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Our review of Queen Of The Damned, published August 20th, 2002, is also available.
The mother of all vampires.
After sleeping for something like a gazillion years, the vampire Lestat (Stuart Townsend, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) awakens in the early 2000s, meets a bunch of musicians in his cemetery (their music brought him back to life, natch), and quickly becomes the lead singer to one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. At the same time, Jesse (Marguerite Moreau, Runaway Jury)—who also has a connection to vampirism thorough an aunt (Lena Olin, Remember Me) who cried blood, or something like that—works for a paranormal research facility called Talamasca. This group has been tracking one of the oldest of all vampires, Marius (Vincent Perez, The Crow: City of Angels), who who turned Lestat into one of the undead—as seen in flashbacks read through Lestat's diary, which the Talamasca's leader, David Talbot (Paul McGann, The Eighth Doctor Who), now possesses. Lestat has been trying to locate Marius, who guards a statue of the dreaded Akasha (the late pop singer Aaliyah), the mother of all vampires. Apparently Lestat's music is able to bring Akasha back to life, and he's fed off of her stone likeness once before. So Marius gets an army of vampires together to stop the Lestat and his band, but Jesse realizes she has a special connection to Lestat, and…Are you following all this? Let's just say the movie ends with a big vampire fight and leave it at that.
The vampire genre has permeated pop culture so heavily in recent years it's safe to say the whole thing has become exhausting. I can tell you with absolute certainty we've reached the saturation point. All those Twilight books and movies, HBO's True Blood, CW's The Vampire Diaries…the list goes on and on. This genre feels like it's ready to implode. But don't worry; zombies are hovering in the background ready to pick up the slack.
Sitting through Queen of the Damned is an exercise in willpower and endurance. So many vampire clichés buzz across the screen it's like watching a highlight reel of "Vampires 101." Old gothic mansions, well-dressed bloodsuckers, trendy bars filled with pale chic fashion models; not a single bloody stone is left unturned. There were moments I wanted to throw objects at the screen, sometimes out of boredom and sometimes out of pure annoyance with the characters. I understand movies about vampires aren't going to be great art, but Queen of the Damned doesn't even feel like it's trying to be mediocre art.
The screenplay—two of Anne Rice's books mashed together into one story—oozes with a smarmy dullness and confusion. Pretentiousness permeates every frame, drips off every set piece, and weighs down each performance. For proof, watch the video conference Lestat conducts with a group of drooling journalists early in the proceedings. The vampire Lestat—now a rock star whose band looks like they just got done attending the world's loneliest Goth convention—strikes so many poses it's as if he's wandering inside the horror version of Elle magazine. His band becomes so popular, they're bigger than Jesus Christ AND the Beatles put together. I always have to laugh when movies make terrible fictional bands hugely successful in their tiny cinematic universe, because in the real world this terribly niche group would have been more of a flash-in-the-pan than Limp Bizkit.
Queen of the Damned fails on just about every level. The screenplay is one jumbled mess of characters, set pieces, and exposition that never ties anything together in a way that makes you care about who lives or who dies. The characters are forgettable and lazily executed. Stuart Townsend is hardly leading man material; his Lestat is a preening waif who looks like he's on the verge of male anorexia. I never thought I'd see myself type these words, but here you go: Stuart Townsend, you make me long for Tom Cruise. Vincent Perez shows up with his hair slicked back, wearing a velour coat that makes his Marius look like a featured prop at a Halloween store; you know, the kind where you clap your hands and the head moves and growls "I vant to suck your blood!" When pop star Aaliyah finally does show up (halfway through the movie!), her presence dominates the screen, but it's too little too late. Her role consists of slinking through hallways and parties, undulating her midriff and looking really sexy. As a villain, Queen Akasha is about as menacing as one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends dressed as Dracula. It is clear Aaliyah could have been a star, had she been given the right script. Sadly, her life was cut short in a plane crash, shortly after filming this role.
The only positive aspect I can find in Queen of the Damned is its production design, which is lavishly constructed of marble bedrooms and cavernous corridors. The sets look evocative and sprawling, so at least the filmmakers got something right. It's a shame the same can't be said for the extraordinarily shoddy special effects, the likes of which would look pretty bad even in a straight-to-DVD release; absolutely atrocious for a big budget studio film. The vampire's movements are some of the single worst effects I've seen in any movie of the last ten years. As the vampires jump and leap into the air, their actions can only be described as "cheesy low budget kung-fu."
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, I have surprisingly few complaints about Warner's transfer. The image retains an evenly saturated darkness, while the colors—a sea of bathed greens and muted palates—look excellent. I also didn't detect any issues with edge enhancement or print imperfections. Overall, a very attractive transfer of a very unattractive movie.
Much like its video counterpart, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is uniformly excellent, with all of the front, side, and rear speakers utilized to great effect. There are a lot of whooshing sounds from all directions and the rock music—composed by members of the band Korn—is sonically aggressive. Also included are alternate language 5.1 Surround tracks in French, Spanish, German, and Italian; a Spanish 2.0 Stereo mix; and English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles.
Bonus features are all carryovers from the original 2002 DVD release including a commentary from director Michael Rymer, producer Jorge Saralegui, and composer Richard Gibbs; three featurettes on the making of the film ("The Music of Lestat," "Creating the Vampires," "Slept So Long"); a tribute to Aaliyah ("Aaliyah Remembered"); a full concert performance from the film ("Not Meant For Me"); thirteen deleted and extended scenes; a gag reel; four music videos ("Redeemer," "Forsaken," "System," "Cold"); and a theatrical trailer.
You'll have to see Queen of the Damned to experience the awfulness of it. Better yet, sit in a dark corner and contemplate how lucky you are to have read this review and heeded its warning.
Guilty. Sentenced to cinematic purgatory for all eternity.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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