BLADE 2 PRODUCTION IN PRAGUE
On top of the satisfying box office results of Blade in 1998, New Line Cinema executives made up their minds to launch a franchise with Wesley Snipes as a key star while his career was experiencing a renaissance. Followed by two years of rewriting the potential script, and hiring Guillermo del Toro as a new director, late 2000 finally saw the start of pre-production. The not to be disclosed challenge both for the director and the filming crew was to create a more ambitious sequel than the original movie and not to exceed a 50 to 55 million budget. While on paper this sum of money left behind 50 million of the original 1998 Blade, the production expenses rose since that time as well as the royalty check of the title actor, Snypes. One of the solutions to use money sparingly was to take the production from historically expensive Los Angeles and the United States as a whole to Europe. The final scene of the first movie left a hint for changing the story geography and the sequel thus concentrated on Blade’s move to find Whistler, initially to Romania and then to the Czech Republic.
The carrying of Blade II production over to Prague finally made it possible to cut the expenses down. Back in 2000, the heart of the Czech Republic had not yet been favored by Hollywood studios as a production hub. Blade II was to become one of the three first American movies created in Prague (apart from Mission Impossible) along with ‘’Hart’s War” and “Bourne Identity’’. The city budget anticipated a 30 million influx of investments for the three movies, with at least half from Del Toro’s project. In late 2000 New Line Cinema signed contracts with two Czech studios: Barrandov Studios and Prague Studio. The latter is an affiliate of a US-based studio Milk & Honey, which was opened in Prague in the summer of 2000, with Blade II as its first large international project.
Apart from moderate expenses for the workforce and building massive studio sets, Prague of that time was chosen for its appearance: still recovering from the decades of the communist regime. The initial calculation appeared to be true as there were plenty of abandoned buildings and warehouses, accessible for a minimum price in comparison with Los Angeles. On top of all this, even the city center of Prague, the Karlin district, in particular, had the form of an attractive neighborhood: exactly what Guillermo Del Toro needed to create a dark atmosphere in the vampire capital of Europe. With a restricted budget, the filming crew indeed managed to create impressive sets, for example, the drainage system, which took fourteen weeks to be built was so large that it came with no surprise when someone lost one’s way. The American staff was pleasantly surprised by Czech specialists, especially regarding the set design. The initial schedule with starting the production as early as late February 2001 was altered and March 12 was the first day of shooting Blade II in Prague.
In one of his later interviews, Del Toro would admit that shooting in spring in Prague was, in fact, cold and gloomy. It was a common practice to work up to sixteen hours every day without weekends and the shooting process, even so, lasted until July 2, 2001. Some among the filming crew were famous for their night activity in Prague, yet they all were on set the next morning.
THE BLOOD BANK
It takes the movie only fifteen seconds to take us to the streets of Prague. While the caption at the bottom of the screen suggests the Parizska street neighborhood, the actual shooting took place in another location. It is interesting to note that despite Prague’s not-any-place attractive appearance in 2000, particularly Paris street was in contrast to the obscure Blade II design more than any other street in the city. The actual Parizska street has a length of a little over half a kilometer and runs through the heart of Prague connecting the city’s main square Staroměstské náměstí (the Paris sequence of ‘Van Helsing‘ has filmed here as well as the water restaurant scene from Mission impossible) and Cechuv Most (Czech bridge). The street had been regarded as a dark and dangerous place until its reconstruction in the XIX century when it was turned into a fashionable bourgeois promenade. Both sides of the street are famous for their refurbished historical buildings with worldwide fashion boutiques facing the street. At the time of the Blade II shooting in Prague in 2000, Parizska street was known as the ‘most expensive’ street in the city and it still makes the list of the most luxurious shopping streets in the world.
Taking into consideration the invented version of the location, in fact, the scene was filmed at Sokolovska street in a less favorable KARLIN district. The opening shot is dominated by a tram of the famous Tatra series, Czech carriages which had been produced in the country for four decades. At the time of writing this article in 2022, there is no tram №52 in Prague and there was no such back in September 2019 when I visited the city. It should be noted that the city transport of Prague (except for the metro) indeed has a 24-hours schedule. When it comes to the tram lines, routes from 1 to 26 work from 5 a.m. until midnight, and from 90 to 99 at night time. The point is that until 2017 the night trams in Prague had the numbers from 51 to 59 when they were renamed, and the modern tram line 92 is the same 52 that was correctly depicted in the opening scene. To speak about this exact Blade 2 filming location in Prague, it is an intersection of Sokolovska and Prvniho pluku next to the ‘Karlin viaduct’, a train bridge under which the trams are making their way. In daytime, you may use tram lines number 3, 8, 24 on this section between Florenc и Karlínské náměstí, served by 92 at night.
