Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blood: The Last Vampire (live action movie)

I enjoyed the animated movie, even though it felt far too short. The animated TV series was ok, even though I was very confused at first, because I had expected it to have more to do with the movie. I was extremely excited when I heard that a live action movie was being made, even though I really should have known better. I waited for it to be shown at the local movie theater, and then stumbled upon it one day while at Walmart. I was still excited, even though its apparent direct-to-DVD release should have set off all kinds of warning bells.

By the way, whoever designed the DVD case artwork either didn't watch the movie or saw it and just didn't care what was in it, because that girl in the lower left corner is hardly even in the movie. I can't even remember her name - she's around just long enough to act like a snotty bully, wave around a sword, and die. I think she dies before the movie is even a third over. Either Alice or Onigen would have made more fitting choices for the artwork than her.

Synopsis:

Centuries ago, Japan was awash in blood as demonic creatures hunted and killed humans. A powerful warrior fought them but was killed by Onigen, the most powerful of the demons. A good deal later (this movie is set sometime during the Vietnam War, I think), the powerful warrior's half-demon daughter is continuing her father's fight, with her primary goal being to kill Onigen. Onigen has killed everyone Saya has ever loved - her father, some guy she liked, and Kato, her father's loyal retainer, who cared for her and trained her as a child. Ever since Kato was killed at the hands of the demons and Onigen's second-in-command (probably not the right word, but I don't know what's better, and I don't know if the guy was ever named), Saya has not aged.

A shadowy secret organization that wants to protect humans from the demons helps Saya by making it easier for her to go where she needs to go, giving her a place to stay, and providing her with the blood she needs to survive. An increase in the number of humans killed near an American military base in Japan indicates that Onigen is near, so they send Saya to a high school, where she is to pretend to be a new student and the daughter of a new Japanese ambassador. Saya's cover is quickly blown when Alice, a general's daughter, sees her kill two students who were actually demons in human guise. Because she doesn't think her father is doing enough to get to the bottom of things, Alice investigates and almost gets eaten by hordes of human-looking demons - looks like the military base is practically overrun with them. Saya saves Alice but doesn't particularly want to have anything more to do with her.

One of the members of the organization helping Saya thinks she's getting out of control. He kills Alice's father to cover the organization's tracks, kills Saya's handler, and tries to kill Alice, who saw him kill her father and ran to Saya immediately afterward. Saya, rather angry that he killed her handler, badly hurts him and only refrains from killing him because Alice is there.  It doesn't really matter - he'll probably bleed to death not long after Saya and Alice leave.

Saya and Alice are now on the run, looking for Onigen. Technically, Alice should be useless, but she does get a chance to feed Saya some of her blood and give her lots of pep talks about her humanity. They find Onigen - or maybe they fall into Onigen's trap, I'm not really sure - and Onigen messes with Saya's head a bit by making her think that the person she grew up with and fell in love with is still alive and still a young boy. Then Onigen tells Saya that she's her mother. It all ends with Saya killing Onigen. Alice ends up back at the military base, being questioned by people who don't believe her and probably think she's more than a bit unbalanced. Saya is elsewhere, possibly in the dream world Onigen trapped her and Alice in, or possibly just skulking around.

Commentary:

It makes me sad how bad this movie is. There are parts that show promise. I loved the train scene at the beginning, even if the part where Saya cut the guy in half the long way was a bit over-the-top. It was a creepy scene with interesting lighting and a good amount of mystery and menace (it was also ripped straight from the original animated movie). What I remember of the school in the animated movie I prefer to the one in the live action movie, but the point where this movie really lost me is the part where Alice decided to confront her teacher, Mr. Powell, and almost ended up as snack food. Parts of the group fight between Saya (dragging around Alice) and the demons looked like something out of West Side Story. And then Powell transformed, and my horror multiplied. Heavy special effects (fire, sparks) were used to hide the moment when Human-looking Powell changed into Demon Powell, and then Demon Powell looked like something out of a low-budget sci-fi movie.

Several reviews of this movie that I've read raved about the fight scenes. I can't say I feel the same, although it makes me feel a little bad to say it - if you watch the extras, it's clear that they tried really hard to create awesome fight scenes and felt that they had actually succeeded. I might not have hated the fight scenes so much if the CGI blood hadn't been so bad-looking. There was so much of it, that I can't help but think that a good chunk of the movie's budget went into it, and it so wasn't worth it. The goal was probably to create blood that didn't look human, which is fine, but why did they have to create blood that didn't even look like real liquid?

