1998 had been a rough year for Marvel’s live action properties, but a very hit or miss year for screenwriter David S. Goyer. February had seen the release of Dark City, written by Goyer and directed by Alex Proyas, and while it didn’t score big at the box office, it is still held in high regard as an excellent mind-bending science fiction film. Later in ’98 though, television network Fox aired the TV movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., also written by Goyer and starring David Hasselhoff as Fury. While the film has some defenders, and in all honesty is better than it really has any right to be, it was widely panned and failed to find an audience – effectively scuttling Marvel’s live-action TV future for nearly a decade. Luckily, both Goyer’s and Marvel’s fortunes were about to shift, thanks in large part to the directorial vision of UK director Stephen Norrington (who was hired after David Fincher dropped out to pursue another project) and the charismatic performance of Wesley Snipes as the half-vampire vampire hunter, Blade. Norrington had only directed one feature film prior to taking on Blade, a well-received, if controversial, 1994 sci-fi horror film called Death Machine, that won awards for Best Special Effects at the 1994 Fantafestival and 1995 Sitges Film Festival (where Brad Dourif won Best Actor for the film). Norrington made his living, however, in Special Effects and Makeup, having worked on films like Lifeforce, The Witches, Aliens, Hardware, Alien 3, and as a Creature Designer for Jim Henson’s The Storyteller series. Goyer pitched his Blade idea to New Line, who originally wanted to treat the film “almost as a spoof” but he and Norrington stood their ground and avoided another Howard the Duck fiasco. On the plus side, the Suits at New Line pushed for a high-quality actor for the lead — either Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington, or Laurence Fishburne — and Goyer backed Snipes from the start. Snipes had already spent over ten years establishing himself as a solid choice for both critically acclaimed dramatic work like King of New York, New Jack City, and Jungle Fever, as an action star in Passenger 57, Rising Sun, and (a personal favorite of mine) Demolition Man, and even as a comedic actor in films like Major League, White Men Can’t Jump, and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. He had also been lobbying on his own to get a Black Panther film made since 1992 (an effort he continued to champion at least through 2006), hitting roadblock after roadblock along the way). And while the Blade that made it to the screen doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to the character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan back in 1973 for Tomb of Dracula #10, Snipes was arguably the most well-received actor cast for a role in a Marvel project since Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno played David Banner and the Hulk on TV. The other casting was also focused on finding actors that not only had cult film credibility but were accomplished actors in their own right. Blade’s mentor/partner Whistler – a character created for the 1994 Spider-Man animated series with a fanbase among Marvel’s CEOs – was almost played by the Beastmaster, Marc Singer, but the studio instead went for the more grounded in mainstream films Kris Kristofferson for the role. Kristofferson had been working steadily throughout the Nineties, most notably staring in John Sayles’ Lone Star in 1996, however most of his work was for television movies and Blade provided an opportunity to tap into a genre he’d never really explored before. The villain of the piece, Deacon Frost an up-and-coming vampire leader who had been “turned” from human, a class issue within the vampire community of the film, where the turned are considered inferior by the “pure-blood” vampires that make up the families of the ruling class. A number of names were considered for Frost, including Bruce Payne (who had played opposite Snipes in 1992’s Passenger 57) and Jet Li (who declined in order to make his American film debut in Lethal Weapon 4 instead, interestingly enough, also as a villain – the first time in his career he had been the baddie), before the film makers settled on the charismatic Stephen Dorff. Dorff was an interesting choice, as he had been making a name for himself on the Indie circuit, most notably for playing rebel without a cause, Cliff Spab in S.F.W. (1994) and then Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). His casting, along with Kristofferson’s, brought in interesting, more serious but also experimental, feel to the proceedings which distinguished it from the other Marvel live-action productions up to this point. The fact that the film also refused to tone down its violence and horror to get a PG rating and was released rated R, set Blade apart from every mainstream comic book film released to date; although it followed a road paved by The Crow (1994), Timecop (1994), Judge Dredd (1995), and Spawn (1997), amongst a few others. As far as the DC/Marvel rivalry goes, however, this was groundbreaking and a risky proposition. The Superman property had died a particularly brutal death in 1987 with the universally reviled Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and the Batman franchise had imploded with Joel Schumacher’s campy live-action cartoon Batman & Robin (1997), so there was a window of opportunity here for Marvel to step up and fill the gap with a serious attempt at the superhero genre; albeit a fringe-horror superhero. With Marvel A-listers Spider-Man, The Hulk, and The X-Men in development hell throughout the 80s and 90s, Blade was a dark horse candidate; it would be no surprise if it failed, and it was cheap enough with a $45 million budget that a profit was almost guaranteed with similar films (The Crow, Judge Dredd, and Spawn in particular) easily bringing in between 87 and 144 million worldwide gross mark. And the gamble paid off. The film was released on August 21, 1998, and despite mixed reviews, Blade scratched an itch with fans, opening in the number one spot around the world and ultimately bringing in over $131 million worldwide. In addition to the box office totals, the film was then released just in time for Christmas on home video, taking advantage of the newly exploding DVD market. DVD players were introduced to the US market in the spring of 1997 and 1.1 million players were sold in 1998 (sales then quadrupled through 1999). Blade ended 1999 as the Number Five top seller for the year on VHS, behind blockbusters Austin Powers, Armageddon, and A Bug’s Life, and Number Two in DVD sales, right behind The Matrix. In addition to the theatrical success, the film’s soundtrack was also a hit, making it to #36 on the Billboard 200 and #28 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and was certified gold on May 19, 1999, making Blade a multimedia success across every platform. So it’s little wonder that New Line and Marvel announced plans for a sequel in 1999. However it would be a 2002 before Blade returned to theaters. In the meantime, Marvel would redefine what was possible in both content and effects for superhero films with the blockbuster release of X-Men in 2000 and gain a stranglehold on mainstream superhero films until 2005, when Warner Bros. got back in the game with Batman Begins (and to a lesser extent, Constantine). See larger image Blade New From: $7.17 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.