Dies Irae, Dies Doloris ...
Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 03/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Libera me, Domine, de vitae aeterna" - "Free me, Lord, from eternal life": If a movie begins with a choir and boy soprano singing these words, in a requiem's style and overlaying the camera's sweeping move over nightly San Francisco bay, zooming in on a Victorian building's top-floor window after having followed the life on the street below like a hunter follows its prey - if a movie begins like this, you know you're not looking at your average flick, whatever its subject. (And if the first thing you catch is the Latin phrase's grammatical mistake, this is probably not your kind of movie to begin with).
Much-discussed even before its release, due not least to Anne Rice's temporary withdrawal of support and her no less sensational subsequent 180-degree turn, Neil Jordan's adaptation of the "Vampire Chronicles"' first part, based on Rice's own screenplay, is a sumptuous production awash in luminous colors, magnificent period decor and costumes, rich fabrics, heavy crystal, elegant silverware and gallons of deeply scarlet blood, supremely photographed by Phillippe Rousselot, with a constant undercurrent of sensuality and seduction; an audiovisual orgy substantiated by one of recent film history's most ingenious scores (by Elliot Goldenthal). Although the book only gained notoriety after the publication of its sequel "The Vampire Lestat," followed in short order by the "Chronicles"' third installment, "The Queen of the Damned," by the time this movie was produced, Rice had acquired a large and loyal fan base, who would have been ready to tear it to shreds had it failed to meet their expectations. That this was not unanimously the case is in and of itself testimony to Neil Jordan's considerable achievement (only underscored by the botched 2002 realization of "Queen of the Damned"). Sure, some decry the plot changes vis-a-vis the novel and the fact that some of the protagonists (particularly Louis and Armand) look different from Rice's description. But others have embraced the movie wholeheartedly; praising it for remaining faithful to the fundamentalities of Rice's story and for its production values as such. I find myself firmly in the latter corner; indeed, in some respects I consider this one of the rare movies that are superior to their literary originals - primarily because the story's two main characters, Louis and Lestat, gain considerably in stature and complexity compared to Rice's book.
While both film and novel are narrated by Louis (Brad Pitt), giving an interview to a reporter (Christian Slater) in the hope of achieving some minimal atonement for 200 years of sin and guilt, and while Lestat (Tom Cruise) appears on screen barely half the movie's running time, Lestat is much more of a central character than in Rice's novel; and vastly more interesting. For Anne Rice's Lestat only comes into his own in the "Chronicles"' second part, which is named for him and where we truly learn to appreciate him as the vampire world's aristocratic, arrogant, wicked, intelligent and unscrupulous "brat prince," who although completely lacking regret for any of his actions nevertheless shows occasional glimpses of caring, even if he would never admit thereto. *This*, however, is exactly the movie's Lestat; not the comparatively uninformed and, all things considered, even somewhat brutish creature of Rice's first novel. It is no small feat on Tom Cruise's part to have accomplished this; and in my mind his portrayal has completely eclipsed the character's original conception, which was reportedly based on Rutger Hauer's Captain Navarre in "Ladyhawke."
Similarly, while every bit as guilt-ridden as the character created by Anne Rice, Brad Pitt's Louis regains more inner strength - and more quickly so - than the narrator of Rice's book, rendering him more of an even foil for Lestat, and equally lending greater credibility to his initial selection as Lestat's companion, his actions to ensure his and Claudia's escape to Europe, and his later decision not to stay with Armand. (Indeed, Louis's and Armand's separation after the burning of the Theatre of the Vampires makes perfect sense in the movie's context; it would have undercut both characters', but especially Louis's credibility had they gone on to share years of companionship like in the book.)
Kirsten Dunst's Claudia was not only this movie's biggest discovery - not surprisingly, in an interview included on the DVD Dunst calls this "the most prominent role" of her career so far - she, too, embodies the novel's child vampire to absolute perfection; capturing her eternally childlike features as well as her Lolitaesque seductiveness and the ruthless killer hidden under her doll-like appearance. Doubtlessly furthest from the novel's character is Antonio Banderas's powerful and charismatic Armand: But while I do somewhat miss Rice's auburn-haired "Botticelli angel," I always had a problem imagining him as the leader of the Paris coven, in control even of the quicksilver-like Santiago (marvelously portrayed by Stephen Rea in one of his most overtly theatrical performances). Here, too, the movie - if anything - gives the story greater credibility; although it's admittedly hard to reconcile with parts of the "Chronicles"' later installments, particularly Armand's own biography.
