The vampire Lestat, previously portrayed by Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire, wakes up after a few decades of boredom-induced slumber to find himself in an age of piercings, god-like rock stars – and Goth music. A band has been rehearsing in his cemetary and he decides to wake up, join them as lead singer and general rock god and “out” himself as a vampire to the world at large – something vampires have never dared to do.
This time round, Irish-born Stuart Townsend plays Lestat, Anne Rice’s principal character from her Vampire Chronicles series of novels. Lestat’s bold, provocative actions and – according to the press release – his music wake the Queen of the Damned, Akasha, an immortal being responsible for creating the ancient vampires.
Played by the late Aaliyah, Akasha is a young Egyptian princess who has lost her king but recognises a prospective replacement in Lestat to rule a diabolical world at her side.
But the vampire community at large is somewhat nonchalant at Lestat’s summary declaration that vampires exist and soon begin to plot his downfall. Lestat, for his part, goads them on. He’s feeling all-powerful but decides he’s happy to die rather than continue to be alone as he spirals from euphoric cultural release to depression. At his gig, the vampire coven seek their revenge on Lestat and his creator, ancient vampire Marius.
In a fight scene which tries to outdo The Matrix and fails, Akasha slowly appears, raised through the floor of the stage for reasons not entirely clear. She spirits Lestat away from his adoring fans and would-be assailants and promises him no less than the power his ego demands. But her own ego is every bit a match for his and, when he hears of her vision of the world, he swiftly begins to realise why she was better left asleep.
A sub-plot about Jesse, a student of ancient philosophy and paranormal acts who takes to Lestat and offers herself as his companion, is neither engaging nor entirely necessary beyond showing Lestat’s vulnerable side.
Proceedings are directed with breathtaking and often laughable sloppiness and with scant regard for character or plot by Australia’s Michael Rymer. He veers between directing the trashier aspects of Rice’s writing as an MTV video and taking himself too seriously and leaving himself open to charges of laughable pretention. He never seems to know if he’s directing a “cool” movie or sending up the vampire films genre, nor does he seem to decide on whether he wants the characters to be taken seriously or ironically.
At least part of the blame lies with the producer and screenwriters on not being able to find a central story and focus on it. Lots of events happen in The Vampire Chronicles and they seem to have tried to incorporate character development from The Vampire Lestat, filling even more time, as well as the book they were meant to be looking at. The resulting mess, interspersed with meaningless visuals, grating sound effects and silly long shots of cities, flounders about on the screen like a soulless, overlong pop video.
Aaliyah’s only “starring” role is somewhat of a contradiction in terms, for she only appears in four scenes during the last 40 minutes of the film. When she does appear, she manages to slither and sashay about the screen like the best of them, but her speech is processed by a vocoder and her accent, like all the other accents practiced by her fellow cast members, is a truly bizarre mix of tongues, some of which might have names. But even at a young age, her presence on screen is every bit as good as Townsend’s – it’s just that she doesn’t really get much to do.
Townsend, a curious mix of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, Starsailor’s James Walsh and Bob Geldof and not a bit like KoRn’s Jonathan Davis, who is credited with much of the rock music used in the film, shines as Lestat, in so far as shining is possible. The rest of the characters are left under-developed and in many cases utterly without cause within the confines of a wildly absurd storyline and a script which is hilarious for all the wrong reasons.
As Akasha, Aaliyah gets to make quite an entrance, almost as if she was a model in a car advert, and everything she points to in slo-mo explodes into flame while she smiles at things beyond our ken. But actors aren’t the problem with this film; seasoned veterans Lena Olin and Paul McGann make brief if unremarkable appearances to add weight to a talented ensemble, most of whom get to wear impressive costumes.
But what should have been chilling becomes comical. What should have been engaging becomes farcical. Even as a pop video it is too long and the special effects simply don’t seem special. Even the sets look cheap and ill-conceived. Fans of Rice, Aaliyah and vampires in general might be mildly interested – or amused – but Queen of the Damned is a waste of opportunity and a good cast.