Witchblade (2000 film)
|Created by||Halsted Pictures and
Top Cow Productions
in association with Warner Bros. Television
|Directed by||Ralph Hemecker|
|Produced by||Dan Halsted
J. D. Zeik
|Written by||J. D. Zeik (teleplay)
Marc Silvestri (comic book)
Will Yun Lee
|Music by||Joel Goldsmith|
|Editing by||Norman Buckley
|Original channel||Turner Network Television|
|Release date||August 27, 2000|
|Running time||120 minutes|
Witchblade is a made-for-television live-action superhero film adapted from the cult comic book by Marc Silvestri and Top Cow Productions. Set in contemporary New York City, the occult police drama centers on Sara Pezzini (Yancy Butler), a brooding and willful homicide detective who is the reluctant inheritor of an ancient, symbiotic weapon that grants her superhuman powers.
Witchblade was produced by Top Cow Productions, Inc., and Halsted Pictures in association with Warner Bros. Television. The Turner Network Television film made its debut August 27, 2000. The strong ratings performance of the two-hour action-thriller led to the TNT original series, Witchblade (2001–2002).
When one of her best friends is murdered, NYPD homicide detective Sara Pezzini (Yancy Butler) is bitter at being unable to bring her killer to justice. Sara is certain the killer is Tommy Gallo (Conrad Dunn), a legendary hit man who seems untouchable. After one of Gallo's henchmen assaults her partner, Danny Woo (Will Yun Lee), Sara pursues him into a museum where the artifacts of Joan of Arc are among those displayed. While searching for Gallo's man, Sara is momentarily transfixed by a metal gauntlet in a display case – and is startled by a mysterious figure (Eric Etebari) who vanishes as quickly as he appears. During a savage gunfight in the museum, the display case is shattered and the gauntlet careens through space and finds Sara's arm, miraculously protecting her. In time it appears that all of these events have converged through the machinations of a billionaire named Kenneth Irons (Anthony Cistaro), a man obsessed with an artifact called the Witchblade.
The Witchblade is a magical weapon that chooses who will wear it – and it has chosen but a few warriors, all of them women, throughout the centuries. To understand the Witchblade and why she was chosen to wield it, Sara embarks on a difficult search for self-discovery and justice.
In April 1998, Turner Network Television announced plans for the two-hour live-action feature film, Witchblade, to premiere in early 1999 as part of the cable network's significant increase in original programming. The film was to be the pilot for an hour-long TNT series that would be filmmaker Oliver Stone's first drama series for television. Executive producer Stone had taken Top Cow's project to Warner Bros. Television, which agreed to finance development and took Witchblade to TNT, a sister company in the Time-Warner family. In October 1999, the pilot film was still in development with Stone's company, Illusion Entertainment; but when filming began in February 2000, Stone was no longer attached to the Witchblade project. Instead, Witchblade was executive produced by Dan Halsted, Stone's former partner, and Top Cow Productions' Marc Silvestri.
"As with all things Hollywood it was several train wrecks that somehow made it to the station", said executive producer Marc Silvestri. "Honestly, it amazes me how anything gets produced at all." Silvestri attributed Stone's departure to a creative dispute with TNT.
The teleplay by J. D. Zeik  is a loose adaptation of the Top Cow comic book. "We use the comic book to get the essential DNA of the story", director Ralph Hemecker said. "We've maintained a lot of the elements of the original eight issues of the comic book ... making it more of a character-driven piece."
Witchblade was filmed in Toronto in February and March 2000. As well as original music by Joel Goldsmith, the soundtrack includes songs by U2 ("Mysterious Ways"), Beth Orton ("She Cries Your Name"), Rob Zombie ("Living Dead Girl") and The Guess Who ("American Woman"). The telefilm premiered on TNT Sunday, August 27, 2000.
"Emergence", the episode that begins the second season of the Witchblade television series, uses scenes from the pilot film in presenting an alternative scenario after Sara uses the powerful weapon to reverse time.
