Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Queen of the Damned (4½ Stars)

When I first saw this film I hated it. That was back in 2002, long before I started my blog, but if I'd been writing a review I would have given it two stars at most. I still remember my disappointment as I walked out of the cinema, the Odeon on New Street. The novel "Queen of the Damned" was my favourite book. I had such high hopes for the film, because I expected it to live up to the book. It didn't. It's not just a matter of seeing 750 pages compressed into 90 minutes; the film is actually based on the events of two books, "The Vampire Lestat" and "Queen of the Damned", so 1500 pages had been compressed into 90 minutes. So much was missing. It wasn't just that little details here and there were missing. At least 80% of the books' content had been omitted. Compared with the book, all that was left of the story was a skeleton.

I didn't buy the DVD when it was released. I waited a long time. Round about 2008 I was discussing the film with someone who told me that "Queen of the Damned" had the best film soundtrack ever. I could hardly remember the music, so I listened to it and I thought to myself, "Yes, this sounds pretty good. Maybe I should watch the film again". So I bought the DVD, which was very cheap by then, intending to concentrate on the music, but I began to enjoy the film itself.

Let me talk a bit about Anne Rice, the authoress responsible for "Queen of the Damned". She has a very classical style. In an interview she said that she doesn't read modern literature, she prefers the novels of the 18th and 19th Centuries. This is apparent in the way she writes. Modern authors like Stephen King are very direct and action-oriented. When a person walks into a room things happen. Anne Rice's books are different. When a person walks into a room she writes two or more pages describing the room and the atmosphere before anything happens. She's still living in the days before cinema, when literature was a medium that painted detailed pictures to fascinate the reader.

Anne Rice also uses the literary device of frame stories, popular in German literature in the 19th Century, referred to as Rahmennovellen. In its simplest form, a frame story is a novel in which a person tells a story to someone else. An example is Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", which begins with a sea captain finding a man stranded in the arctic ice. The man is Victor Frankenstein, who then tells the captain how he came to be stranded. This embedded story fills most of the book, and at the end we return to the outer story of the sea captain once more. Almost all of Anne Rice's stories are frame stories, but usually the inner story is a frame story itself, giving three levels of narrative. She frequently drops into a fourth level, a story within a story within a story within a story. Her books are so well written that the technicalities aren't obvious and the stories flow smoothly, but this makes it impossible to translate her books one-to-one into film. Her books are almost all about talking, and the action happens within the talking. Any screenplay based on her books has to be completely restructured.

That's the problem the screenwriters had with "Queen of the Damned". The whole story was rewritten, and a lot had to be dropped in the process. I can appreciate that now. After watching the film a few times on DVD I began to accept it in its own right, rather than comparing it with the books. I can see the passion and the pain of Lestat, a passionate but lonely vampire. I can see his love for rock music. I can see his insolence in deliberately provoking vampires worldwide. It's a beautiful story. I now agree that the film really does have the best soundtrack ever. No other film comes close.

Of course, not everything is perfect. We see David Talbot, the head of the Talamasca, reading a newspaper article about Lestat's concert. The text reads:

America's latest and greatest band, Vampire Lestat, are leading on teenage kids to believe in the supernatural, Mr. Smith of the cult business claims. After the concert that was staged at Death Valley, Mr. Smith agrees that it was an amazing stunt that Lestat and his band pulled off. "This is just one example of to what extent certain people will go to to get the kids of today to believe in such activity. It's appalling, absolutely disgusting".

That's a good article, but if you look carefully you can see that this text is repeated six times, word for word. Click on the picture to enlarge it if you don't believe me. Sloppy.

The Queen of the Damned mentioned in the title is the ancient vampiress Akasha, who Lestat foolishly awakens because he doesn't know better. She's played by the singer Aaliyah (full name Aaliyah Haughton), who had a short but scandalous life. She released her first album, "Age ain't nothing but a number", in 1994 when she was 14. It sold over three million copies in the USA alone. The album's title was taken too seriously, because she married the album's producer, the rapper R. Kelly, a year later when she was 15. The marriage certificate falsely claimed she was 18. The marriage was declared invalid as soon as it was made public.

Shortly after filming "Queen of the Damned" Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash while returning home from making a music video. The film was dedicated to her. She could have had a long and successful film career. She had already been picked to play the part of Zee in "The Matrix Reloaded".

Aaliyah Haughton
January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001

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  1. I loved it. One of the first films I saw at the cinema without parents as teen (in Portsmouth).

    1. It's only a 15 certificate, so I assume you saw it legally.

      Have you read the books, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles? Ironically, I consider the first book in the series ("Interview with the Vampire") to be the weakest, even though it's the best known and most popular. She gets into her stride from the second book onwards. The 2nd to 5th books form a unity, so be careful to read them in the right order. The 6th is a sort of epilogue, resulting from things that happened in the 5th. The following books are add-ons, more or less standalone stories.


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