Out of the whole movie, I only liked two fights, and only one of those really counted as a fight. As I've already said, I liked the train scene: that one probably doesn't count, because the other guy wasn't armed. I also liked, for the most part, the final fight scene between Onigen and Saya. That one had a few cool moments. Other than that...well, I think the movie would have been better served by time-honored and much less distracting buckets of fake blood. If any of the other fights scenes were good, it was hard for me to notice, because I was too busy being distracted by the CGI blood flying everywhere.

I can't help but wonder if the screen writer even saw the original movie. Well, at least one scene besides the train scene was ripped directly out of the movie. When Demon Powell tries to escape, Saya and Alice go after him, trying to kill him before he can catch up to a plane that's taking off and get away. Saya manages to cut him down, stares down at his dying form, and dribbles some of her blood in his mouth. In the context of the animated movie, all of this made sense - if the demon had managed to get away, its kind could have spread further. Also, in the TV series, at least, Saya's blood could kill the monsters. In the live action movie, the effects of Saya's blood on the demons is never mentioned, which kind of makes it look like she's feeding the thing. Also, there is really no need to chase after Powell, unless Saya just has a deep desire to kill everything that moves, because apparently demons have already spread everywhere in the world of the live action version.  Why go to those lengths just to stop one of them when there are so many others?

Aside from that one scene, the movie is pretty much a new animal. There's way too much Alice, and not enough Saya and Onigen. I rather liked the actresses who played Saya and Onigen (although I couldn't understand why Onigen spoke perfect English - in fact, I don't think she ever spoke Japanese at all), while the one who played Alice annoyed me a bit. It's like she approached every scene with the thought, "Must put more into my performance...must get noticed and get better future roles!" It didn't help that she had to say some stupid and/or corny things. Saya, on the other hand, just got to act cool and tough, and Onigen got to be elegant and deadly. Alice really got the short end of the stick, even though she did her best to hog the movie.

Overall, I hate that I spent as much money as I did on this. This is the kind of movie you should only get from a bargain bin. I do hope, though, that this movie does well enough that more Hollywood sheep decide to milk the live action adaptation cow and maybe put a bit more money, effort, and talent into it.

Extras:

A "making of" featurette and a featurette on the movie's stunts. Both made me a little sad, because I felt a little bad that the actress playing Saya seemed so excited about the movie.

Watch-alikes:
  • Blood+ (anime TV series) - The TV series can be a bit slow at times, but it has a few fun action scenes and pretty character designs.  I loved Solomon and Hagi.  This may not be the best "Blood" version, but it's still better than the live action movie.  I'm pretty sure that you're supposed to view this TV series as being an entirely new story, with no real connection to the original Blood movie, since there are several things that are not in keeping with the original.
  • Blood: The Last Vampire (anime movie) - As far as I know, the TV series is still hideously expensive, so if you'd like to try a different version (in my opinion, the best version), one that won't break the bank, try this one.  It's way too short, but what there is of it is awesome.  Like the live action movie, it's dark and bloody, but, unlike the live action movie, it's not cheesy.  Be warned, though: the live action movie tried to inject a little humanity into Saya by giving her a father figure she loved, a handler she seemed to view as a second father figure and/or friend, and a guy she liked - the anime movie doesn't have time for any of that, so Saya is just an incredibly focused and scary killing machine.
  • Hellsing (anime TV series) - There's also an OVA, which I haven't seen much of, and the whole thing is based on a manga series, which I've read a bit of but didn't really like.  As far as I'm concerned, this version has less gratuitous violence (which is not to say it doesn't have gratuitous violence, because it does) and more story.  Anyway, if you'd like something else with vampires and a secret organization that sends its own scary killing machine out to kill the monsters, you might like this.  It's a series so stylish you might not notice at first how bad the animation is at times, and it mixes some great humor in with all the fighting and blood.
  • Dragonball: Evolution (live action movie) - Was Blood: The Last Vampire's cheese factor part of the reason you watched it?  Then you might want to try this, another live action adaptation of an anime series.  I haven't seen it, and I haven't seen the anime or read the manga it's based off of, but, from what I've heard, it dropped the ball (no pun intended) in every possible way.  If you want to have an anime adaptation-themed MST3K style party, you could add this one to your list.

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