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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 47.00)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Additional footage - extended concert scenes
  • Deleted scenes - 13 scenes, 30 minutes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - director, producer and co-composer
  • 3 Featurette - 25 minutes total
  • Production notes
  • Photo gallery - includes conceptual art and storyboards
  • 4 Music video
  • DVD-ROM features - Interactual Player
  • Web access
  • Dolby Digital trailer - Train
  • Gag reel

Queen of the Damned

Warner Bros./Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 97 mins . M . PAL

  Feature
Contract

There are few mainstream authors who polarise opinion as much as Anne Rice. Sacred to her fans and near-impenetrable to everybody else, her novels are mounted as indulgent fantasies that usually span hundreds of years in the telling of frothy tales of passion, death and the darkness of existence. In other words, they’re basically soap operas on a grand scale, with plenty of violence, lust and sex (often simultaneously) thrown in amongst the weighty prose to make sure the attention is held in between the talky bits. If it’s your kind of thing (and for millions, it is) an Anne Rice book can open whole new worlds. If you don’t click with it all, though, the going can be tedious and tough. These are not short novels, and they don’t skimp on detail.

The story Rice is most famous for, of course, is that of Lestat, a character introduced in Interview With The Vampire and expanded upon in a seemingly unstoppable series of books collectively known, somewhat pompously, as the “Vampire Chronicles” - a title that gives some idea of just how seriously people who are into these novels take them. And the Hollywood attention the books were always going to get, given their popularity, is naturally the subject of much debate amongst fans. Nothing unusual there, of course - nobody likes seeing their favourite novel given the Reader’s Digest treatment for the big screen and having their imagination spelt out for them, and Rice’s stories are notoriously intricate. Neil Jordan’s attempt at the first book was a partial success; it certainly got the atmosphere right, there was plenty of talking, the execution was utterly tasteful and Tom Cruise wasn’t actually all that bad as Lestat. Not much actually happened in the two hour running time, but that, apparently, wasn’t the point. The fans generally approved (as, eventually, did Rice herself).

Queen of the Damned is a very different beast to its predecessor of eight years before, though. A very loose adaptation of both the book of the same name and preceding tome The Vampire Lestat (yes, two hefty books condensed into 90 minutes), this is about as close as you’re ever likely to get to seeing an Anne Rice novel turned into an action movie. Oh, make no mistake, there’s the requisite philosophising and theatricality here, but this time it takes a back seat to the pulp horror and noisy action.

As Queen of the Damned opens, Lestat (Stuart Townsend) is awoken from a long, long slumber deep in his crypt by the sound of a garage band rehearsing in a suburban lounge room. Figuring “hey, why not be a rock star” (as one does) he joins the band, takes control and immediately becomes an international star, the band’s records (which sound suspiciously like Korn, mostly because they’re written and performed by The Guy From Korn) selling by the millions. Forgetting the golden vampire rule that he should live in the shadows and not make himself known to mere humans, Lestat has already been somewhat naughty by daring to become a rock star and promising a huge outdoor concert in the middle of Death Valley, but he’s also gone and fallen in love with Jesse (Marguerite Moreau), a human that just happens to be a member of the Talamasca, a shadowy organisation that investigates the paranormal. That would be dangerous enough, but there’s one other hitch; Lestat’s music is loud enough to wake ancient Egyptian queen Akasha (Aaliyah) who’s a big enough fan to want Lestat all to herself, happy to fry everyone who gets in her way to a big glowing crisp. A climactic battle is, of course, inevitable.

It may be set in the world’s big cities, but Queen of the Damned was actually filmed in and around Melbourne - both for budgetary reasons, and because director Michael Rymer (who helmed the wonderful drama Angel Baby some years ago) is a local. That’s turned out to be both a blessing and a curse; many of the scenes here are quite clearly not filmed where they’re set, something a generous helping of stock footage can’t disguise. But the large Melbourne goth contingent that enthusiastically threw themselves into the spirit of things as (largely unpaid) extras at the Death Valley concert scenes and elsewhere in the movie are the film’s biggest asset; it could possibly be the first Hollywood-produced mainstream movie to feature goths that are actually convincing, and without them this fairly pedestrian effort would have looked even sillier than it does already.

