Long before Stephenie Meyer butchered both the written word and vampiric lore, Anne Rice created her own fascinating take on vampires and the supernatural, beginning with her 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire. Her Vampire Chronicles would expand and grow into ten novels as of this writing, all of which detail the lives and undeaths of an assemblage of spiritual and captivating creatures of the night. Neil Jordan adapted Interview in 1994, controversially casting Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat. Cruise’s performance eventually won Anne Rice’s respect, but the actor did not return for the 2002 sequel, Queen of the Damned. Stuart Townsend picked up the mantle and stars alongside Aaliyah in her final film appearance before her tragic death. Now Queen of the Damned is on Blu-ray for the first time, presenting another Rice adaptation to a new generation of vampire fans.
There was a lot of behind the scenes wrangling, negotiating, and politicking between the film productions of Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned. Under time and studio constraints, director Michael Rymer managed to assemble his sequel, but the final product fails to meet the high bar set by Neil Jordan. Queen of the Damned actually adapts the second and third books of Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles into one 101 minute movie, no easy feat if you’re familiar with the densely written and sprawling narratives of the novels The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. Squeezing both books into one film necessitated a lot of cutting and rearranging, a processed at which Rice has publicly bristled. She also did not approve of Townsend as the choice for the new screen incarnation of her beloved vampire, a sentiment many fans shared. In truth, however, Stuart Townsend is not the star of this movie, even though Lestat is by now a legendary literary character. That honor falls to Aaliyah, playing the seductive and ruthless queen of all vampires, Akasha.
Although Akasha is the most interesting character in the film, not to mention the titular one, she doesn’t actually enter the action for quite a while. Rather, the film opens with an abbreviated depiction of events from The Vampire Lestat, which sees Lestat awakened from a long hibernation by the sounds of music. Thusly aroused, he departs his chambers to find the metal band that awakened him and ends up joining them as their lead singer. As weird as all this sounds, it kind of makes sense in context, though it comes through much more coherently in Ann Rice’s prose than it does in Rymer’s adaptation. There are plenty of rock star excesses on display, followed up by flashbacks and vampire backstories, all of which of course lead to Akasha coming in search of the famed vampire Lestat. Lena Olin and Marguerite Moreau guest star, and the new Blu-ray edition includes quite a few bonus features:
- Audio commentary with director Michael Rymer, producer Jorge Saralegui, and composer Richard Gibbs
- Aaliyah Remembered – Brief memorial tribute to Aaliyah
- Creating the Vampires – A visual effects behind the scenes feature
- The Music of Lestat – An 11 minute discussion of the development of Lestat’s songs in the movie
- 13 deleted scenes
- Gag reel
- Music videos – One is “Cold” by Static X, and the other three are videos of Lestat’s songs
- Extended concert sequences
Though flawed in structure and not equal to the expectations set by Interview with the Vampire, Queen of the Damned is notable for being Aaliyah’s final work. Anne Rice fans should see the film for the sake of completion, but, as is usually the case, the book is better. Queen of the Damned arrived on Blu-ray on September 18, 2012, and is in stores now.