protege, who was traveling for martial arts competitions at the time they found her.
20. Goyer says screenwriters typically find their strengths in dialogue or structure, and he thinks he’s best with the latter. “I think my dialogue’s okay, but in an action movie structure is absolutely king.” He adds that he wishes he had cut more dialogue from the film.
21. There’s no subway train in the entirety of the subway sequence. Well, outside of CG.
22. “I really don’t like my performance in this scene,” says Snipes about the combustive conversation with Karen after she’s learned of his origin. Norrington wanted Blade to get angry with her questions, but Snipes feels it’s forced and is evident in his performance. “He can say exactly the same thing and be just as cold and just as clear without being angry.”
23. Blade was the third time Udo Kier played a vampire on screen.
24. Snipes has thoughts on the scene where Blade and Deacon Frost (Dorff) face off during the day on a busy street. “The issue with this scene” involved scheduling realities and Norrington’s uncertainty as to what he wanted. It was one of Dorff’s first day’s, “and the guy hadn’t had the chance to figure out what his character was let alone play the dynamics of the scene.” Snipes tried to help, which “was very delicate,” and it paid off. He told Dorff “we need more,” and it finally clicked resulting in a powerful interaction between the two.
25. Dorff doesn’t disagree, but he does add that it was an interesting day in part because people like David Fincher were visiting the set. He had also been rehearsing for hours and felt his performance was growing stale, so when Snipes stopped to watch playback — and to remind Dorff that he’s a producer and therefore has more say on the film — the two grew antagonistic. “The most tense situations on a movie tend to make the best movies.”
26. Snipes can’t stop laughing at the scene where Blade tries to help a dying Whistler by touching his extremely bloodied body with a small piece of gauze.
27. Fincher was attached to direct the film at one point and worked with Goyer on a draft of the script. One of the bits of wisdom he imparted to the writer was that “on the road to enlightenment, you have to kill your mother, kill your father, and kill Buddha.” Goyer applies that here for Blade’s road back towards his humanity.
28. A scene was deleted showing Deacon’s blood farm with a batch of sedated humans hooked up to a tap for drinking. “It just ended up looking kind of goofy.”
29. Deacon’s end was changed and revamped (you’re welcome) from draft to draft, but it eventually came back around to what Goyer had written in his first draft.
30. One ending that was proposed involved the vampires’ contraption working and leading to a vampire apocalypse of them taking over the planet. The sequel would have then taken a Mad Max-like tone as Blade and others bring the fight to them across an apocalyptic wasteland. Another involved Deacon being turned into vortex of CG blood — the vampire god — but preview audiences were uninterested in watching Blade fight against an animated squiggle.
31. The infamous line of Blade’s — “Some motherfuckers always trying to ice skate uphill.” — was an offhand comment by Snipes at an early story meeting. Goyer loved it and decided immediately that they should use it.
32. The Moscow-set postscript originally featured Whistler as the vampire attempting to kill the woman before being interrupted by Blade.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“The blood has a character of its own.”
“Whistler is the modern day Van Helsing.”
“We’re gonna make a comic book movie, but we’re not really gonna make a comic book movie. We’re gonna make a real movie.”
“I think vampire films should be dark, cold, and without light. You should have a very strong black.”
“I had a hard time killing him because I wanted him to hang out more.”
“What do you do with a 900 pound vampire?”
“Blade was sort of my ode to Peckinpah.”
“What the audience has to understand is that Blade is not a horror movie. Blade is an action movie.”
“Endings are always hard. Virtually every movie I’ve ever been involved with, the endings changed after preview screenings.”
“Norrington is a very strange guy.”
There are some fun and informational bits throughout this commentary, but its format is far from ideal. The various commentators were recorded separately, and various snippets are just dropped throughout. Still, it’s an entertaining listen for fans of Snipes, Dorff, and of Blade itself. Goyer’s filmography is a mixed bag — and he’s a jabroni for saying Blade isn’t a horror movie — but this movie remains a highlight and he offers some interesting insights into its creation.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.