- Yancy Butler as Sara Pezzini, homicide detective and reluctant bladewielder
- Anthony Cistaro as Kenneth Irons, billionaire obsessed with controlling the bearer of the Witchblade
- Conrad Dunn as Tommy Gallo, most powerful man in the underworld
- David Chokachi as Jake McCartey, rookie NYPD police detective and former champion surfer
- Kenneth Welsh as Joe Siri, Sara's supervisor, also her late father's partner and best friend
- Will Yun Lee as Danny Woo, Sara's partner and guardian angel
- Eric Etebari as Ian Nottingham, enigmatic protégé of Kenneth Irons
- John Hensley as Gabriel Bowman
- Jody Racicot as Drexler
- Hal Eisen as Lorenzo Vespucci
- Jim Codrington as Officer Smitty
- Tony Munch as Guy in Men's room
- Katherine Trowell as Receptionist
- Whitney Westwood as Maria Bonazzi
Witchblade was the top-rated movie for the week of August 21–27, 2000, earning a 4.5 Nielsen rating (3,491,000 households) for its premiere broadcast. The TNT Original also was the top movie among the key adult demographics 18–49 (3,157,000) and the most-watched program among adults 25–54 (3,631,000). The thriller was still the number-one original movie among adults 18–49 and 25–54 in October 2000, when TNT announced that it had ordered 11 one-hour episodes of an action-drama series into production.
The WB Television Network, a sibling of TNT in the Time Warner media conglomerate, selected Witchblade as the debut film for a new Tuesday-night movie series in May 2001. In its broadcast-television debut, the movie drew 5.2 million viewers – matching the numbers the WB earned with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel in the previous season, and topping the WB's season average of 4.2 million viewers.
On TNT, Witchblade was reprised June 5, 2001, introducing the Warner Bros. TV series of the same name, which began airing a week later.
Reviews and commentary
- Jerry Krupnick, The Star-Ledger (August 21, 2000)
Sharp and sexy Yancy Butler is the star, along with an intriguingly lethal weapon called The Witchblade, in the thriller of that title ... While investigating the death of a woman friend, Sara is ambushed by vicious bad guys, but is saved by the ancient weapon, which over the centuries has been the servant and master of many other women possessing her strength of mind, body and will. From then on, it's Sara's to use and, just as importantly, to control. We believe Top Cow comic fans will not be the only ones to fall under this heroine's spell. The Witchblade is all bang, bang action, done with compelling professional skill! Ah, a winner!
- Steven Oxman, Variety (August 21, 2000)
Based on a comic book, TNT's two-hour Witchblade is a raucous concoction, filled with action, loud music and loads of visual effects. Paradoxically, it's also dull – a gigantically overblown cliché that tries to substitute an ever-shaky camera and fast-paced editing in place of character and story.
- David Bianculli, Daily News (August 24, 2000)
Add it all up, and everything in Witchblade seems like a cliché convention, up to and including Kenneth Welsh's superior officer, who gruffly asks for Sara's badge. Only Butler, who takes all of this seriously enough to look anguished at all times, deserves none of the blame for this meltdown. That look of anguish, though, could be explained simply by her having read the script, and comprehending what she and her agent had gotten her into.
- Danny Heitman, The Advocate (August 24, 2000
By default, the appeal of Witchblade rests almost exclusively on Butler, who headlines as the movie's reluctant superheroine. While undeniably attractive, Butler uses more than her good looks here, turning in an expressive performance that does the seemingly impossible: lending three dimensions to a comic book character. Be warned that the plot, which involves Sara in a bloody war with a Mafia kingpin played by Conrad Dunn, is unapologetically violent, with enough explosions and gunfire to warrant a UN peacekeeping force. On that score, director Ralph Hemecker's Witchblade seems true to its comic book source material. If you like that sort of thing, then Witchblade is the thing for you.
