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Vampy Vancouver

Hollywood North is home to Blade's latest vampires and endless other sci-fi shoots. What, we're that weird?

Dorothy Woodend 17 Dec 2004TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend is the culture editor for The Tyee.

She has worked in many different cultural disciplines, including producing contemporary dance and new music concerts, running a small press, programming film festivals, and writing for newspapers and magazines across Canada and the U.S. She holds degrees in English from Simon Fraser University and film animation from Emily Carr University.

In 2020, she was awarded the Max Wyman Award for Critical Writing. She won the Silver Medal for Best Column at the Digital Publishing Awards in 2019 and 2020; and her work was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Best Column in 2020 and 2021.

Woodend is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. She was raised on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake and lives in Vancouver. Find her on Twitter @DorothyWoodend.

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The other day I walked out of a movie theatre and right back into the movie. Vancouver has a starring role in the new Blade:Trinity film. The rain slick streets, the dark canyons of office towers, it's bright lights, vamp city. "Made in Vancouver" has often come to symbolize cheap, B-movie science fiction. But ironically Blade makes our city look rather good. Shot in cool blues and on dark rainy nights, Vancouver looks like a perfect home for vampires.

We have so many ideal locations for them, how could they not love it here? There's already an infestation of Eurotrash vamps, with their Gucci heels and strange hairdos stalking Robson street, sitting wanly in cafes, leaving Chanel lipstick stains on their coffee cups. Or the younger skatepunks who hang out at the skytrain stations, accosting women and eating babies. The decaying Plaza of Nations, with its peeling paint makes a lovely home for those who shun the sunlight. There isn't all that much sunlight to worry about anyway, this is the rain forest after all. Welcome to Vancouver, Super Unnatural.

If you haven't seen the first two Blade films, I'll set it up for you. Blade (played by Wesley Snipes) is the half-human/half-vampire daywalker, a dark hero whose life's profession is stalker of sanguine suckers. He hates vampires, kills them on contact, helped by his gimpy old pal Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). In this third and final installment, the vampy ones are again plotting to get some rays and take over the world. Seems they've been flying around in their black helicopters (no old bats allowed) looking for Dracula to set them back on the path to righteousness. The humans meanwhile have also hatched a master plan to kill all bloodsuckers with the help of anti-vamp virus. So who will win? There's no question of that.

B proud

Blade makes no bones about being a B-movie and that is one of its saving graces. It's kind of silly, goes on too long, and doesn't make a great deal of sense, but there are a few moments that entertain. It has more style than it knows what to do with. The vamps are fashionably pale and super bitchy, but they seem too limp to do much damage to anyone, even the original Dracula (that's Drake to you) stalks around wearing a puffy pirate shirt, and so many silver chains around his thick neck, that he looks like a wannabe soap star or a Russian gangster. Even when he reverts to his original hideous form, something like a crab with scales and armor, his leather pants stay on!

These Nosfera-tutus are not the scariest bunch, but at least the camp factor is cranked high. Parker Posey in particular makes a pitch-perfect predator. (Say that 10 times really fast.) She's always looked slightly undead, and here talking around a mouth full of sharp teeth, she has finally come into her own. She's way more lively than Wesley Snipes who stares grimly into space and does King Fu Elvis moves. If you set a pair of sunglasses on the business end of a bowie knife, you'd get the same effect. His function is to look menacing and not much else. The job of injecting some life into this creature feature falls to Ryan Reynolds (Hannibal King) and bless his little heart, he does his utmost to make some fun happen. He's more Van Wilder than Van Helsing, which is okay. He gets the best lines in the film and has abs you could cut yourself on.

Whether there will be a Blade 4 remains to be seen, but even if the series has bitten it, there are lots of others to step up and take its place.

City of tomorrow

In the recent months, the super heroes of The Fantastic Four, more vampires and werewolves from Underworld 2, and the wizards of Earthsea have all called Vancouver home. But they are just are just the most recent visitors. The number of science fiction films and series shot here is legion. We're the city of the future fantastique. So what makes Vancouver such a good location to set a dystopian future? Perhaps because Vancouver can stand in for almost any other North American city or it can be no city at all. Its very innocuousness makes it a perfect undisclosed location, like those other fake metropoli, Gotham or Shelbyville. But unlike other fictional cities, it's always a bit of a shock to be jolted out of cinema reality by the sight of the Bay, (the store, not the body of water.)

Even more distracting are famous Vancouver landmarks getting their architectural asses kicked. Like other past science fiction, Blade devotes a great deal of time to destroying Vancouver architecture. It doesn't compare to 1975's Russian Roulette, the George Segal vehicle that featured a shoot out on the top of the Hotel Vancouver. Yowza! The Marine Building in particular is hit hard, but this is nothing of course in comparison to Arnold Schwarzenegger blowing up the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. My mother and I were sitting at the library eating Yogen Früz when Arnold and entourage toured the place. We pretended not to recognize him, but if I known what his plans were, I might have accosted the big brute and said, "Leave our library alone, you bully!" All this and he still has the nerve to move film production back to California.

We've been used and abused by Hollywood but we still come begging for more. Foreign films, namely U.S. productions, represent an enormous amount of money to the B.C. economy, some estimated $1.4 billion dollars. The threat of losing that chunk of change is always hanging over our heads.

The BC Film Commission recently issued a press release ringing the warning bells. "The rising Canadian dollar and competition from other filming locations have put us at risk of losing our foothold as a preferred destination for production. The primary concern is that jobs and infrastructure are at stake." Coupled with the growing threat from Eastern European locations (cheaper and more vodka) and the rising cost of teamsters, Hollywood North may soon be out in the cold. Undead and not loving it. Whether this is actually a good thing or a bad one, depends on where your pay cheque comes from. People employed in the industry have a vested interest in keeping film production in situ. But suckling at the sagging American teat may keep the Vancouver film industry in a perpetual state of dependency and some might say infancy as well. Not having to suck up to Hollywood might be the best thing that could happen to Vancouver.

Dorothy Woodend reviews films on Fridays for The Tyee.


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