Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #633
Number of Views: One
Release Date: February 22, 2002
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Michael Rymer
Producer: Jorge Saralegui
Screenplay: Scott Abbott, Michael Petroni
Based on The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
Special Effects: Brian Cox, Angelo Sahin
Visual Effects: Tony Clark, Bryan Hirota, Gray Marshall, Gregory L. McMurry
Cinematography: Ian Baker
Score: Richard Gibbs, Jonathan Davis
Editing: Dany Cooper
Studios: Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment, Material Productions
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Stars: Aaliyah, Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau, Paul McGann, Vincent Pérez, Lena Olin, Christian Manon, Claudia Black, Bruce Spence, Matthew Newton, Tiriel Mora, Megan Dorman, Johnathan Devoy, Robert Farnham, Conrad Standish, Andrew L. Urban, Jonathan Davis
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Aaliyah “I Miss You”
 Korn “System”
 Korn “Slept So Long”
 Deftones “Change (In The House Of Flies)”
 Disturbed “Forsaken”
Gone too soon. I must have heard those words a thousand times during my lifetime and spoken them a thousand more, but seldom have they seemed so utterly fitting than in the case of Aaliyah Dana Haughton. This American singer, dancer, actress, and model was performing with Motown legend Gladys Knight by the tender age of 10 and signing a contract with Jive Records just two years later. After being introduced to R. Kelly by her uncle, the R&B icon went on to become her mentor, lead songwriter, and producer of her debut album which went on to achieve double platinum status. The sky was the limit for rising star Aaliyah, and heartbreakingly, this was precisely the case. On August 25, 2001, she and eight others were killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas after filming a music video for her next single and heaven secured a new angel.
Before her devastating death, Aaliyah began to make in-roads to the movie industry, appearing in her first film, Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die, at the turn of the millennium and filming her role for Michael Rymer’s Queen of the Damned which would go on to become her cinematic legacy. This loose adaptation of the third novel from Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles series (and parts of the second) wasn’t generally well received, although one factor that critics were unanimous in their praise for was her performance as titular terrorizer, Akasha. Despite only being on-screen for around thirty minutes towards the back-end of the film, her mesmerizing turn resonated strongly with its audience and provided a glimpse of just how significant a player she was set to become on the silver screen. The movie may have struggled to turn a profit but the image of Akasha prowling the screen like a proud lioness will last for ten lifetimes.
It’s hard to argue that Rymer’s effort isn’t something of a muddled mess. Rice wasn’t best pleased about the studio’s lack of consultation as Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni developed the script and, while she allowed her name to be used for promotion purposes, she later went on to vent her frustration with the finished product. Neil Jordan may have frustrated fans by casting Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat for Interview with the Vampire in 1994, but it was generally well received and a huge commercial success. Queen of The Damned, on the other hand, seemed doomed from the get-go, and while not nearly the turkey many had it billed as, it single-handedly nailed the coffin shut for Rice’s massively acclaimed series and the film found its way into DVD bargain bins soon after wrapping up its short theatrical run. Not quite the eternal life then.
Irish actor Stuart Townsend takes over as Lestat de Lioncourt and, as effortless as it is picking fault in Rymer’s work, his casting in the lead role is reasonably astute. There’s a feline quality about him and, while he may lack a little of the ever bankable Cruise charisma, he quietly and effectively goes about his work, drawing us in as he rises from his sarcophagus after decades in slumber to press on with his 200 year run of immortality. You’d forgive him for being a tad crotchety after so long out of the game but the raucous riffs of a goth metal band give him a rather cunning idea and he swiftly and conclusively announces himself their new lead vocalist. Ever the narcissist he renames this rowdy rabble The Vampire Lestat and global success duly follows.
