Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Blood The Last Vampire (2009) review

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The Good: Very Faithful to the source material, intriguing sub-plots, well developed main character, strong first act.

The Bad: very low budget look, erratic fight choreography, truncated second act, bland side characters, weak dialogue

Current Availability Status: On DVD in any DVD store in Singapore
DVD features:
- behind the scenes "making of" featurette
- stunt coordination and combat training highlight reel.

DVD value for money grade: C
Considering the state of live action movies based on anime, be it from Hollywood or otherwise, Blood: the Last Vampire might arguably be one of the better ones along side Speed Racer and DeathNote. It manages to stay true to the original source material in terms of characters, setting and tone but the overall experience is marred by seemingly low production values and lackluster execution.

This live action movie based on the 2000 anime movie of the same name by Production I.G opens with a creepy narrative about am ancient war with demons and a heroic demon hunter who lost his life in the process. Cut to an eerie Tokyo subway in 1970s japan where a tension fueled chase and bloody sword fight on a moving train introduces the main character of Saya. Through dialog and some flashbacks interspersed throughout the film, the viewer discovers that Saya is a four hundred year old vampire/human hybrid who hunts demons for a secretive organization known as "The Council". Her latest assignment is to infiltrate a school on the Yokota Airbase to seek out clues to the whereabouts of "Onigen", a powerful demon who murdered Saya's father, the legendary demon hunter.

The first act of the movie is essentially a retelling of the original complete with full recreations of key scenes, filmed faithfully shot for shot. Story wise, it is a step up from the bland forty minute anime movie that this film is based on. Unlike the original anime where the events on the airbase was "just another day on the job", Saya in this live action movie is given a more convincing motive for vengeance that drives her actions. A little subplot that deals with a schism within the ranks of "The Council" is very compelling, ultimately adding some much needed meat to the otherwise paper-thin plot from the original anime. Not all of the added elements might have worked as well as one would have hoped. The character of Alice is one such element. Perhaps the producers meant for her to be a sort of human emotional anchor to Saya's inhuman personality as a way to "soften the savage beast". It would have worked for Saya's character development but ended up feeling a bit redundant thanks to either Allison Miller's bland acting or a half baked script.

Halfway through the movie, and after an intense action sequence that is a very faithful recreation of the original anime's climatic conclusion, the movie veers off into its own territory. Once free from its anime roots, the story somewhat sinks and is unable to keep up the narrative level of the previous act. After the Council subplot is resolved, the entire movie becomes a series of convenient plot twists and action sequences that get Saya and Alice from the air-force base to a remote abandoned village and ultimately to Saya's final showdown with Onigen. One gets the impression that the second half of the movie was written solely to pad the time in-between the material from the anime and a rather cartoony final battle.

No doubt the main let-down of this movie is its "look". Where the original anime fell short in its story and characters, it featured some of the most beautiful animation and stylish action sequences of its time. This film attempts to recreate that anime style surrealism by using a sickly yellowish, almost sepia toned, lighting to accentuate the "1970s" setting of the story and relying a lot on CGI. The way the action scenes are shot might remind some of Zack Snyder's "300", complete with slow motion bloodletting and whiplash cuts in the fight scenes. But instead of enhancing the movie, the CGI and fight choreography is its stumbling block. Blood spurts are nothing more than badly rendered globules of blackish red and demons look no better than old "stop motion" puppets. Even their movements were as stiff as those puppets. The only arguably thrilling fight scene was not even involving Saya or against demons, but was a flashback of Saya's old master, Kato, taking on a ninja army in a forest. Thanks to the erratic camera-work coupled with an overuse of speeding up and slowing down the footage in post-production, the action might not be as enjoyable as it could have.

Though Blood the Last Vampire 2009 is a far cry from the astounding visuals of its 2000 original source material, it still manages to present a good enough story while remaining true to the tone and characters of the original. A bigger, Hollywood level budget and script writing along with a longer running time for more plot development would have solved many of the film's flaws. Its faithfulness to the original may satisfy the long time fans, but to the casual movie goer the low budget look and feel might be too off-putting.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to see a adaptation movie from a japanese anime that is extremely faithful to the source while adding intriguing layers to the narrative, or if you just like the pretty star of the show.
Avoid it: if how a film looks is very important to your enjoyment or if you are a fan of traditional vampire action movies.

Entertainment: B-

Story: B+
Acting: C+

Characters: B
Music: B-
Replay value: B-
"Brains": C

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