Are you tired of vampires flooding the mainstream yet? For eternal creatures that tend to keep their existence a secret, they've managed to fit into every current pocket of pop-culture. There's True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer still lives on in the form of comic books, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. Another factor that was undoubtedly taken into consideration was Halloween's imminent arrival. In culmination, execs at Warner Bros. are hoping people still have enough interest to pick up Queen of the Damned on Blu-ray.
I saw this film when it was first released in theaters and haven't seen it since. Going into this review, I really had no recollection as to what it was about. All I did remember was that I enjoyed what I had seen, but that still left room for doubt as to how well it held up over the last decade. I was only 20 at the time, and a flashy film about vampires that featured a score from Korn's Jonathan Davis, as well as a few other choice nu-metal bands I was into at the time, would have pleased me regardless of the acting or script quality. Nowadays, the mere promise of fanged teeth and rockin' tunes simply aren't enough to satisfy me, so I was concerned that Queens of the Damned wasn't going to be the enjoyable film I (barely) remembered it to be.
The most alarming aspect of this film comes from the film's development - Warner acquired the rights to numerous Anne Rice novels, and cashed in big time with the success of Interview with the Vampire. A sequel had been planned but never really went anywhere... that is, until the studio was about to lose the rights to the Vampire Chronicles in 2000. If Warner didn't act immediately and get principle photography on a new film underway, all of Anne Rice's properties would revert back to her. She was practically counting the days it would happen, too, because she was extremely disappointed that the studio was going to drastically butcher her work without even utilizing her as a consultant. The author even went as far as to say that Queen of the Damned was a 'bad idea' and a 'doomed project'. So, right there we have two things that didn't bode well for the film - It was a rushed project, and even more damning than that, Anne Rice was pretty vocal about how much she didn't stand behind it. As for me, I've never read an Anne Rice novel so I hadn't exactly been set up for disappointment.
Queen of the Damned revolves around a simple question - How can we be living in a world that's populated by vampires, and not even know of their existence? Simply put, it's because they're more scared of us than we might be of them. Sure, they're much stronger than humans and overpower them on a nightly basis to feed, but they're far too vulnerable during the day. If the human race knew that vampires were a reality and not just a fable, they would systematically hunt them down and expose them to the light. So, vampires have walked amongst us in secret, hoping a life of discretion would ensure their safety for lifetimes to come.
However, Lestat didn't see eye to eye with his maker on this. At first he was enjoying his new lease on immortality, and he couldn't understand why vampires wouldn't just rise above the weaklings that double as their food and rule the world. A short time later, Lestat suddenly understood that vampirism wasn't a gift, but rather a curse. All of his hopes and dreams of becoming known throughout the world as a talented musician were taken from him the moment he was turned, and worse yet, he was now seemingly destined to be alone for the rest of time. As unbearable as that realization was, Lestat decided to put himself to sleep until the world had changed more to his liking. Two hundred years later, he awakens to the sound of nu-metal echoing from his abandoned home. Vastly different than any sound before, Lestat senses that times must have changed dramatically, and decides to awaken from his centuries of slumber to fulfill the desires he was once denied. He lends his vocal talent to the band and helps them to become the biggest band in the world, "The Vampire Lestat."
Of course, there's a deeper motive at play here than fame. Lestat is hoping that spilling vampire secrets through his lyrics will enrage the vamps that want to keep their existence a secret. Once he's stirred the pot enough, Lestat will perform in his first and only concert in an attempt to draw out the opposition and eliminate them one by one, as it's the only way he could ever lead his (night) life out in the open. Some of the most powerful vamps around the world take the bait, but there's one thing that not even Lestat had intended upon - His bold vision and music help to awaken Queen Akasha, a reckless vampire ancient that threatens the world of humanity and vampires alike, disposing of any creature that walks indiscriminately. On the surface, she wants exactly what Lestat wants - To be known, worshipped, and to share eternity with someone who isn't afraid to take what's rightfully theirs. Knowing what that entails however, Lestat begins to realize his course of action may not have been for the best after all. Is vampire supremacy the way to go, or can vampires continue to co-exist with humans?
After the film's initial release, critics crapped all over Queen of the Damned. To a certain extent, I can see where they were coming from. The story has some unbelievable stretches in logic and they certainly left me scratching my head from time to time. For one, the fact that Lestat is finally motivated enough to awaken and start a revolution because of nu-metal is just silly. I think developing a band to make humans adore him because they only view the 'vampire' moniker as half serious is a great idea, but the building blocks for this concept are weak at best. Of course, humans not really believing Lestat is a vampire is actually the film's biggest plot hole. I mean, if everyone thinks the 'vampire' shtick is just a marketing gimmick, then why do so many vamps care enough to the point where they'll actually risk exposing themselves, attacking Lestat in plain sight? And on television no less? Outside of glaring plot holes, there are some artistic decisions that actually caused me to wince a bit. Most notable of all are the special effects that are used when a vampire moves really fast. It seems like the filmmakers were attempting to duplicate a similar effect that was used in The Matrix, but they failed miserably. This could have ruined the film if it was supposed to be a flick like Underworld, but Queen of the Damned is wisely light on the action.
