(2001; dir. Michael Rymer)
My feed is back! I can post again after about three weeks of harsh withdrawals! And what’s my first post going to be? Well, read the subject line again and despair. This is going to be a spoiler-filled review, and this will be the only warning people will get. If you do not wish to be spoiled in return, read no further and avert thine eyes now, heathens.
As part of a culture, any culture you care to name on the planet, the concept of ‘respect’ is seen to have inherent value. In fact, people throughout history have been acculturated to believe that people must seek the approval and approbation of others. Earning other people’s respect is seen to be inherently worthwhile and worthy of pursuing.
Allow me to destroy what little goodwill and respect I have garnered with the good people of this site, both wonderful posters and vile, mailbomb sending lurkers, with the following review.
To say that I was amazed at my enjoyment of the film would be an understatement along the lines of “quite a few Russians died at the Battle of Stalingrad.” This film’s fraught history and connection to many members of the newsgroup aus.culture.gothic through participation in the process is both legendary and well-documented. Also, the near-universal condemnation of it, especially by people fortunate or unfortunate enough to have been involved, has certainly lowered the expectations of the prospective viewer. Here I stand, alone, and downwind, to say: “It’s not that bad, in fact, I enjoyed it heaps.” “Heaps” is a very professional, film reviewer type word. If you don’t believe me, ask Pauline Kael or Old Farmer David Stratton. By the way, over a million Russians died at Stalingrad.
Heaps. But don’t misunderstand me, the story as portrayed in the film has next to nothing to do with the book of the same name. Nor does it have any connection to the Neil Jordan film Interview With The Vampire, or even the Anne Rice book. In fact, I wonder why they bothered calling it Queen Of The Damned at all. They should have called it, in my anything but humble opinion, Queen Of The Skies. Now, that would have been funny and all ironical.
“Your task, as the person doing the screenplay for this film, is to take these two books, and make a workable, filmable interesting movie. What, these books are really big? Yes, well Vampire Lestat is 550 pages long, Queen Of The Damned is 491 pages long. I want you to select only six pages in total and go from there …”
This conversation surely happened somewhere at the beginning of the process, which is certainly understandable. Rice’s purple prose has never been known for its brevity, but it is (or at least used to be) renowned for its dark romantic imagery and passionate, very gay, somewhat erotic and certainly deliciously gory happenings. She also is well known for characters that take themselves far too seriously, much like their creator. This film – and this, for me, is the clincher as to why I may have enjoyed it – does not take itself seriously at all, yet still manages to deliver scenes with gusto. The pretentious, decidedly arch self-importance that permeates Rice’s work and the first film is decidely absent. So is motivation, characterisation, substance and back stories for 90% of the characters, but that is not entirely to its detriment, perversely enough.
What perplexes me somewhat is the fact that practically all of the best bits from the two books are entirely absent – the scenes that would have looked the most tremendous if done properly, and the best characters. In throwing out all the bath water (being the endless repetition and turgid prose of the books) they pretty much threw out the baby as well. But they kept enough stem cells to graft a reasonably attractive-looking film onto.
Stuart Townsend is decent enough as Lestat. He is camp, arrogant, preening, vain and speaks with a darling Irish-French accent. He is also short and psychopathic, and though I assume he was intended to be the ‘hero’ of the story, you really have to wonder about that. This Lestat just wants to be adored, by everyone, and decides to ‘out’ himself to the human world at a press conference. The journalists, being the swill-swallowing dullards that they are, don’t even seem to bat an eyelid.
How does Lestat decide to make everyone in the world love him? Why, by becoming a big bloody rock star, of course. Here is where the film makers improved somewhat on the books. Anne Rice credibly writing about someone, even a vampire, becoming a global superstar through MTV would be like me writing about the dating problems of a transsexual sumo wrestler trying to bring up her midget child whilst holding down a job at the local porno theatre as a jizz mopper. She didn’t have a fucking clue, and neither would I.
