TV Review: TV version of 'Blade' will please fans

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'Blade: The Series'
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Starring: Kirk "Sticky" Jones.    

The leap from big screen movie franchise to small screen hopeful is a successful one for Spike TV's "Blade: The Series" (10 p.m. Wednesday), although it is perhaps more of a "hop" given how small the changes are from the films' spirit.

The movies all featured Wesley Snipes as Blade, the part-vampire, part-man of Marvel Comics fame who dedicates his life (and his super-vampire powers) to the preservation of humankind and the eradication of vampires -- although he is cursed by their thirst for human blood.

But because the "Blade" trilogy -- "Blade," "Blade II" and "Blade Trinity" -- was so much about special effects, franchise fans might reasonably be concerned about the transition to television, where budgets are much tighter all around.

Thankfully, many of the effects are just as well-done in the series, whether it's the "ashing" or flaming disintegration that marks the death of each vampire slain, the razzle-dazzle weapons of artificial sunlight Blade deploys, or the superhuman leaps from 20th floor to street level, which the vampires routinely perform. Although most viewers will notice a scale-down in the scope of effects and stunts, the style, the look and the impact are much the same as in the films.

The pilot picks up after the conclusion of "Trinity," and the plot nicely expands on the movies, rather than repeating them. The vampires continue to plot man's overthrow, gradually, aggressively, through death, enslavement -- any means possible, really. Blade continues to move from city to city and country to country, building an occasional alliance (and speaking the very occasional line).

But with the replacement of Wesley Snipes with Kirk "Sticky" Jones as Blade, the vamps have picked up a few new tricks. Blade's best change is his bike, now a Harley instead of an import, and it's nice eye candy to tide fanboys over until Jones' sword work catches up to Snipes' (if such a thing is possible). Blade's night-black muscle car is back and all the more suited to the Motor City, where the series is set but not shot. It's filmed in Vancouver.

The vampire's new tactics include their traditional involvement in business, real estate and, of course, blood banks with the addition of the narcotics trade, selling ash from dead vampires to vampire wannabes (snorting the stuff gets junkies high and gives temporary vampire powers).

Whereas the second sequel saw director David S. Goyer, who wrote each of the movies (and is a producer on "Blade: The Series"), go a bit overboard on bells, whistles, gore and explosions, his delegation of both writing and directing (to Geoff Johns and Peter O'Fallon, respectively) pays off here.

The setting of Detroit marks a return to the darker rather than flashier aspects of "Blade," more like the original movie than either sequel. (Watch out for "Ultimate Fighting" star Chuck Liddell in an appearance as a tattoo artist in the pilot.)

Most importantly, the new characters filling deceased mentor Abraham Whistler's shoes as Blade's allies are capably, in the form of war hero Krista Star (Jill Wagner), and amusingly, in the case of tech-specialist Shen (Nelson Lee), balanced.

Star's ne'er do well little brother is the catalyst for the pilot, and after she returns from a tour in Iraq, where she served as a sergeant (and, it seems, developed the habit of carrying her sidearm everywhere), her investigation of his underworld connections sets her on a collision course with Blade and Shen.

Lee's Shen is a sort of hybrid character. He's part wisecracking Hannibal from the third film and part-weapons fabricator. It is Lee's and Wagner's portrayals which smooth out Jones, whose stoicism and silent anger is understandably not quite as evolved as Snipes'.


Philip A. Stephenson can be reached at pstephenson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1419.


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