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DVD SAVANT

Interview with the Vampire
Savant Blu-ray Review


Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
Blu-ray
Warner Home Video
1994 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 123 min. / Street Date October 7, 2008 / 28.99
Starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea
Cinematography Philippe Rousselot
Production Design Dante Ferretti
Film Editor Mick Audsley, Joke Van Wijk
Original Music Elliott Goldenthal
Written by Anne Rice from her novel
Produced by David Geffen, Stephen Wooley
Directed by Neil Jordan

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Anne Rice popularized the vampire for Middle America, dragging him from his happy crypt of cultural marginality into the sunlight of supermarket bookracks. Stylishly written, with much more attention to literary form than is typical for modern page-turners, Rice's Lestat books split their attention between horror detail and romance-novel intrigue. One of the best-selling book series of the late 1900s, Rice's Vampire Chronicles have even been turned into an opera.

1994 brought a lavish version of Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles to movie screens, directed by Neil Jordan with Anne Rice adapting her own novel. The antebellum New Orleans where Lestat meets Louis was a huge construction on open land not far from the city center; the vampires also travel to a moody Paris, seen almost solely at night.

Warners' Blu-ray disc of Interview with the Vampire presents Neil Jordan's often-beautiful imagery in its full nocturnal splendor. Blood flows freely in a tale that expects us to sympathize with the existential sufferings of undead ghouls who, after all, are remarkably stylish. Anne Rice softens the pansexual nature of her predatory vampires, but with our two heroes exchanging blood, slaughtering women as a team and even sharing the occasional coffin, Interview has strong gay overtones.

Synopsis:

In present-day San Francisco, writer Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) excitedly records the words of a man who claims to be a vampire almost 200 years old; his story begins in the early 1800s. Despondent over the loss of his wife and child, plantation owner Louis Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) is rescued from near suicide by Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise), a vampire. Lestat exchanges blood with Louis, killing his mortal body but resurrecting him as one of the thirsty undead. The new vampire at first tries to drink only the blood of animals, but taunted by Lestat and tempted by his own awakening appetites, Louis begins murdering humans to survive. He rashly destroys his plantation, and inducts a convert of his own to the ranks of the damned -- a young orphan named Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Claudia becomes a ruthless killer like Lestat but has her own reasons for regret: she will remain a physical 11 forever.

Interview with the Vampire exploits many ideas left unexplored in vintage vampire films, such as whether or not eternal life would be at all desirable. Nobody paid much attention in the old Son of Dracula when a potential vampire bride expressed pleasure at the Count's offer of eternal companionship.

Anne Rice's vampire mythology exchanges familiar genre rules (no stakes through the heart) for heavy-handed soul-searching and a general glamour makeover that could be called undead-chic. Her fancy-dress period vampires are contemptuous of the rest of humanity, and consume ignorant mortals in wholesale numbers. Lestat slays beautiful women for sport, treating us to "delicious" nightly blood feasts. Louis tries to subsist on he blood of swamp rats (yum!), but his plantation slaves are soon conducting Voodoo rituals as protection from his nightly depredations. Frankly, with dozens of killings every month and plenty of suspicious behavior back home, we're surprised that Lestat and Co. are not quickly brought to justice.

Large sections of the film are devoted to Louis' unease with his new status as a ghoulish super-being. Although he has the ability to read minds, Lestat admits that he possesses no spiritual knowledge. Instead of agents of the devil, he and Louis seem to be an alternate, parasitical species of man. Lestat chides Louis for obsessing about morality, which he conceives as irrelevant; yet it doesn't take much introspection to realize that the vampires are a negation of any and all moral values. If evil does exist, they're its very definition.

When the "beautiful child" vampire Claudia enters the picture, Interview with the Vampire begins to resemble a perverse parody of a gay family, with two male creatures raising an adorable-looking but deadly adopted daughter. Asking us to identify with these narcissistic, blood soaked demigods is a tall order, especially when actors Cruise and Pitt seem engaged in a perpetual beauty contest. Brad Pitt is given more adoring close-ups than Joan Crawford or Marlene Dietrich. Ms. Rice was reportedly dismayed when told that Cruise was to play Lestat, but pronounced him "perfect" once she saw the completed picture.

For this viewer, Interview with the Vampire comes fully "to life" only in the Paris segment, with a strikingly original idea that improves upon earlier screen presentations of The Theater of Grand Guignol, such as in the classic Mad Love. Louis, Lestat and Claudia are convinced that they're the only vampires in the world until they voyage to France and discover an entire "Theater of Vampires" staging gory shows filled with faked mutilations and killings. Louis marvels at the audacity of director and actor Armand (Antonio Banderas), "a real vampire pretending to be a man pretending to be a vampire." Each show ends with a horrid blood feast on a helpless female. The victim desperately begs and screams for her life, to an audience convinced that she's just a good actress. The scene is one of the few in the post- Exorcist era with a truly brilliant horror concept behind its cruelty and sadism.

Interview with the Vampire lurches back to the present to finish the flashback retelling of Louis' bizarre adventures in the twilight world. Christian Slater is appropriately enthusiastic as the writer who doesn't realize that a vampire has little reason to bare his soul (?) to a mortal, unless he's shopping for a human enabler/servant/slave. Interview with the Vampire seems to enjoy watching innocent women suffer and die as the beautiful but inconsequential prey of our preening male bloodsuckers; the misogynistic vampire saga is ultimately a depressing experience.

In Armand's den of ghouls, Stephen Rea is a standout as a vampire fond of walking up walls. Kirsten Dunst is very effective as the horrid Claudia, whose adolescent petulance makes her a particularly nasty predator.


Warners' Blu-ray of Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles brings out the pictorial graces of Philippe Rousellot's nighttime cinematography. The sparkling eyes of the vampires really pop in HD, as do Dante Ferretti's lavish sets. Neil Jordan contributes a commentary and participates in the lengthy interview docu In the Shadow of the Vampire. The show bears an introduction by Jordan, Anne Rice and Antonio Banderas. Audio tracks are offered in English (5.1), French, Spanish and Japanese.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Interview with the Vampire Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Director commentary, making-of featurette, introduction
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 4, 2008



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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