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The Queen of the Damned
Reviewed by Jason Myers, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Michael Rymer (director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   February 22, 2002
Review Date:  
Audience Rating:   Rated "R"
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Just in case you didn't know, The Queen of the Damned is based on the Anne Rice book of the same name. Strangely, the fact that I've twice read Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned somehow makes me less qualified to judge this movie as a movie. I can't figure out if I'm being too lenient because I love the characters of Lestat and Akasha, or if I'm being too hard on it because it's such a far cry from the book.

The success of movies like Harry Potter, Fellowship of the Ring, and X-men is due, I think, largely to the fact that, in spite of any liberties taken, say, with Arwen or with Wolverine's relationship with Rogue, those three movies remained quite faithful to the source material. The adaptation of Rice's Interview with the Vampire had plenty of plot changes and omissions, but it still captured the essence of the terrible trio of Lestat, Louis, and Claudia, and the dark world they walked in.

But Queen of the Damned… well, for starters, there's the fact that the movie is attempting to compress the events and characters of two 500-page books into one less-than-two-hour movie. The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned are the novel equivalents of Empire and Jedi, one leading into the other. Anne Rice said that "any respectable screenwriter would be crazy to tackle [Queen of the Damned] without having fully developed the background story of Lestat."

Going into the movie, I had braced myself for the inevitable omissions, simplifications, fabrications, and amalgamated and deleted characters. And there are enough of those to vex even someone who has only a hazy recollection of the books. Only a few characters look even vaguely as they are described in the books. Most of the supporting characters are omitted (Louis, Gabrielle, Mekare, Daniel) or given miniscule roles (Khayman, Maharet, Mael, Pandora, Armand). The rest have altered relationships (In the books, Marius is not Lestat's maker, and Lestat does not have a personal connection with Jesse). The movie breaks plenty of Anne Rice's rules. Come on. Even powerful vampires have to sleep when the sun comes up. And, in the movie, vampires attack Lestat in front of thousands of witnesses. Don't they know that supernatural fisticuffs on stage at a rock concert will turn a lot more heads than some random musician who claims to be a vampire? Then there are the logical problems. Maharet's family tree is pretty simple for one that spans thousands of years, and, by all that is unholy, what are we to make of the fact that when the old ones slumber, their clothes turn as white and unmoving as their bodies?!?

Very quickly, I stopped looking at the movie as an adaptation of the book, and started trying to look at it as just another vampire movie. I found that it was a lot more enjoyable that way.

What must this movie look like from the perspective of someone who's never read Anne Rice? I can only guess. Either very confusing, very intriguing, very campy, or all of the above. The lonely, reckless brat prince vampire Lestat, tired of living in the shadows, remakes himself as a rock star in an attempt to be "known", to be loved. The media thinks he's just pretending to be a vampire. The other vamps aren't too happy about the commotion he's causing, but Lestat doesn't care. In fact, he delights in stirring up the hornet's nest. He throws down the gauntlet to all his kind ("Come out, come out, wherever you are."). But what he doesn't expect is that all his damnable noise will awake Akasha, the Mother of All Vampires (the music, provided by Korn frontman Jonathon Davis, is not gag-inducing, but still lacks the savage beauty you'd expect to come from the mind of a cursed immortal).

Stuart Townsend (who was originally going to play Strider in Fellowship of the Ring) takes a bit of getting used to as Lestat, but he's pretty good, even if he is far less pensive than I'd like him to be. Similarly, Aaliyah is the very vision of Akasha, though her character has been excruciatingly simplified. And I got to like Marius, once I accepted that he wasn't really Anne Rice's Marius.

There's some good vamp stuff in here. The shrine to Akasha and Enkil. The blue vein under Akasha's white marble skin. Akasha's visit to an undeadbeat club. The way that a vampire's heart turns to dust as he dies. Lestat's unfortunate fireside violin performance. Marius' arrival at Lestat's house. The costume design is by the same person who did costumes for Moulin Rouge. And I really liked the effects that portrayed the vampires' (to use Rice's favorite word) preternatural movements.
What's surprising about Queen of the Damned is its playfulness. Lestat's music videos draw their inspiration from early German black-and-whites like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. When the battle starts, the concert crowd cheers instead of running for their lives. The banter occasionally made me laugh, as did Marius's nonplussed facial expressions.

On the sliding scale of vampire movies, Queen of the Damned is not as good as Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Lost Boys, Blade, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, or Interview with the Vampire. It is, however, better than John Carpenter's Vampires, Dracula 2000, Lair of the White Wyrm, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Modern Vampires, Innocent Blood, and a countless host of others.

By those standards, it's pretty good. But it squandered the immense potential of Rice's epic vampire opera. We don't even get the Legend of the Twins or the origin of the Mother and Father. So my jury is still out on this one. I only very reluctantly assign it a rating. If I see it in a few months, or a few years, I may like it more, I may like it less. Who can tell?


-We wish RevSF Film/DVD editor Jason Myers would make up his Mother-sucking mind.

 
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