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IN SHORT: Looking good in a bikini is not the same as acting. [Rated R. 101 minutes]
The second film generated by Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles books is Queen of the Damned, which would have been the third in a trilogy begun with Interview with the Vampire had Tom Cruise decided to continue as Lestat in an adaptation of book number two, "The Vampire Lestat". He didn't, so Stuart Townshend steps into the fangs for this one, a great example of an adaptation that has no idea which of the novel's various stories it wants to tell.
Somebody must have thought it was a great idea to cast the big pop singer Aaliyah in the title role of Akasha, the literal mother of all vampires. It would have been a better idea to find out if the singer knew how to act which, with a few more roles under her belt, she may have been able to do. It's an unfortunately moot point since the singer died before finishing this film, with a younger brother stepping in to loop her vocals, and a doubling sound effect to make it sound all the more powerful and terrifying. Aaliyah's performance is as stiff as a board, an unfortunate bit of description but entirely accurate. As if to make the undertrained singer look like a competent performer, the rest of the hired cast exhibit talent only marginally better than the popstar. Damned is damned from the first frame.
The producer's decision to ignore story elements set up in the film of Interview with a Vampire provide them with an empty canvas on which to build a new story, one narrated in the third person by whatever cast member the story is focussed on at the time. While you walk in fully trained in everything you think vampires can and cannot do, these preconceptions are disregarded without explanation by this film. You thought vampires couldn't be recorded by cameras? Think again. You thought a vampire bite guaranteed that the victim would rise in three days? Nope. Some of this material was covered in Interview but, in choosing to toss that background material, the baby has been tossed out with the bath water.
We begin with a vampire named Lestat (Stuart Townshend), slumbering in his tomb for a hundred years, awakened by the pounding bass riffs of a rock and roll band. Music loud enough to wake the dead and all that. Stepping into the 21st century, Lestat decides to become a famous rocker and, in violation of all the rules of the Vampire Nation, reveal himself to the world as the bloodsucker that he is, forcing other vampires out into the open. Lestat is lonely, y'see, and wants to play with all his kith and kin. That the press in this movie accept without question that Lestat is a vampire is something that will make Alice Cooper and all the Goth rockers that followed him grin from ear to ear, as all the vampires seen here look like Alice on a bad hair day. Lestat's CD, "Forsaken," is a monstrous hit that he's filled with all sorts of clues to the secret Code and Laws of the Nation. The frenzy the music generates is all the more remarkable since we never see Lestat perform with the band he has chosen as his vehicle to stardom until the one and only concert that occurs at the end of the film. Instead, we are treated to a history of vampires, beginning with Lestat's "creation" by the vampire Marius (Vincent Perez), 400 years ago.
We learn these details thanks to third person narration Number Two, a researcher named Jessica (Marguerite Moreau) at something called the Talamasca. Jesse was, apparently, raised by or related to a line of vampires (Lena Olin as her aunt) and abandoned by them to be raised by others of her kind. This research group is in possession of Lestat's journal, which is how we get the details. Jessica's analysis of Lestat's lyrics and writings lead her to a secretive London Club called the Admiral's Arms. There, lucky humans who get past the velvet ropes discover that they are to be dinner for the members of the club. Jessica is about to meet that fate when Lestat intervenes and saves her. So enthralled is the human that all those buried emotions of abandonment by her vampire family reemerge. She wants to be transformed.
Even worse, Lestat's noise has awoken the Creator of all Vampires, Queen Akasha (Aaliyah), whose marbleized form has been protected by Marius for over a thousand years. While all the other hidden vampires are determined to destroy Lestat for revealing their secrets, Akasha as decided that he would make a great King to aid her in the destruction of all humankind. It is only in this Third Act that Queen of the Damned starts poking fun at itself. Too little, too late.
In deciding to set up this adaptation in the third person narrative form, none of you lucky folks who waste your money on a ticket are allowed the visceral thrill of making any kind of emotional connection with any of the characters. Watching Queen of the Damned is like reading a research paper, with special effects tossed in. As for those effects, since the film has chosen to redefine the "vampire archetype" it would have been nice to have some consistency in effects and script background laid out for us. That isn't done. Instead, the writers try to squeeze in as much of Anne Rice's material as possible and fail to create any kind of thrill on screen. It is, as we've written time and time again, a fatal mistake.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Queen of the Damned, he would have paid . . .
rent, if only for the cheap thrill of getting ripped before you diss the tape. As much as we seem to have put all the blame on Aaliyah and her bikini, Stuart Townshend does just as much posing as she does. We know from the books -- so don't send eMail to explain it to us -- that Lestat's vampire beauty is supposed to be attractive to both sexes. Townshend doesn't do it for us <g>. If you'd like you can load him and/or Aaliyah on to your desktop with Queen of the Damned wallpapers. Click here.
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