However, while busy arranging tour dates, he is approached by sagacious two-thousand-year-old bloodsucker Marius de Romanus (Vincent Perez) and informed that the powers that be are somewhat less than amused. His ostentatious public profile hasn’t gone unnoticed and trouble is a brewing in the shadows at this very moment. Regrettably being a fashion icon and bona fide rock star has gone to his head a little and also affords him a vessel through which he can express himself openly, never a vampire’s strongest suit. Meanwhile, all this discordant din has stirred Queen Akasha (Aaliyah) from her own indefinite nap and Lestat has designs on his very own throne alongside her. There’s unfinished business between the two, and for all of Akasha’s abrupt demeanor, it’s her skills of persuasion that make her downright impossible not to obey.
Stuck between a rising rock legend and an exceedingly hard place is English paranormal researcher Jesse Reeves (Marguerite Moreau). Against the better judgement of her mentor David (Paul McGann), Jesse pinpoints Lestat to a vamp club in the beating heart of London and heads there post-haste. After almost coming a cropper and being rescued from a gang of disagreeable ghouls by the man of the hour, she quizzes him about the ancient journal that has been recovered with his quill bled right through it.
However, Lestat is only too willing to share his trade secrets with her and she soon learns that the hardships of eternal life far outweigh the perks. Moreover, Jesse is now implicated in the madness and entranced enough by her subject to announce herself his own personal groupie. Like he needs any more. Better keep those band aids handy Jess.
The relationship between the two is our chief focus throughout until the tyrannical queen takes centre stage and commands our undivided attention of course. Townsend and Moreau share a curious chemistry and do enough to secure our investment through the higgledy-piggledy pea soup of the first two acts. There’s also welcome support from the evergreen Lena Olin as Jesse’s aunt Maharet who, by no mere stroke of outrageous fortune, happens to be The Ancient Vampire. Maharet has her own reasons for wanting Akasha out of the picture and may prove far more than simple pawn once the two arrive face-to-face once again.
When all is said and done though, this film belongs to Aaliyah and the spell that she casts on our senses is one of otherworldly captivation. While I mentioned earlier that the praise for her performance was undivided, I do recall a comment by the late Roger Ebert in his review of Queen of The Damned, where he bemoaned her lack of emotional range. Ebert always did like a good, friendly debate so I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded me calling him out on that one as she plays Akasha precisely as the dark queen is supposed to be portrayed and is present to tug at our jugulars, not heartstrings. The fact that Aaliyah’s young life was provided such tragic closure before the film even got to air lends additional ghostly je ne sais pas to her serpentine performance. It seems fitting that one of her final acts was to take her seat on the throne of the ages as her legacy is everlasting.
Queen of The Damned is loud if not always proud, crude as much as shrewd, and so-so when it could have glowed so brightly. When it’s firing, it’s aspiring to bigger and better things, but when it stumbles, Rymer’s fumbles are placed directly beneath the spotlight for all to see. The cinematography by Ian Baker has an MTV-friendly zeal to it and its soundtrack reciprocates with the likes of Deftones, Static-X, Papa Roach, Godhead, and Disturbed filling our airwaves. Meanwhile, the score by Richard Gibbs and Korn frontman, Jonathan Davis, bleeds its inky brilliance across the visuals throughout. Ultimately however, the emotion I was left with come the close of Rymer’s film was yearning and it’s tough to shake this vague melancholia. I yearned for a better vehicle for Rice’s fiction as it never quite catches fire as it threatens to. And I yearned for our Egyptian Queen, Akasha, and the similarly majestic young lady who wore her head-dress so exquisitely. Her gift to us all truly is eternal.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Heads roll here but the cuts are quick, leaving little time to really bask in the bloodshed. Effects-wise, the best is done with the $35 million budget to ensure that we buy into each skirmish, and for the most part, it does its job. Costume design is a real game-changer as our queen looks simply ravishing in her teasingly twisting chest plate and accompanying accessories. Should you not find yourself hopelessly enchanted by her seductive gaze, then I guess we won’t be needing that sprig of garlic after all.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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