No, what we really have at the heart of this film, is a story about a monster in his infancy. At first, Lestat embraced his bleak immortality with a thirst and a hunger he didn't quite understand, but eventually begins to struggle with the humanity that remains buried deep within. Wanting to remain a part of the world, to hold on to a sliver of the life he once had, is what drives him to look for a legion of followers in his fans, so that they might accept vampires and allow some sort of co-existence. It's a fruitless endeavor as far as both sides are concerned - The film shows how humans cower in fear as soon as they realize Lestat is the real deal, and as much as the world has changed in the last 200 years, the way vampires feel about 'coming out' certainly hasn't changed. The Queen Akasha presents herself as Lestat's ace in the hole, but his goal of co-existence means absolutely nothing if he allows her to destroy the world as they know it.
The story has a little bit of everything - Interesting character study, love, suspense, style, and a classic villain. Speaking of which, seeing Aaliyah portray Akasha was definitely one of the highlights of the film. It was clear from the moment she appeared on-screen that she was a double threat as an actress on top of being a great singer, and it's a shame we'll never be able to see how far she could have taken her career. Beautiful, fiery and passionate, she really had it all. As far as the rest of the cast goes, everyone else is serviceable but nothing really special, with the exception of Stuart Townsend as Lestat. I'm really not a fan of the actor in general, but he was perfectly cast as Lestat, with theatrics and brooding and all. Back on point though, I know a lot of critics didn't find this to be a particularly deep film, and in reality I guess it isn't, but I found Queen of the Damned to have far more substance than anyone really gave it credit for. Are some of the plot elements executed sloppily or even come across as a little silly at times? Sure, and I completely acknowledge that it's far from being a perfect film. I wouldn't even say it's great, but I went into this film pretty much fresh my second time around and found it to be an enjoyable experience that I wouldn't mind watching again in the near future.
This is a surprisingly excellent 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1). I was expecting to see a soft image with some edge enhancement and digital scrubbing, but Queen of the Damned is free of any such digital trickery. The films is pretty sharp overall, although the cinematography itself has a tendency to be just a wee bit on the soft side. Contrast and black levels are immaculate, and details can always be seen in the darkest of scenes. For such a dark and moody film, I was expecting at least a little black crush from this catalog title, but I couldn't spot any. Deconstructing the technical aspect of this disc even further, digital anomalies are also non-existent. Despite plenty of fog and difficult lighting, there's no compression artifacts or banding, and a fine layer of film grain remains present throughout. The only drawback to the film as a whole is that it's bleak looking by design, so don't expect anything more than all goth, all the time. Other than that, the video presentation is pretty much perfect.
*Click images to enlarge
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track was just as much of a surprise. It's atmospheric, the score and Lestat's band are loud and proud, and the sound effects are split across the surround stage impressively. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, never harsh or tinny. Everything is well balanced and the LFE doesn't get a huge workout outside of some of the music we get to hear, but it's working and doing so on a level that feels natural to whatever is happening on screen.
-Commentary with Director Michael Rymer, Producer Jorge Saralegui and Composer Richard Gibbs - A good chunk of the commentary is devoted to explaining why so many changes were made from Anne Rice's novels. These guys are all very excited to discuss the work and it's clear they're proud of what they were able to do with Queen of the Damned, but it almost makes me suspicious that they're merely trying to defend themselves against many of the conceptual ideas that were tackled by reviewers. Still, it makes for an interesting and informative listen that never seems to drag.
-The Music of Lestat - This supplement covers the score by Jonathan Davis as well as the songs featured on the soundtrack, as well as filming the big concert scene in Death Valley, California.
-Creating the Vampires - This featurette is self explanatory - It details the work it takes to 'make' a vampire, from wardrobe to make-up and other various effects.
-Aaliyah Remembered - This film was released only six months after her passing, so it's nice to not only see a tribute to her before the end credits roll in the film, but to have this tribute for her as well. It's the least she deserves.
-Slept So Long/Not Meant For Me - Sort of faux music videos, these show the 'musical performances' of said songs from the concert in its entirety.
-Deleted Scenes - There are thirteen scenes here overall, and in short, they're not really worth the time. Each scene here only would have served to needlessly extend the film, and were wisely left on the cutting room floor.
-Music Videos - For Redeemer, Forsaken, Sytem, and Cold.
Queen of the Damned may have crapped all over the novels written by Anne Rice (who has gone back and forth over the years as to whether she liked this film or not), but being that I wasn't familiar with her work, I found this film to be enjoyable all around. It has its flaws and it's far from being a great film, but I still walked away with quite the appreciation for it. The main thing to take away outside of Lestat's journey from monster back to humanity, is Aaliyah's flawless performance as Queen Akasha, and the soundtrack, as dated as the 'nu-metal' sound might be, still fits the bill. The supplements are plentiful enough, but it's the A/V performance on this disc that deserves to be praised, as it's completely unhindered by digital tampering from the studio. This is pretty rare for a catalog title, and if Warner can keep this kind of quality up in the future, I can't wait to see what they'll release next. Recommended.