Another Anne Rice adaptation, and another film which I had mostly seen only bits and pieces of on TV over the years, before now finally making an effort to watch it in one go.
Tired of eternal life, Lestat is in a self-imposed hibernation, but is woken up by loud rock music. For some reason he joins the band, and he soon begins to enjoy the fame and publicity that comes with celebrity status. He is also planning to reveal the existence of vampires to the world, bringing him into conflict with the vampire community. Meanwhile, his music is awaking Akasha, the “Queen of the Damned” and “mother” of all vampires. He is also catching the interest of Jesse, a young novice in a secret order which is studying the occult and the supernatural. And then there is an entirely different group of ancient vampires with their own agenda. And somehow it is all connected, I guess….
As you can see from this plot summary, the narrative structure of Queen of the Damned is a mess. As I have pointed out in my review of Interview with the Vampire, I have never read any of Anne Rice’s novels, but from watching Queen of the Damned you can tell that her books probably contain much more mythology and back story than a film can handle. And in this case, Warner Brothers chose to cram two of Rice’s books into one screenplay. According to imdb, this was done in order to milk the most out of the motion picture rights before the studio’s contract expired.
That shameless and exploitative move backfired spectacularly. Some of the structural problems of this film are evident right from the beginning. The film more or less jumps right into the middle of the main plot, i. e. Lestat’s exploits, but without properly explaining his motivation. But that complete lack of motivation is something I already know from Interview with the Vampire. Another problem is that Queen of the Damned is burdened with a partly superfluous and poorly handled flashback sequence in which we can see the 18th century events Jesse reads about in Lestat’s diary.
For a film that tries to handle so much material, the second act meanders along surprisingly slowly. We should learn a lot about Jesse’s character development, about her motivations – but we don’t. In fact, the often maligned Twilight saga probably handled the central female character’s interest in its vampire heart-throb better than this film does.
The finale of the second act is marred by cheap-looking effects (every time a vampire in this film “flies”, it looks quite horrible). This ushers in the third act, which – unfortunately – introduces an entirely new group of vampires which we had heard nothing about so far. Yes, we are now 75 minutes into the film and 5 minutes into the third act, and the filmmakers feel now is the right time to introduce a new group of protagonists. Well, “introduce” may be not the right word, as that would suggest that we learn anything about this apparently very important group, like their origin, their relationship to the other main players or to each other, or their motivation; or, let’s be modest, at least get to know their names. But there is no proper introduction. We know exactly two protagonists in this group by name; one (Marius) has a connection to Lestat, the other (Maharet) a connection to Jesse. We learn very little about their motivation, and nothing about the mythology or significance behind Maharet’s heritage.
The bigger problem to me is that the way this story is told means that the plot of the second act and the plot of the third act are only very loosely connected. And that is no way to structure a film. Because not only are they introducing a completely new set of characters with the third act, they also introduce a different plot-line with different themes.
As far as style is concerned, the main problem with this film is that it feels cheap. In a way, this film has many aspects that are visually stunning, but a lot of it is also rather camp, which has the effect of making it at times look cheap or second-rate. There seems to be a lack of an overall stylistic concept. The aesthetics of the pretrified Enkil and Akasha, for example, are great, but Aksha’s flash-backs have a very 1980s TV feel to them. In fact, the film seems to borrow a lot from 1980s or early 1990s music videos. That is probably meant to fit Lestat’s musical exploits which run like a theme through the film. Here is the second problem I have with the style of the film: I find Lestat’s music extremely unappealing, even repulsive. That is problematic as it is so prominent in the film and as it is surely meant to be somewhat ethereal or otherworldly; something mesmerising so that it can easily be believed that scores of people would fall under its spell immediately.
The tonal shift itself would have made it difficult for fans of the first film to adapt to the second – one a franco-centric melodrama, the other a punk-goth infused slow-action film eclectic in its cultural and ethnic inspirations. Costumes and locations seem to have been picked arbitrarily, and more often than once with a certain lack of taste and subtlety. And while some people may enjoy the music in this film (which is as far from my taste as it could possibly be), it just adds to the tonal gulf between the two films.
The cast is solid; especially the key actors are clearly talented. But the writers supplied none of the actors with a character to sink their teeth into (*sorry!*). Everything stays on the surface, and we never really feel the characters’ motivations. For example, there is supposed to be a lot of sexual tension between Lestat and Jesse, but we never really feel it as there is just not enough time for this tension to develop convincingly. Jesse’s relationship with her colleague David is also not developed in a convincing manner. Talking of Jesse: it seems that Marguerite Moreau is quite a good actress, but she may be miscast in this role. Stewart Townsend does a decent job as Lestat, but his performance is too camp. His character, as well as the Marius-character, are marred by silly accents, as is Akasha, played by the late Aaliyah. Lots of talent shines through Aaliyah’s performance, but her acting choices, including Akasha’s accent, manner of speech, and movements, seem out of place.
The plot, the narrative structure, the writing in general – all is mediocre and it seems the film has taken the worst elements of Interview with the Vampire and added some new problems for good measure. Still, Queen of the Damned may quite possibly the more enjoyable film, as there are more things happening (even if they make no sense), and it is also camp and might have a certain “so-bad-it’s-good” potential. At any rate, the significant difference between the two films’ imdb ratings (nearly 2.5 points) does not seem entirely justified, seeing as Interview with the Vampire is not really a good film either.
5 out of 10 seems like a fair rating for Queen of the Damned: even though it fails in most of the things it sets out to do, it is still slightly superior to the many plainly bad vampire films out there.
I still suggest you give this film a miss and invest your time in watching something more satisfying…..