Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 315: Queen of the Damned (2002)

R, 1 hr. 41 min.  Directed by: Michael Rymer.  Release Date: February 22, 2002.  DVD Release Date: August 27, 2002.

I loved Interview With A Vampire, although I’m never able to remember whether it’s “with A vampire” or “with THE vampire,” which we’ll just call old age and leave the hell alone.  I loathe Anne Rice and every word she’s ever printed, which makes for a wonderful contradiction in my life, because the film version of her first novel is in my Top 50 movies of all time, despite its many Rice-ish faults.  When Queen of the Damned started making its appearances in theaters as a trailer, I was hesitant.  I worked in a Barnes & Noble for a long time, so I know my books, even the ones that suck.  I remember that even fans of Rice’s series didn’t particularly love this entry.

This movie helped me determine a watch priority for sequels.  Sequels get a lot of bad press, and for a lot of good reasons.  Sequels tend to be a “Hollywood” effort to bilk the global movie-going population out of money based solely on the quality of the original picture.  Most sequels seem to be quiet things, not to find its way on to their Netflix recommendations list?  Who else didn’t realize there are now like 90 American Pie DVDs in circulation.  Okay, admittedly, that one’s an exaggeration, but not by much.  The trick is learning to determine whether you’re going to see a GOOD sequel or a BAD sequel, and I think I have some good rules of thumb for telling the difference:
  1.  If less than half of the sequel cast is from the original… be cautious.  If no original cast members reappear, flee.  
  2. If major characters seem to have gone through a personality blender to create something ridiculous, flee.  
  3. If the cast is filled out with no-names or people who are not known for acting, flee.  
  4. If the sequel seems to repeat, ad nauseum, the story of the original without adding any new material, flee.  
  5. If the sequel has a lower budget (which requires some internet research) than the original, flee.
Let’s apply these rules to Queen of the Damned.  (1)  No cast members from the original film return.  Even worse, only one character from the original reappears.  Does anyone else wonder WTH happened to Louis?  (2)  Throughout Interview, we see Tom Cruise, as Lestat, stress the importance of living in secrecy.  At the end, we watch him maul (but unfortunately not kill) Christian Slater in what appears to be early 1990s New Orleans.  In Queen, Lestat has apparently been asleep for a century in what appears to be 2000-ish and acting as the openly-vampiric front man for a rock band.  (3)  Lena Olin and Claudia Black are the only cast members with names I recognized, and both of them are sufficiently good at their craft to lend some strength to any project (they both also suffer from extended cameos here).  The late Aaliyah was a noted singer, and her talents did not seem to extend to the screen… although she looked wonderful in her quasi-Egyptian retro getups, you just have to pretend she doesn’t look like she’s suffering from some physical aspect of Tourette’s while she’s on camera.  The rest of the cast… sucks.  (4) Queen is totally new material, it just didn’t flow well with the Riceverse that we’d already been introduced to in Interview.  (5) I did the research and yes, this was a serious drop from the original in the series, probably because they weren’t paying for either Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise to sit around, look pretty, and throw semi-lusty glances at each other.

Judgment passed:  FLEE.  Queen is a different entry in the Riceverse than Interview.  Where the latter was opulent and glamorous, the former is gritty and dark, lacking any of the charms we’ve come to expect from these adaptations of the unfortunately popular series.  I suspect Queen is the reason that the rumored production of The Vampire Lestat never congealed from the ether.

The one awesome thing about this movie is the soundtrack, which was probably my favorite soundtrack released in 2002.  Now, I don’t mean the versions we see IN the film, where Stuart Townsend croaks out the lyrics like they taste bad… or something’s happened to the back of his throat and he’s going on anyway.  I bought this on CD back in ’02, and I keep meaning to put about two-thirds of the songs here on my iPod at some point.  I suspect about half their budget came in the form of royalties:  with various contributors from bands like Korn, Linkin Park, Orgy, Disturbed and the Deftones, it really is kind of a treasure trove of early turn of the millennium rock.