Our review of Queen of the Damned (Blu-ray), published September 24th, 2012, is also available.
The mother of all vampires!
Singer Aaliyah's career was a short-lived one. In 2001 the R&B sensation and sometimes actress was killed in a plane crash at the young age of 23. Before starring in Queen of the Damned Aaliyah was featured in the Jet Li action movie Romeo Must Die. The movie tanked but Aaliyah's acting career blossomed—in 2003, the actress was to have been featured in the two Matrix sequels. Alas, because of her untimely death her only starring vehicle ended up being this lackluster sequel to Neil Jordan's Interview With The Vampire, based on the written saga by the creepy Anne Rice. Also starring Stuart Townsend (Wonderland) in the previous Tom Cruise role of Lestat, Queen of the Damned arrives on DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Queen of the Damned continues to follow the vampire Lestat (Townsend) as he lives eons on earth as an immortal bloodsucker. We learn that the world has become too much for Lestat to bear and he's decided to take a nice, long 200 year slumber in an dilapidated crypt. When he awakens in 2001 the world is brand new—instead of violins and gas lamps, there are rock guitars and spotlights. This seems to please Lestat, who decides that the best course of action is to become a rock god (kind of a mix between Mick Jagger and Marilyn Manson). Skirting over how he got a record contract without hanging around in the daytime, the movie fast forwards to Lestat's success, which has now apparently eclipsed that of Elvis Presley. He fronts a Goth band called—what else?—"The Vampire Lestat," which seems to have huge a following comparative to Christianity.
Cut to Jessie (Marguerite Moreau, Wag the Dog), a London researcher for a vampire institute. After finding Lestat's journal, Jessie begins to delve into Lestat's past. It seems that decades ago he was bitten by Marius (Vincent Perez, The Crow: City of Angels), an über-vampire who keeps stone statues of the vampire king and queen in his basement. The queen is Akasha (Aaliyah), a dastardly monster who almost sucked Egypt dry centuries ago (note to self: never visit Egypt). I can't really recall why they've been turned to stone, though I don't think it quite matters. One night while Marius is on the beach, Lestat heads into the cavernous underground lair and plays his violin for Akasha (don't ask why—he just does). This makes her hand move, which in turn makes Lestat drink from her wrist. Marius finds out and, in a rage of fury, takes off with the statues in the middle of the night, leaving Lestat alone (which he quietly learns is one of the suck-suck drawbacks to being part of the undead).
Back in 2002, Jessie starts cruising a local vampire bar she read about in Lestat's journal. Meeting up with Lestat, Jessie learns that the now famous rock star is going to play a one-time only concert in Death Valley (where else?), California, where a bunch of angry vampires will probably try and kill him for breaking their code by coming out of the closet as a nightwalker.
I hate it when that happens.
Now enter Akasha, Queen of the Vampires (or damned, if you prefer), who has been released from her solid stone slumber because—and I'm guessing here—she really digs Lestat's music. Akasha wants to rule the world and have Lestat as her king. However, a batch of good vampires (led by Lena Olin) want to stop Akasha because…well, from what I can gather it's because she's not playing by the strict vampire code, or something like that. Anyhow, all hell breaks loose, lots of people die, and fade to black.
It's good to know that there are no ugly vampires in the world. Well, actually there are, but no one really cares about them. The vampires in Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned enjoy looking like they're posing for a Victoria's Secret catalog 24-7. They speak in whispers as if they're about to make love ("We…shall rule…the world") and endlessly pose for the camera like Cindy Crawford on a good self-esteem day.
I was one of the many thousands who read Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire" book. I wasn't very impressed. While the spin on the vampire idea was a somewhat novel approach, overall I thought the book was too steeped in its own gothic romance to go over well as a fascinating story. Needless to say, I wasn't all that excited about the Tom Cruise film version of the book. First off, actor Rutger Hauer should have played Lestat, hands down. Secondly…well, secondly I just thought the movie stunk. And now comes the sequel Queen of the Damned. Guess what? It stinks too. Like a dirty diaper floating in a pool of baby up-chuck.
Well, maybe it's not that bad. I did think that Queen of the Damned was better than Interview with the Vampire, though not by much. Those hoping for a full throttle horror movie will be disappointed. The rest praying for a dark romantic drama will fall asleep. And worst of all is the fact that Aaliyah (most likely the main draw for most viewers) doesn't even enter the story until it's almost 3/4 over.