- Robert Bianco, USA Today (August 25, 2000)
If Witchblade were any worse, it might be comic. Instead, this latest film from the too-prolific Turner empire is merely cheesy, dreary and repellent.
- Michael Farkash, The Hollywood Reporter (August 25, 2000)
The telefilm is true to its pedigree, and that's good and bad news. The visuals are cool and, occasionally, nicely subtle as our heroine, Sara Pezzini, flashes her new powers of super speed and martial arts skill. But the characters as scripted are thin.... Things move a little too fast at TV series speeds. In fact, it's too fast for an introductory feature. The personal stuff doesn't get its due. Although we learn that Sara had a heroic father, also a cop, we don't see them together in flashback.... Watch out for leaps in the story's internal logic that may have you shaking your head. But hey, relax! It's only a telefilm. Soon, perhaps, it will become a series or give birth to sequels.
- Charlie McCollum, San Jose Mercury News (August 26, 2000)
Witchblade has its moments. Most come from some fine Matrix-like action sequences and a bewitching performance by Yancy Butler as Det. Sara Pezzini. Butler not only looks good – although her clothes don't get torn off quite as often as in the comic book – but she is a smart actress and buff enough to carry off the action scenes. It's hard, as an actor, to project credibility as a superhero with powers far beyond those of mortal babes but Butler manages the feat. Butler, however, can't carry the film by herself – no matter how hard she tries – and Witchblade ends up being no better than an interesting disappointment.
- Martin Renzhofer, The Salt Lake Tribune (August 26, 2000)
While there are small problems with Witchblade, none of them has to do with the casting of Yancy Butler as the latest in a long line of kick-butt crime fighters.... Yes, Butler is beautiful in a darkly exotic way, but she is also athletic and physical. She's believable trading shots and punches with bad guys. At the same time, Butler brings a certain openness to her character of New York City homicide detective Sara Pezzini.... Witchblade has some cool special effects and well-choreographed fight scenes. But the rapid-fire editing technique is a tad over the top, and the music is often a substitute for tension.
- Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times (August 26, 2000)
Alas, viewers will still have no idea why the comic book has been a staple of so many readers.
- Mark Dawidziak, The Plain Dealer (August 27, 2000)
This is not kid stuff. Plenty of bodies hit the floor during this film, which is part supernatural adventure, part urban police drama and, sure, part comic book.... It's uneven, and, after a high-impact, fast-paced opening, it drags badly in the middle. But it recovers nicely for a kick-smash conclusion.
- Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (August 27, 2000)
Being chosen to battle "Earth's darkest evil forces" is risky business. So is turning a popular fantasy comic into a movie. Chances are, the details – from casting to costumes to special effects – will never satisfy fanatics. At the same time, staying faithful to a comic book may leave the uninitiated completely clueless. Speaking as one of the clueless, that's the big problem with TNT's Witchblade. The premise is hard to grasp and, once grasped, seems (how can I put this politely?) more than a little ludicrous.
- Michael Storey, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (August 27, 2000)
Fans of the Top Cow comic book Witchblade have been drooling over the possibilities ever since they got word the cult favorite was being made into a TV movie. Their time has come.... The fans, who can be rabid and vocal, should not be disappointed despite changes for the TV version. Those unfamiliar with the mystical tale have plenty to enjoy as well.
- Preston Turegano, The San Diego Union-Tribune (August 27, 2000)
Based on a popular comic book of the same name, Witchblade is a new, silly, convoluted, tiresome made-for-TV movie from Turner Broadcasting.... As Sara, Yancy Butler is strong and sexy, speaking in a deep, smoky voice reminiscent of Kathleen Turner. As Jake, David Chokachi exhibits big hair – bigger than anything the boys on Beverly Hills 90210 ever wore – and big pecs, but no sizable acting talent. The best performance in Witchblade is delivered by Conrad Dunn as the sociopathic Gallo.
