Queen of the Damned
by Jon Bastian
How to drain the life out of great material…
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If you’ve never read anything by Anne Rice, and especially if you never read The Queen of the Damned itself, you just won’t get this movie adaptation.
If you’ve ever read anything by Anne Rice, and especially if you read The Queen of the Damned, you’ll be cursing the filmmakers by the end. Imagine if Peter Jackson had decided to leave out, say, Gandalf from his The Lord of the Rings. Yeah, that’s about what happens here. In taking two of Anne Rice’s books, The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned, and combining them into one movie, the adapters have managed to leave out all the good stuff while providing only the vaguest gloss on the stories. It’s a shame, because Queen of the Damned looks great and sounds great, the soundtrack kicks, both Stuart Townsend (Lestat) and the late Aaliyah (Akasha) are marvelous in their roles. And yet, it feels as if the entire film is only a trailer for the book.
The Queen of the Damned is as far as I made it in the Anne Rice chronicles. The Vampire Lestat was not very cinematic, mainly being one long series of flashbacks to set up why Lestat hit the twentieth century in such a pissy mood. On the other hand, The Queen of the Damned struck me as immensely cinematic, and while reading it, I found myself constantly thinking, “Wow. This would make a great movie.”
It could have. But the end result currently in theatres, at a mere hour and forty-one minutes, feels dumbed-down and lightened up. It starts off promisingly enough, as Lestat wakes up from a century long, ennui-induced slumber and announces himself to the world in the guise of a rock star that mere mortals assume is only pretending to be a real vampire. It’s an echo of Interview’s Teatre des Vampires brought up to date, and it’s a juicy concept. Unfortunately, in the world of the film, it breaks all of the Vampire rules, and the world’s remaining bloodsuckers are none too happy about it, determined to descend upon Lestat at his much hyped Death Valley concert and kill him for his betrayal of them. Only one immortal seems happy about Lestat’s decision: Akasha, the mother of all vampires, who awakens from her century-long slumber, determined to make Lestat her new king and make humankind their buffet table.
While the film takes its time in setting all this up and manages to include the gist of The Vampire Lestat in a short sequence, once the arrow is shot, it flies toward its target way too quickly, dumping all of the complexity and history and everything else Rice so carefully crafted in the book. Normally, I wouldn’t argue that a film should be longer and slower, but this story needed it. As it is, Aaliyah has hardly any screen time. This is a shame, because she really is wonderful as Akasha. My big worry going in was that she was just too young and petite to play the thirty five hundred year-old Queen bloodsucker. She’s quite up to the task, hitting exactly the right tone of menace and presence the role requires. The “immolation of the vampires” sequence is a tour de force here, and she takes great glee in performing it.
As for that other bloodsucking queen, Stuart Townsend is pretty and pale as Lestat, but wisely chooses to embody a character formerly played by Tom Cruise with stillness rather than histrionics. His dramatic choices are small but definite, making his character the anchor of the film.
Still, the end result is uninvolving and flat because of the omissions. We see nothing of Akasha’s history, which was the heart of the book. Also, the character of Maharet (Lena Olin) is reduced to practically nothing, and her twin sister is jettisoned entirely. If you don’t know the book, you won’t miss them, but then you’ll find yourself wondering exactly who this Maharet is and why she seems to be so important. If you do know the book, you’ll be infuriated.
I can only recommend the film if it comes out on DVD in greatly expanded form, assuming that the missing scenes were shot. As it is, though, the filmmakers have managed to take two very complex works and completely suck the life out of them.
Jon Bastian is a resident and native of Los Angeles, an award-winning playwright, film and TV writer. He could have written a wicked good script for this film, but no one asked him to.
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