Few times in all the movies have I watched has there ever been a film that is so blatantly a quick, sloppy studio money grab than the adaptation of Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned. That being said there are even fewer times that such a blatant grab is actually enjoyable for me. Let me explain for those who haven’t seen it.
The year I was born the world was given another gift, Interview with the Vampire. Ten years later Anne Rice followed it with The Vampire Lestat, two after that Queen of the Damned. Somewhere along the way Ms. Rice sold the rights to her books to Warner Bros, who in a rare moment of beautiful handling gave the first of the books to Neil Jordan and he gave us Interview with the Vampire in 1994 (Review to come on that one). The years passed after the critically acclaimed film and the studio found its rights to produce the next movie waning rapidly. With DAYS to spare before expiration they quickly put into production the Queen of the Damned. What happened to the second book? Oh lets get to that…
WB, in its more typical case of mismanaging franchises and scripts, gave the writing to two men who I won’t name since they haven’t apparently worked since who feverishly read the cliff notes versions of the two books and then used trained goldfish to write a script. The source material itself was thrown into a blender and the two books merged to become one. While I have spoken about adapted material before, sometimes at length, the raw amount of ignorance that was shown in this adaptation is nearly criminal. Easily 600 pages of the just over 1,000 were expunged for the film. The sheer number of characters, plots, history and mythology that were lost is too much to mention.
By now, it sounds like I despise the movie doesn’t it? I should. Yet I don’t. It deserves it as many other reviewers out there, fans and critics will attest, but I don’t. Why? Because it got some things perfect, for all its many many flaws. Casting about half right but the half that was spot on. Music, while tonally appropriate, beautiful, haunting and again spot on, was dated by the time it came out. Costumes, sets, general look and feel – I love.
Lets talk casting. Stuart Townsend plays our main character of Lestat. Let me be clear, while the earlier incarnation was good it wasn’t quite Lestat. Townsend IS the Lestat I wanted. He was arrogant, he was magnificently beautiful, he was rebellious, and so cock sure he could “I am the vampire Lestat”. Then there is the casting of the titular character, Akasha, played in a way by the taken too soon Aaliyah. When I first heard this casting, there was nerd rage, then I saw the film and I loved her and missed her. I was unsure how “she” could play a force of malevolence and yet she did it. She was sexy, she was dangerous, she was truly the Queen of the Vampires. Vincent Perez and Paul McGann play the slash fic couple, no not really, but they are cast correctly in their roles as Marius the ancient roman vampire and David Talbot of the Talamasca watchers of the supernatural world. Now I did say half right…
Lena Olin, while always solid as an actress is clearly not Maharet the sixteen year old red headed beauty with no eyes. Marguerite Moreau as Jesse performs only slightly less wooden than Kristen Stewart, with a few moments of emotion in an otherwise bland performance.
Musically, I owned the soundtrack before the film even came out. David Draimans music was perfect for the fim and quite honestly in 2002 I don’t think better could have been achieved. Was it the music of the God of Rock and Roll that Lestat became? Eh..not really, but in this day and age vs. 1985 I don’t know that we have true gods of rock anymore.
Director Michael Rymer (later known for Battlestar Galactica) did what he could with the script, budget and time he had. That this movie isn’t SyFy quality is only a testament to him. The shot angles were lovely, sets and costuming everything I want in a vampire film of this nature.
Story, oh let me get back to the story. It’s bad. It’s bad in ways that I didn’t think it could be. They have David Draiman write all these songs to be used for the movie, QUOTE the usage of the song and then say it has lyrics that aren’t actually in it. It falls under the weight of trying too much in too little time and rarely if ever handles a single scene perfect. Much less just right. Townsends, Perez and Aaliyah’s natural charisma are all that make it work. Beautiful moments are saved thanks to the actors (Hello David), and we are taught to appreciate our prey.
So where are we? TL;DR
Queen of the Damned is one of the most flawed vampire movies out there yet is still quite enjoyable. I consider it a guilty pleasure movie that I can actually watch over and over. Unlike another vampire series, this one had good original writing, bad scripting but was saved by good acting.
I do think it’s worth checking out for the vampire aficionado, but most everyone else give it a pass. Audiophiles may dig the sound track so that alone is worth getting for them.
Hint for tomorrow: You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?