The film takes the relatively easy path by casting Lestat as a generic nu-metal spooky kid Mansonesque rocker, and it suits the film and the soundtrack perfectly well. Directing him to replicate the stage look, manner or musical stylings of a Pete Murphy or a David Vanian would not have made contemporary sense. It will make the film date interestingly, as well. If the film had been made a few years from now, perhaps Lestat would have been cast as a ‘goth’ musician par excellence who is the best at pushing the start button on the drum machine and doing the one finger keyboard arrangements and asking the crowd to thrust their throats and glowsticks in the air. It gives one pause to consider, surely.
Jonathan Davies, who I believe is the lead kornholer in Korn, also does the vocal duties. Quite appropriate and more than adequate. Thankfully, the sound wasn’t mixed up at ear-bleed volume (for once), and when the music was in synch with the action it worked wonderfully for me. One scene in particular, being the vampire nightclub destruction, worked superbly well for me. I am totally gay for that kind of stuff, and it worked wonderfully, even gave me goosebumps.
Akasha, played by Aaliyah, looked fantastic. I cannot overemphasise or stress this point enough: she looked incredible. Though she looks nothing like what Akasha is meant to look like in the books, I consider this to be a plus, since Rice basically wrote Akasha to look like a younger, more slender version of Anne Rice. As for dearly departed Aaliyah’s acting ability, well, she looked fantastic. Really, truly beautiful. You have no idea how much I was praying for her to do some full nudity. Even if it had just been a back shot. What a truly stunning woman. What a waste.
She has little time on screen, which is no big deal. Her presence or at least the idea of her starts to permeate the film after the merest shadings of her character are introduced, much as with the book The Vampire Lestat. It is, after all a very fast-paced film, and mercifully short at 100 minutes. The filmic style has been described as MTV hyperediting, but that isn’t entirely accurate; the film has modest ambitions and a certainly more modest budget than Interview With the Vampire, which is represented in the diminished scope, film quality, effects and location choices.
Past a certain point the film’s focus shifts from Lestat to a young woman called Jesse (Marguerite Moreau), who does reasonably well portraying seemingly the simplest character in the whole series: a human entangled in the affairs of vampires. She is entranced by Lestat and sets out to spend some quality time with him. After reading his diary and tracking him down via dubious means, and as the only two plot threads in the film converge, her link to the world of vampires is revealed. That sounds like a press release blurb, doesn’t it? I always knew I could write that kind of shit.
The vampire league of nations is mostly unhappy with Lestat revealing their existence to the world. What these humourless hood-wearing people don’t seem to realise is that the film they are in doesn’t actually seem to establish whether anyone actually believes him or not. Vampires obviously know he’s a vampire, but to me it seemed pretty obvious that the vital 14-to-30 demographic and the people down in marketing thought it was just a gimmick. So why it was crucial to attempt to kill him on stage in order to disprove the existence of vampires at the Death Valley concert is a mystery, a profound mystery. I would have thought that a bunch of vampires flying up onto a stage in order to kill another vampire for revealing to the world that vampires exist would have been, at the very least, somewhat counterproductive to their stated goals and mission statement. But then, what do I know.
Speaking of Werribee, the Death Valley concert, except for the holding aloft of plastic pitchforks and viking axes, up until the arrival of Akasha, looked fantastic, it really did. CGI rent-a-crowd really made some of the pseudo-aerial shots look very impressive, very big. And, I also have to say that as far as I could tell, the acger who got the most screen time was our very own Baralier. I saw him not once, not twice, but thrice as he (I think) stood behind Jesse. Kudos to you, sir. Kudos. And they even got you to run :)
I also very much liked the images of the crowd itself moving hyperquick around the still vampires. Loved it, and the mirrored eyed thing, loved that too.
Also, the film clips for Lestat’s band, I really liked those as well. Instead of being reminiscent of German Expressionist cinema, it reminded me more of two things: an early Bauhaus film clip and also the films of Ed Wood. Loved it. Also, using a song I very much liked from a year or two ago, “Change” by The Deftones, during a scene with Akasha and Lestat rolling around in a bath filled with rose petals really worked for me. Really worked.
The ending itself represents both missteps avoided and the deeper frustrations that the film falls prey to. Again, I will remind people that I gave a SPOILER warning at the review’s beginning, so avert thine eyes if you don’t want to know how it all ends.