As we already know the exact location of the scene, it comes as no surprise to identify the address of the building, depicted as a blood bank for the purpose of the vampire society. It is Sokolovska 33 and you find another sign 240 KARLIN PRAHA 8 beneath. Back in 2000, the production set designers added a HEMATOLOGICKA KLINIKA electric sign above the entrance. At present, the first floor of Sokolovska 33 is accommodated by an ‘Ocean’ restaurant with an accent on sea foods. This terraced apartment building was built between 1864 and 1868, and the neo-gothic facade was finished a year later. While getting a frightening appearance in Blade II, the building was refurbished in 2010.
To speak about Sokolovska street, only a few dozens of meters of its 5-kilometer length were used for the movie. It was laid down as far back as 1817 as the main street of Prague’s suburb Karolinenthal, which had been founded the same year. It gained its modern name as late as 1948 after the Ukrainian town of Sokolovo. As for Karolinenthal, in the late XIX century, the suburb witnessed an active urban development phase, with the erection of buildings for the working class: a feature that still dominates the area. In 1922 Karolinenthal was incorporated into Prague as a separate Karlin district. The northern part of the neighborhood where the opening scene from Blade 2 was filmed, is still regarded as unattractive and troubled even today. This part of Prague suffered the most during the 2002 flood, two years after Del Toro’s work here. On the other hand, several renovation projects have been taken into authorities’ consideration for reshaping the area into a cultural and business environment.
FLYING OVER PRAGUE
In the aftermath of a frightening opening sequence with a vampire-kind massacre in the center of Prague, and getting acquainted with the antagonist, the movie takes us to the studio sets, as well as some open-air locations. A short sequence with Blade taking the motorcycle driver down in a dark night alley was shot near Lisabonská street in PRAHA 9 district. Since filming in early 2001, part of the production facilities in the area was turned down. Followed by returning to the base (filmed at the abandoned Soviet missile factory) with Whistler, Blade makes a temporary truce with his irreconcilable enemies and agrees to meet the local vampire lord: Eli Damaskinos. When it comes to the flight over Prague, this sequence is worth attention for the dialogue inside the helicopter, yet a few seconds of the city’s panorama find their way into the movie. The dark shot is dominated by an illuminated outstretched open site which the helicopter passes in the North direction. The big lightened spot is her highness Vaclavske Namesti square, the main square area in Prague. One may identify the Southern part of the open site as a magnificent building of the National Museum. The landmark is a favored filming location in Prague: ‘Mission impossible’ (the interior of the US embassy), in ‘Eurotrip’ as the Vatican, in ‘Hitler: The rise of Evil’ as Berlin, and in Casino Royale the museum played a role of the lobby of the hotel in Venice, Italy.
A gallant Vaclavske Namesti appeared on the map of Prague as far back as the mid-XIV century. The panoramic shot from Blade II gives us an understanding that the square has the shape of an overstretched rectangular: 750 meters in length and from 48 to 63 meters in width. In the first few centuries of its existence, a large open site in, at that time, a new part of Prague was regarded as ‘Koňský trh’ (Horse market). It owes such an unpoetic naming to historical agricultural and horse markets, as well as to the working class population, who built buildings on the perimeter of the square. Through the centuries, the site gained national significance, and as early as 1865 witnessed the first gasoline lamps. Two decades later, the first Prague tram line on horse-pull crossed Vaclavske Namesti and in 1900 the first electrified tram line had no chance to avoid the main square. It is worth mentioning that tram traffic had been an integral component here until 1980. Another Prague landmark that makes its appearance in the sequence is Pomník svatého Václava (Statue of Saint Wenceslas), erected in front of the National Museum in 1913. The statue honors the Czech ruler from the X century, a protector of the state, and the monument is listed as of national significance. In November 1989 Vaclavske Namesti witnessed the crowded protests of 250 000 people, which finally terminated the communist regime in the country.
Followed by only a few seconds of helicopter panorama over the night Prague, the movie takes us to another important location, which would dominate the final scene later. In fact, there is no chance to find the fortified residence of Damaskinos in Prague today as it does not exist as a building and never existed on a full scale. The overall bird’s eye view reveals the extensive usage of CGI with poor polygons of models on the ground. At the same time, at least some of the angles with a large facade of the building made for the movie (it also included the interior set of the House of pain) were shot at Praha 6 district, next to the ‘Velký strahovský stadion’ (Great Strahov Stadium). This urban giant was built as far back as 1926 and witnessed several expansions and renovations. It has the area of nine football fields and once could welcome up to 250 000 people as an audience. Toward the 2000s, when Guillermo Del Toro was filming here, there were already debates concerning the potential taking of the stadium down, but it is still used for sports training. The final scene (except for an epilogue in London) with Blade and Nyssa and her only and the last sunset was taken here, with a panoramic view over Prague from the perspective of a non-tourist viewpoint. If you want to be attentive, in one shot the panorama behind the characters reveals the existing erection: the ventilation tower of the Strahov tunnel. it has no direct correlation to the stadium but serves as a ventilation erection for the tunnel under the hill. There are two such towers here, each 49 meters high with eleven turbines for ventilation inside.
