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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Queen of the Damned (review)


Being a vampire is hard work. There’s all the practicing of your indecipherable Eurotrashy accent. There’re the constant wardrobe changes. You have to rehearse the snarling and the narrowing of your eyes to denote your immortal ennui. And all that is besides the lounging in coffins and the caressing of creamy, anonymous necks and, of course, the bloodsucking.

One wonders how the 250-year-old Lestat can work up the energy to flail around on MTV, as he does in Queen of the Damned, which isn’t so much a movie as it is a frenzy of incoherent imagery, laughable dialogue, zombielike characters, and really bad music.
Queen makes little sense if you haven’t read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, coming as it does third in a series that wasn’t particularly well served by its previous movie incarnation, Interview with the Vampire. Rice’s vampire culture is way too complicated, way too internal to translate to film; all the interesting stuff is going on in the characters’ heads. Yet Queen makes even less sense — and is all the more infuriating — if you have read the books. Rice is obviously in love with her protagonist, Lestat de Lioncourt, an eighteenth-century French nobleman and, oh yeah, vampire, and who can blame her? He’s witty and sexy and dangerous in all the ways that a man can be dangerous; he’s powerfully magnetic and irresistibly attractive and far more fragile than he’d ever admit to being.

None of that comes across onscreen. It probably wouldn’t be fair to lay all the blame on actor Stuart Townsend. Yes, it’s true that he mostly just prances around in velvet and leather, and that his accent ranges from vaguely Scottish to somewhat Slavic, as if he can’t speak properly around his fangs. And yes, it’s true that the overwhelming emotion Queen of the Damned left me with was Utter Relief, that Townsend flunked out of The Lord of the Rings, in which he was to portray Aragorn. Is it entirely Townsend’s fault that there is no lurking menace to his Lestat, no tragedy, no angst? Is it all his doing that this “Lestat” is nothing more than a doe-eyed poseur with orange-brown eyeshadow whom the real Lestat would dispose of with no feeling more than a flicker of contempt?

Okay, yes, probably it is mostly Townsend’s fault. But it’s not his fault that the story weighs itself down with too much narration, that last refuge of an incoherent script, in an attempt to explain three fat novels’ worth of history in 90 minutes. It’s not his fault that Lestat’s music — the late 20th century inspires the vampire to become a rock star — is like bad early 90s pseudo punk, and with wannabe nightmare-dreamy videos to match. It’s not his fault that a film about ancient, long-lived characters has no sense of history (unless you count the early 90s). It’s not his fault that when Lestat meets up with his “maker,” the 2500-year-old Marius (Vincent Perez), their conversation sounds like it was lifted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (though that’s really an insult to Bill and Ted, way cooler dudes than these two bloodsuckers). It’s not his fault that all the sensuality, all the eroticism of a good vampire tale has been, pardon the pun, sucked out and replaced by goth goofiness. It’s not his fault that he looks blurry, like he’s been CGIed into immortal vampiric paleness. And it’s not his fault that Queen is hilarious when it wants to be frightening.

If you’re thinking this is the Aaliyah movie, you’d be wrong. Oh, she shows up about an hour into the film, as the 6000-year-old mother of all vampires, and dances around in a very few scenes while dispatching of her children, who displease her, but she doesn’t do anything you haven’t already seen her do in her music videos.

If only they could have kept Queen of the Damned down to a four-minute video, we’d all have been better off.

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MPAA: rated R for vampire violence

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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