The best of the “Blade” films, thanks to director Guillermo Del Toro, makes its debut on Blu-ray with a strong high definition presentation and top-grade collection of bonus material. Blade II Release Date: July 10, 2012 Studio: Warner Home Video Packaging/Materials: Blu-ray "Eco-Box" keepcase Year: 2002 Rating: R Running Time: 1:56:52 MSRP: $19.98 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video AVC: 1080p high definition 1.85:1 Standard and high definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1, English 7.1 / Dolby Digital: German 5.1, Spanish 2.0, Portuguese 2.0, Czech 5.1, Magyar 5.1, Russian 5.1 Various Subtitles English SDH, German SDH, Spanis Portuguese, Czech, Magyar, Russian Various The Feature: 4/5 The half-human, half-vampire vigilante known as Blade (Wesley Snipes) has traced his old friend and mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) to Prague, where he’s being subjected to God-knows-what by the Vampire Nation. The worst case scenario is he’s been turned, but when Blade – with the help of a new weapons specialist named Scud (Norman Reedus) – finally finds him, his condition isn’t clear, making it hard for Blade to stake the man who’s been the only father he’s ever known. But dealing with the ambiguity around Whistler’s vampiric state turns out to be the least of Blade’s concerns. Vampire emissaries have come to offer him a temporary truce and enlist his help destroying a significantly more dangerous opponent. A mutation among their kind has given birth to Reapers, a feral and highly aggressive breed that favors feeding on (and turning) the undead over the living. As the vampires’ longtime enemy Blade may be their only hope for survival, though Blade himself must come to terms with allying with, and ultimately saving, those he has devoted his life to destroying. However, entering into their inner sanctum, occupied by the vampire elder Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann) and his daughter Nyssa (Leonor Varela), reveals more than Blade expected, shedding light on what has kept them in power for millenia but also what threatens to undo their entire society. Some of the CGI in “Blade II’” doesn’t look any better than it did 10 years ago, but the film is the best installment in the “Blade” franchise thanks to the talents of director Guillermo Del Toro. His understanding of the material, along with a spot-on take for he film’s action and fight sequences, make it one of the strongest Marvel Comics films from the pre-”Iron Man” era. That’s not to say there aren’t some pulpy moments in the script – in fact, most of the film is pulp! But Del Toro’s ready embrace of it, and skills as a visual storyteller, keep the film’s entertainment quotient high even when the quality of the dialogue and CGI aren’t. A canny peformance by Snipes in the lead role and a strong supporting cast further establish “Blade II” as that rarity in movies – the sequel that’s better than its predecessor. Video Quality: 4/5 The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is framed at 1.85:1 and features inky blacks, strong contrast, and deeply saturated color, particularly with reds, blues and yellows. Sharpness and detail are less impressive, looking decidedly better in medium shots and close ups, but lacking similar crispness and definition in wide and establishing shots. That’s a typical result of filtering or noise reduction, but on my 50” display there’s still some noticeable grain present. For the most part the image also appears free of edge haloing, though the eagle-eyed may spot some touches of it here and there. Though I was hoping for a little better, the transfer is a solid one overall with only a couple noticeable issues. Audio Quality: 5/5 For the soundtrack, users get to pick between 5.1 or 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. I wasn’t expecting to hear much difference between them on my 5.1 system, but there are some pretty distinctive qualities to each. The 5.1 option sounds very much like a near-field mix, with more up-front dialogue and a narrower surround field. At the same volume setting, it’s also significantly louder. At first, I thought I liked it over the 7.1, as the overall aggressiveness seemed like a perfect match for the film’s action visuals – it’s a little over-the-top, but punchy and energetic. However, it didn’t take long for it get a little annoying too, and I opted for the more subtle and expansive qualities of the 7.1 mix, which holds up better over the course of the film’s two-hour run time. Both tracks feature crisp and clear dialogue from the center channel, balanced and detailed activity from the surrounds, and robust LFE from the subwoofer. The 7.1 feels more immersive because of its larger soundfield, but those looking for an aggressive, in-your-face mix also won’t have any complaints about the 5.1. Special Features: 5/5 Adding to the already sizable extras from the 2002 DVD release are a new audio commentary by Del Toro and an interview with writer David Goyer. Though most of the bonus material is not presented in high definition, the information is wide ranging and in-depth, covering practically every phase of the production process, with extensive interviews with the director and members of the production team. Audio Commentaries: Those who have listened to a Del Toro audio commentary know what to expect – loads of insightful information, shared with clarity, enthusiasm, and self-deprecating humor. I'm admittedly not a big fan of commentary tracks, but I know I can count on Del Toro to turn in an entertaining and interesting one. With Director Guillermo