The story feels like a recycling of almost every other vampire movie ever made. Except for a few unique twists (Lestat being a rock star), the movie lumbers from one scene to the next with each actor bearing his or her fangs at just the right moment. Stuart Townsend plays Lestat as if he's making continuous love to the camera for all the world to see. The poor guy had the unfortunate task of following up a role first occupied by Tom Cruise. Bummer. Vincent Perez as Lestat's mentor seems to have some homosexual undertones that are never fully explored (not that I'm complaining). Alas, we'll never know if Aaliyah could have been a top notch Hollywood superstar—as Akasha, regulated queen of the vampires, Aaliyah is given little to do in a part that requires only that she shake her midriff and speak in a voice reminiscent of a 1-900 sex operator. There is a side story that features Marguerite Moreau, though it's mainly pushed gently to the side in lieu of Lestat prancing about onstage in tight leather pants as Akasha surveys all she sees.
I'm a bit baffled as to whom the target audience was for this movie. Rice's fans aren't going to care very much for this screen adaptation (the dismal box office receipts solidified that) and horror fans won't find much of anything to get excited about. There's not much left to say about Queen of the Damned definitely worth skipping unless you're a die hard Aaliyah fan…and even then it's still iffy.
Queen of the Damned is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I wasn't surprised to find this transfer to be of very high quality. With a plethora of dark black levels and solid colors schemes, Queen of the Damned looks very nice. The flesh tones are all spot on even with only the slightest amount of edge enhancement showing up (it was annoying but not overly bothersome). Overall Warner has done a very nice job on this print.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English and French. Much like the video presentation, this 5.1 mix is very well executed. Featuring a bombastic array of sounds and effects (especially during Lestat's infamous rock concert in Death Valley), this is a highly aggressive soundtrack that should give any home theater a rocking good time. All aspects of the dialogue, music, and heavy thrashin' music are free of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Warner has pulled out most of the stops to come up with a well stocked "special edition" of the film. Starting off the "special features befitting a queen" (so says the back of the package) is a commentary track by director Michael Rymer, producer Jorge Saralegui, and composer Richard Gibbs. Seeing how I wasn't a big fan of the film it won't come a surprise that I didn't really care about the commentary track. The bulk of the track features the commentators discussing many aspects of Rice's original book, as well as a lot of technical stories on how the effects were done. I especially liked composer Gibbs' insights into the film's music. If you're a fan I'm sure you'll get a kick out of this track. Otherwise, it's a skipper.
Next up are 13 deleted scenes presented in a rough non-anamorphic version. Watching most of the scenes I was reminded of something someone once told me: "Patrick, if you keep sticking your finger up there you're going to make it bleed." Of course, the reason I was reminded of this was because I couldn't have cared less about the scenes and had to do something to keep my mind occupied.
Three documentaries give the viewer a look at some behind-the-scenes footage, as well as interviews with the cast and crew. "Creating the Vampires" features interviews with director Michael Rymer, producer Jorge Saralegui, actors Stuart Townsend and Aaliyah, and others. This is the best of the featurettes as it focuses on the special effects and how they were achieved. "Aaliyah Remembered" sports cast and crew members (along with the late star's brother) discussing their feelings about the actress and what she brought to the film. This is a nice, if brief (three minutes long), remembrance of the star. Finally there's "The Music of Lestat" features interviews with composer Richard Gibbs and lyricist Jonathan Davis discussing how the were brought into the project, what they thought of it, et cetera. Whoop-dee-doo.
Finally there are three music videos for Lestat ("Redeemer," "Forsaken," "System"), a music video by Static X for the song "Cold," some extended footage of Lestat's concert from the film, a humorous gag reel set to old time jazz music, a few photo galleries, a cast and crew list, production notes, some notes about Anne Rice's book, a theatrical trailer for the film, and some DVD-ROM content for a personal computer.
I was highly underimpressed by this movie, though fans of the film will surely get a kick out of all the extras tacked on by Warner, as well as a fine video transfer and a rumbling sound mix. I highly recommend producer Wes Craven's much more thrilling Dracula 2000 instead of this underwhelming piece of pop culture nonsense.
Queen of the Damned is found guilty of being a mundane final vehicle for the beautiful and talented Aaliyah!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by Director Andrew Davis
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