NOW PLAYING: Queen of the Damned

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2002

I went into the theater to see Queen of the Damned with a mixture of bitterness and hopefulness. I'm a big Anne Rice fan. I've read most of her books, of which Queen is one of a series of vampire stories. I've even seen her house, though only from the outside. You can understand, then, why I would be so hopeful, but I know a lot of you are saying to yourself, "Queen of the Damned? Which one is that, again?" That's where my bitterness comes in.

Queen of the Damned is the "sequel" to 1994's Interview with the Vampire, a far superior adaptation of Rice's work starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. I say "sequel" with a hint of sarcasm (aren't those quotation marks just dripping with it?) because Queen has almost nothing in common with its predecessor except that it's about vampires. Anne Rice was heavily involved with the first film, helping write it, then lambasting it in the press, and then publicly apologizing and touting it to the heavens as the perfect visualization of her words. Her fans agreed and the film went on to be a pretty big success. Skip ahead a couple years and the fans are beginning to clamor for the sequel. When questioned about it on her website, Rice said that Warner Brothers refused to return her calls, and she had no idea when the next film would arrive. Fast forward six more years and suddenly, with little fanfare at all, Queen arrives, actually the third book in the Vampire Chronicles, with none of the original cast, and sans-Rice, other than her name above the title. Very strange.

Now, I don't have the hidden answer to this conundrum. Maybe none of the stars wanted to do another film. Maybe they wanted too much money. Maybe marketing said vampires were out for a while. Whatever the reason, Warner Brothers dropped the ball. The first film was made successful by its fan base, die-hard Rice readers who were appreciative at such a finely wrought cinematic embodiment of the novels. There had to be a ready fan base for a film like that, considering the difficulty in marketing a story about vampires that mostly occupied opulent southern mansions and were pretty blatantly homoerotic, though asexual. The books are about hedonism, about the sleazy sort of lushness of the South, of France, and of Italy, and mostly they are about the travails of an extended and ancient family. Interview got it. Queen doesn't come close.

I'm sure the majority of you are thinking "Who cares? I'm not some kind of sicko Vamp-o-phile, I just want to know if it's any good for a Saturday night out." As a movie, without any of the baggage I've loaded it down with, Queen isn't all that great, but it's not just awful. Stuart Townsend plays Lestat, a maverick vampire who has delighted in bucking the night-stalker system for centuries. One of the main rules of vampirism is to never reveal your identity, so Lestat, freshly awakened in the new millennium, sets out to do just that. He forms a rock band under his rightful name, and dares any of his fellow bloodsuckers to come stop him. Meanwhile, the oldest of all vampires, Akasha, is awakened from her 5,000 year sleep and returns to wreak havoc on the world. Will Lestat fight her or join her? The vampire rock shows are pretty cool, and Aaliyah, sadly in her last role, as the Queen herself does the best job in the whole film. She's the only one who captures the right mood for her character. Overall, however, this film is sloppy, poorly acted, and poorly written. In trying to cram the salient parts of the second novel (considered by most to be the best of the series) together with the action from the third, the writers have lost all of the subtleties, and most of the vampire mythos as well. I feel as though there must have been a lot left on the cutting room floor, because the credits list characters who are never introduced; important characters at that. The film comes to such a crashing, careening halt, that it almost feels as if the studio was throwing in the towel twenty minutes before the movie is actually over. Also, and this may just be a minor thing, but can't we make vampires better than this? You can see the dark/gold(?) makeup they are all wearing to make them look "undead" and they all seem to speak with an undefined accent that sounds like a mixture of French and Russian. Say... Maybe those Olympic skating judges had more in common than just an unhealthy need to win.

Anne Rice devotee or not, Queen of the Damned will leave you disappointed and frustrated. There was potential there, and it hurts to see a possibly great series of movies flushed down the drain. You almost wish this had just been the music video to a much better movie. Should I sum up by saying it bites; it sucks; it leaves you feeling drained? Clever vampire metaphors aside, I'll just say it makes me sad. I suggest picking up the books and skipping the movie. Grade: C-

Queen of the Damned is rated R for vampire violence.



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