Del Toro: Newly recorded (he makes a reference to Avatar, so we know it's at least after 2009), Del Toro can't avoid sharing some of the same production anecdotes, but he still manages to provide some new information and thoughts about the film. It's particularly interesting to compare the new track with the old, in which he seems to be more critical about his work. He does mention that "Blade II" was one of his more enjoyable directing experiences, so it's interesting to hear what a little time away can do. With Director Guillermo Del Toro and Producer Peter Frankfurt: Del Toro’s candid and self-deprecating comments about his work, along with some serious talk about his filmmaking methods, make for another interesting and worthwhile commentary track. With Wesley Snipes and Writer David Goyer: Snipes and Goyer's track inevitably suffers from comparison to what came before it, and some may bristle a bit at Snipes' personality. Still, the man knows what he wants and seems completely committed to the property. Director Notebook: Reproduction of Del Toro's journal includes his various ideas and illustrations for the film, with links to interviews where he shares his thoughts on various topics. Designing the vampires (1:53, HD) Designing the vampire's tactical uniforms (2:04, HD) Designing the Reapers' biological traits (2:48, HD) The Reapers' internal anatomy and influence on Del Toro's novel "The Strain" (2:05, HD) The style of violence, shooting and editing the fight sequences (2:49, HD) Blade II: Blood Brothers (10:22, HD): Writer David Goyer reflects on his longstanding professional relationship and friendship with Del Toro, and how "Blade II" affected Del Toro's career for the better. The Blood Pact: The documentary, divided into eight separate featurettes, covers the various phases of production with extensive interviews and behind-the-scenes video footage from the sets and locations. Genesis Redux – Beginnings (6:07, SD) Man and Myth – The Blade Character (2:35, SD) Leader of the Pact – On Directing (9:44, SD) The Devil's Architect – Production Design (12:23, SD) Fear the Reapers – Creature Effects (9:40, SD) Suck-Head Chic – Costuming (9:19, SD) Kicking and Screaming – Stunts and Choreography (12:35, SD) Vampire Nocturnes – The Music Score (19:35, SD) Comic Book Origins (5:19, SD): Del Toro talks about the challenges and advantages of adapting a comic book into a film. The Vampire Mystique (5:19, SD): Thoughts on the cross-cultural appeal of the vampire myth. Damaskinos Blood Bath (4:22, SD): Shooting various scenes involving the Damaskinos character. Alternative Sunrise Music (1:13, SD): An unused music cue. Percussion Instruments: The glossary defining all manner of percussion instruments is a pretty random addition, though the formatting, consistent with some of the other extras, suggests it wasn't a mistake. Sequence Breakdowns: Each scene includes four modules: Pages from the shooting script, a breakdown of the storyboard and special effects involved, the finished product in the film, and related behind-the-scenes video footage. Time information reflects the length of the latter two modules. Blood Bank (3:00 SD / 4:41 SD) Ninja Fight (2:35 SD / 5:15 SD) Reapers in the House of Pain (15:39 SD / 5:42 SD) Underground (5:36 SD / 4:36 SD) Chapel Fight (5:36 SD / 4:37 SD) Caliban (3:19 SD / 2:52 SD) Visual Effects Synthetic Stuntmen (6:04, SD): A look at creating and animating the digital doubles. The Digital Maw (3:25, SD): Concept and animation for the Reapers' oral weapon. Progress Reports: Video footage from the creature shop shows the design and creation of various prop and effects elements. Embryos (1:49, SD): Sculpting and fabricating the incipient vampires. Reaper Autopsy (9:08, SD): Creating and assembling parts of the Reaper anatomy. Vampire's Backbone (1:49, SD): Creating the mold for a spinal column. Dummy Whistler (6:57, SD): Making a silicone double of Kris Kristofferson. Lighthammer Kitchen (5:22, SD): Creating an animatronic upper body of the character for a Reaper attack. Priest Bites It (8:06, SD): Methods used for creating a full-body animatronic puppet in various stages. Reapers and Boo Heads (19:53, SD): Various phases of creating the Reapers. Script Supervisor's Notebook: Reproduction of pages from the notebook shows methods of maintaining continuity throughout the course of the production. Unfilmed Script Pages: Excerpts from Whistler and Blade's First Meeting, Mini-Mart Attack, and Blade Takes Nyssa to the Hospital. Art Gallery: Numerous illustrations and photographs show Sequence Concepts, Props and Weapons, Costume Design, Set Design and Character Design. Storyboards: Sketches from the storyboard show the opening fight, the autopsy, and moments from the ending. Deleted / Alternate Scenes (24:29, SD): Sixteen scenes that were removed or revised from the final cut. Cypress Hill and Roni Size "Child of the Wild West" Music Video (3:40, SD) Trailers Teaser Trailer (:37, SD) Theatrical Trailer (1:53, SD) Recap The Film: 4/5 Video Quality: 4/5 Audio Quality: 4.5/5 Special Features: 5/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5 Warner Home Video delivers a solid video transfer and a fantastic set of lossless audio options for the second – and best – film in the “Blade” franchise. The bonus material, bringing over the majority of items from the two-disc DVD release and adding a couple more, is also impressive, offering an in-depth look behind the scenes of production. At a street price of $9.99 the title is a no-brainer for new owners; for owners of the previous DVD release, it’s also a worthwhile high definition upgrade.