In interviews, Neil Jordan and Brad Pitt particularly have mentioned the emotional strain that this movie put on all its participants; due its almost exclusively nightly shooting schedule, and even more so because of its incessant exploration of guilt, damnation and, literally, hell on earth. Anne Rice's vampires truly are the ultimate outsiders; no longer part of human society, they feed on it, can neither be harmed by sickness nor by methods the world has taken for granted ever since Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (which are in fact merely "the vulgar fictions of a demented Irishman," as Louis explains, simultaneously amused and contemptuous) and are thus, if not killed by fire and/or beheading, condemned to walk the earth forever, without any hope of redemption. It is primarily this element which has given Rice's novels their lasting appeal, and which is perfectly rendered in Jordan's adaptation. I'm still not sure I'd ever want to meet them in person, though ...
Complete Vampire Chronicles (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the body Thief)
The Vampire Companion
Bram Stoker's Dracula (Collector's Edition)"
A Haunting, Erotic Treat
David Montgomery | davidjmontgomery.com | 06/11/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I haven't cared very much for Anne Rice's recent books, but her earlier work was outstanding. I loved "Interview" in particular, so I was really looking forward to this movie. There is always a risk in adapting such a vivid and powerful-not to mention beloved-book into a film. Director Neil Jordan and his collaborators have succeeded marvelously, though. This is an exciting, engaging film; remarkably faithful to Rice's original text. The story opens in present day San Francisco. Louis (Brad Pitt), a 200 year-old vampire, is telling his life story to an interviewer (Christian Slater), who is shocked by his supernatural revelation. "I am flesh and blood," Louis tells him, "but not human."His story takes us back to late 18th century New Orleans where Louis first encountered the Vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise). Desiring a companion, and in love with his beautiful looks, Lestat gives Louis the "Dark Gift"-that is, he makes him into a vampire. They live together for many years, roaming the streets at night, united by their common quest for blood.Eventually, though, Lestat fears that Louis is going to leave him. Desperate, he makes a vampire of Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), a beautiful young child, knowing the Louis would never leave the girl. Thus they are bonded together as "one big, happy family." As it turns out, though, they are not so happy after all.The story takes the vampires to Paris, where they finally encounter some more of their own kind. The coven of vampires is led by the stunningly handsome Armand (Antonio Banderas) who quickly falls in love with Louis. Louis is enamored of him as well, but he will never leave little Claudia, something Armand realizes.The film ends back in the present in a departure from Rice's book. The new twist is exciting, though, and sets up the story for an inevitable sequel. It hasn't been made yet, but if it ever is, I'm looking forward to it.The big question, of course, is, how is Tom Cruise as Lestat? In one word: brilliant. This is one of his best performances ever, heightened by the fact that he is playing a role so different from his typical screen persona. Cruise has always been an underrated actor, but hopefully that will start to change after people see him here. He is terrific.The rest of the performances are also quite good. Brad Pitt does very well as the tortured, guilt-ridden Louis. Antonio Banderas is extraordinary as the seductive, young master of darkness. His is the most convincing portrayal of a vampire, filled with power and charisma.Neil Jordan's direction is top-notch. Visually, "Vampire" is stunning, helped considerably by Dante Ferretti's superb production design. Anyone who has read the book-and anyone who has not-is sure to enjoy this haunting, erotic treat."
Poor Blu-Ray transfer
R. ADRAGNA | NY, United States | 09/01/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"First off as a film, I would give it 4 1/2 stars.
If you own the standard DVD save your money. Almost no difference in picture quality."
Best vampire movie ever made
Mariess | California, USA | 03/10/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As an Anne Rice fan, I thought this movie was very well done, even though they did change certain things from the book version and left some things out. I thought all of the actors did an excellent job. Antonio was quite unlike the Armand in the book, but I still thought he did a great job of portraying Armand's dark, manipulative, and seductive side. Tom Cruise was terrific at portraying the cocky, yet charismatic, Lestat, and Brad and Kirsten were excellent as Louis and Claudia. The scenery was fantastic and really made me feel like I was seeing New Orleans as it was back in those days. The costumes were all beautiful and the make-up job on the vampires was great. I love Rice's vampires because they are completely different than any others we have known, such as Dracula and Nosferatu. I love them for their "human-ness" and the way that they are really not all that different from us. For as Anne Rice says, the movie isn't really about vampires. It's really about us. I love the part at the beginning when Louis is in the bar exchanging words with another man, and the camera moves upward to the top of the stairs. We see Lestat's left hand resting on the railing, as he quietly watches the goings-on below. We immediately know what he is thinking. Then, moments later, when Louis is walking with the prostitute, we see Lestat suddenly appear there watching them as they pass on by. That was great! My only real disappointment was at the end when Lestat ends up with Daniel (Christian Slater) in his car. I'm sorry they didn't stick to the book's ending, instead of drastically changing it to something totally different. I also thought Louis' time with Armand would have been interesting to watch. I really love the soundtrack, with its dark, yet beautiful melodies. Libera Me is just haunting. Whenever I drive to San Francisco, I make sure to play it as I drive over the bridge! This is one of my most favorite films. What can I say except, "I want some more!""