Akasha’s death in the book Queen Of The Damned is nothing short of ludicrously stupid. I will never buy the idea that a conveniently located window is the best way to off a six thousand year old being. Also, I really don’t see that Mekare and Maharet doing their little cannibalism routine really worked. So the book had a dumb ending.
The film has a less dumb ending, if that makes any sense. In fact, Akasha’s death looked superb, the CGI effects as she turned what seemed to bronze looked just great, probably better than any other effect in the film. I remember the production values being reasonably high, excluding the part whenever matte paintings were used and some of the city sets, which looked a bit shonky. But the Theatre de Vampires looked pretty good, especially the catacombs beneath it. It needs to be said that the special effects in the film are certainly less than entirely special, in fact I would have called them “adequate effects” if I had any say in the matter. And certainly after the restraining order that director Michael Rymer got out on me, I certainly don’t have any say any longer.
But coupled with this is the overwhelming problem that there are a bunch of characters at the end of the film for whom you have no idea why they are there, who they are and why you should give a fuck. It’s patently obvious that in the final edit, there were ample cuts made to the story, obviously very generous cuts. So yes, you do get to see Marius again (a confused and embarrassed-looking Vincent Perez), Armand (Matthew Newton, who is made to look like a crack addict whose been told that Akasha stole his stash), Pandora (Claudia Black, who gets exactly two words of dialogue: “But what?”) Khayman (Bruce Spence), Mael, Maharet (Lena Olin), and you wonder, “Who the fuck are these people supposed to be? What the fuck are they doing here? Did they just wander in off the street?” Even the basic explanation that Rice offers in Queen Of The Damned, which she repeated at least twice a page for its entire length, being the dream of the twins, is completely left out.
Still, wasting potential ideas and wonderful characters isn’t probably the purpose of the film, it just seemed to happen on the way to the end. Above all, I still found it quite enjoyable and entertaining. Go figure. I’m probably about one of five people that enjoyed it worldwide.
The biggest laugh in the cinema that I was sitting in came from the audience right at the end where Lestat and Jesse are leaving David Talbot’s office. (Paul McGann, you really have to go and punch your agent in the fucking nuts or labia, have you done a decent film since Withnail And I? I love the dude, I just wish he’d get a decent role once in a while. Did anyone else watch that astoundingly cringeworthy Doctor Who film? I’m almost as ashamed to admit that I watched it as I am to admit to liking Queen Of The Damned. That film was almost ample enough reason to poke one’s own eyes out, I’m not kidding. It had Eric Roberts in it, fer chrissakes!) The laugh came from the obvious “8 Latrobe Street” clearly visible on the building they were exiting. In the next shot Lestat and Jesse are walking down London Bridge. My, these vampires can really walk fast!
All in all, an enjoyable film. I desperately hope that Michael Rymer gets to do a director’s cut in order to add more of the butchered footage. It is certainly not the worst vampire film in recent memory (The Forsaken, From Dusk Till Dawn parts 1, 2 and 3 and Dracula 2000 still tower above like the colossi of crapness that they truly are), but could benefit from a longer playing time. Considering the fact that Michael Rymer, apart from this movie, hasn’t made a decent film since 1994 with Angel Baby, and the fact that everything else he’s done has gone straight to video, I find it highly unlikely. The other two films of his that I can remember, In Too Deep and Perfume (nothing to do with the Patrick Süskind book, thank Allah) were straight to video thingies. I think Michael can obviously make more of a living directing shitty films in the States than he can through making decent films with next to no budget anywhere else. I don’t think he’s learned anything from the process of making this film.
So, irony of ironies, Interview With The Vampire now looks like a classic, atmospheric, somber, thoughtful movie experience in comparison, and Queen Of The Damned, made famous and having risen to the top of the box office charts Stateside (for only one week) due to the death of one of its dubious ‘stars’, looks like its gauche, snotty kid brother or sister, wearing New Rock boots and a slutty skintight top and being more concerned with scoring amphetamines than discussing suffering or immortality. More power to him!
I still feel almost ashamed that I enjoyed it. I hope no-one goes and sees it because of my recommendation. They will think that living in Sydney has addled my already addlepated brain.
7/10. Yes, really.
(Sandro, you’re a sick and twisted fuck – ed.)