- Teague Von Bohlen, Colorado Daily (September 1, 2000)
Television is like kryptonite to comic-book heroes.... Don't fault the cast: Yancy Butler makes for a sufficiently sultry Sara Pezzini, the cop with a little something extra. But what she's missing is something that she couldn't bring to the role: the look of it all. Maybe that's why comics don't translate well to TV or even movies: because you can draw things that you just can't re-create on film.
- Nick Hopton, The Sunday Mail (April 22, 2001)
Well-made supernatural actioner laced with high-octane special effects.
- John Spence, The Daily Telegraph (April 24, 2001)
Witchblade has lots of action scenes to please martial-arts fans, with some great special effects that help overcome the slim and highly predictable plot.
- Michael Sangiacomo, The Plain Dealer (May 26, 2001)
There are some differences between the comic created by Marc Silvestri and the television show, so expect a lot of guff from fanboy purists.... But there is a respect in the television show for the comic genre, no attempt to belittle the intelligence of the audience. And, thankfully, no camp. Could it be that Hollywood is finally getting the message that serious interpretations of solid comics sell?
- 2001, Nominee, Saturn Award
Best Single Genre Television Presentation
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
- 2001, Nominee, American Society of Cinematographers Award
Best Cinematography in Movies of the Week, Miniseries, or Pilot Episodes
Anghel Decca, cinematographer
American Society of Cinematographers
- 2001, Nominee, Golden Reel Award
Best Sound Editing, Television Movies and Specials – Dialogue & ADR
Michael E. Lawshe, supervising sound editor/supervising ADR editor; Jennifer Mertens, supervising sound editor; Virginia Cook-McGowan, supervising dialogue editor; Jessica A. Dickson, ADR editor; Bruce M. Honda, dialogue editor
Motion Picture Sound Editors
- 2001, Nominee, Golden Reel Award
Best Sound Editing, Television Movies and Specials – Effects & Foley
Michael E. Lawshe, supervising sound editor; Timothy A. Cleveland, Paul J. Diller, Kenneth Young, Eric C. Hosmer, Rick Hromadka and Wayne O'Brien, sound editors; Kerry Malony, Foley editor
Motion Picture Sound Editors
Home video releases
In April 2001, Warner Home Video released Witchblade in Australia in PAL-format VHS. The 91-minute film was rated M (medium level violence, supernatural theme) by the Classification Board of Australia.
In July 2008, Witchblade was released as part of Witchblade – The Complete Series, a seven-disc set that comprised the feature-length pilot and all 23 episodes of the TV series. Although the widescreen Region 1 DVD set from Warner Home Video features an all-new soundtrack selected by the executive producer, the songs in the series pilot were not replaced. ISBN 1-4198-0424-3
- Richmond, Ray, "TNT doubles original prod'n"; Daily Variety, April 6, 1998
- Williams, Mark London, "WB family helps net stay well-connected"; Daily Variety, July 24, 1998
- Graser, Marc, "Top Cow goes online"; Daily Variety, October 25, 1999
- Bernstein, Paula, "'Witchblade' swings without Stone at TNT"; Daily Variety, February 10, 2000
- Jewell, Stephen, "A stand-up comic guy"; The New Zealand Herald, April 15, 2004
- Dawidziak, Mark, "TNT brings comics crime fighter to kick-smash life"; The Plain Dealer, August 27, 2000
- Bickley, Claire, Toronto Sun, February 15, 2000; TV Guide, July 20, 2008
- "TNT's Witchblade scores as highest-rated movie of the week", Business Wire, August 29, 2000; "Turner Network Television and Warner Bros. Television to produce Witchblade limited series", PR Newswire, October 12, 2000
- Littleton, Cynthia, The Hollywood Reporter, June 6, 2001; Kissell, Rick, "'Witchblade' pic casts ratings spell for Frog"; Variety, May 31, 2001
- Spence, John, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), April 24, 2001