THE SUNSET IN PRAGUE
In a delightful addition to the previous few seconds of Prague, there are another two seconds of the city, which, in fact, reveals a well-known landmark to any attentive viewer. Upon the earlier of visit to the vampires’ headquarters, the studio interiors are succeeded by a time-lapse of a street in Prague while falling into a sunset. This shot was taken at the bottom of the tower of Kostel svatého Petra Na Poříčí (Church of St. Peter at Poříčí), a church in the center of the city. One of the oldest places of prayer in Prague was built by the German settlers of the Poříčí community (not a part of Prague at the time) as far back as the second half of the XII century. Through the centuries, the church has been rebuilt and renovated several times and the initial Roman style was succeeded by gothic. In the XV century, it was for some period of time abandoned to be later restored. Church of St. Peter at Poříčí experienced its most damaging challenges in the XVII century, first during the ‘Thirty Years’ War’ and later in several fires. In 1686 the church was once again delegated to the ‘Knights of the Cross with the Red Star’ order, refurbished, and obtained its modern appearance as early as 1874-1879.
As for the tower, the passage of which was filmed in Blade II, it was built next to the church as far back as 1598. Made of sandstone blocks, it has a height of 39.5 meters. The tower is known for its three levels. The second floor with three historical bells (the oldest among the three was molded in 1691) is accessible by a spiral staircase. The third floor with six windows could be visited after climbing an old wooden staircase at a large angle. The peak of the tower under the bulbous dome is known for four clocks, each on one side, which sing every fifteen minutes. As we know the exact location of the camera, it comes as no surprise to identify the direction. The time-lapse filmed Petrska street in the direction to the West. The street was laid back in the mid-XIV century when its section got the naming after the Church of St. Peter at Poříčí. Since 1869 the entire street has been named Petrska.
NOMAK EXPANDS HIS ENTOURAGE
It seems that the filming crew favored the obscure appearance of the Karlin district to the extent that Guillermo Del Toro chose the area for another short yet important sequence, subsequent to the previous Prague sunset. The nightlife of the city. A local woman of easy virtue takes a dose of drugs from her souteneur, who is not ashamed to make his business openly at the intersection of streets. The task to identify the exact location is easier than it may seem from the start. The scene was filmed at the intersection of Sokolovska and Prvního pluku streets, on the opposite side of the Karlin Viaduct. To be specific, the sequence was filmed opposite the road from the location of the opening scene with a blood bank. We see how the main antagonist Jared Nomak takes the blood of a drug dealer in one of the arches of the viaduct and then leaves the victim for his two skeleton-like followers, thus expanding the number of mutated vampires. The naming ‘Prvního pluku’ could be translated as the ‘First Regiment Street’, which refers to the Czech military unit from the year 1917. It is interesting to know that ‘Prvního pluku’ runs along the way of the more old Vrbova street (laid in 1648), which makes this transport arteria one of the oldest in the area.
When we pay attention to the arch of the viaduct, it is a part of another well-known landmark of Prague. The viaduct was built as a railway bridge, a part of the line to Dresden, between 1846 and 1849, and opened on June 1, 1850. The preparational work was supervised by a Czech engineer to be later completed by an Italian Luigi Negrelli (1799-1858). For decades after its inauguration, the viaduct was known as the ‘Viaduct of the State Highways Society’ or ‘Karlin viaduct’. Not earlier than in the mid-XX century it was officially named after its creator: Negrelliho viaduct. The railway bridge has a length of 1120 meters which made it the longest one in all of Europe (until 1910). It is still the longest railway bridge in the Czech Republic and the fourth bridge in length regardless of the construction type. Apart from this, the viaduct is the second oldest bridge over the Vltava river in Prague behind the legendary Charles bridge. Each of the 87 arches is laid with blocks of Czech granite. The viaduct stood firm against the 2002 flood because it was designed with the regard to the 1845 disaster of the same origin. The exact location where the scene was filmed, also made its appearance in Mission Impossible: Phantom protocol in a scene, when Ethan Hunt takes a seat in Alec Baldwin’s car. When I visited the site in September 2019 the viaduct was under extensive renovation.