To be fair, it’s not all bad; in fact, up until the concert sequence the film’s an entertaining enough prospect, if a little clumsily plotted. But just as things are starting to turn fun the story takes a right-turn towards high camp as the plot goes seriously awry and becomes unfathomably muddled. A spiritual/supernatural subtext that makes no sense (thanks to cuts) is bolted on to a silly evil-versus-eviller finale, and ultimately the movie, which started out being knowingly flamboyant and likeably campy, sinks under its own pretensions.

That’s a shame, because there’s a lot of competence here, particularly technically; cinematographer Ian Baker’s use of the wide Panavision film frame is terrific throughout, the lighting suitably atmospheric and the camera constantly moving. The cast - most of whom, aside from the headline stars, are Australian - seem to be having enormous fun, and while it may be a little more mainstream than the goth scene would usually tolerate, Jonathan Davis and Richard Gibbs’ songs are terrific (as indeed is their orchestral score). The production design is opulent and engaging as well, as are the costumes; the film looks great, aside from a handful of computer effects scenes that are simply amateurish (the closing shot, though, is memorable).

But with the source stories so mercilessly sliced and diced to fit them into an hour and a half of mass-appeal entertainment, most of the things that make Anne Rice so popular in the first place have been unflinchingly jettisoned in favour of catch-phrases (beware any movie that repeatedly drags out “come out, come out wherever you are” in an effort to be spooky), bad accents (are these people Italian, Spanish, French or just trying to impersonate Ricardo Montalban?) and a paper-thin plot that Joss Whedon would have disposed of in ten minutes on an episode of Buffy or Angel. It’s all harmless fun, sure - but Anne Rice fans probably expect a little bit more than mere harmless fun from film adaptations of her work.

  Video
Contract

The atmospheric widescreen photography in Queen of the Damned is captured beautifully on DVD, as we’ve come to expect from Roadshow - though this video transfer, done in the US, was actually authored for DVD by the film’s US distributor Warner Bros. It is, in fact, a PAL version of the exact same disc that US customers get. Framed at its full-blown 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 16:9 enhanced transfer is very, very good. Loaded with crisp definition without undue over-sharpness, and with ample colour saturation and deftly-balanced contrast, this is a very film-like transfer that oozes class right the way through. Video compression for DVD is also expertly handled and no problems crop up aside from some brief shimmer on a couple of sharp objects and a couple of surprising instances of posterisation on background skies that only the keen-eyed will pick up.

Stored on a dual-layered disc, the movie pauses for a millisecond mid-way through for a layer switch that’s so deftly placed most won’t even see it.

  Audio
Contract

In a film where bass-grunt rock music is a key plot point, you’d expect to hear good audio. And that’s exactly what you get - a reference-standard Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix that’s seriously, bone-crunchingly good. Taking full advantage of the five-speaker array available to them, the sound mixers have gone to town on the effects, flying them around the room at will and happily using the rear channels for anything even vaguely out of the ordinary; dialogue is largely centre-anchored as usual, and the orchestral score lavishly spread around the channels. That score and the rock songs also make extensive use of the LFE channel, with the concert sequence in particular given added kick thanks to the high-velocity gut-wrenching sub-bass that underpins the songs’ rhythm sections. The subwoofer is, in fact, a bit of a favourite toy for our trusty sound mixers, who employ it at every opportunity but never quite overdo it.

A truly state of the art movie sound mix, this is pure show-off material for those who’ve just bought new home theatre gear and want to take revenge on the neighbours.

  Extras
Contract

Not surprisingly, as the disc came off the same authoring production line as the US version, the extras content here is identical to that of the overseas disc. And a terrific collection of extras it is, too.

Audio Commentary: Director Michael Rymer is joined by the movie’s producer (Jorge Saralegui) and co-composer (Richard Gibbs, the “classical” half of the pair) for a commentary that, perhaps predictably, focuses almost exclusively on the differences between Anne Rice’s novels and the movie’s screenplay. There’s more than a touch of defensiveness to it - and it’s a real shame, especially for those of us in Melbourne, that Rymer didn’t touch more on the physical production process - but obviously it’s something that the filmmakers have given much thought to, taking the criticism of fans and media alike on board and, in one case, almost apologising for it. As the commentary plays on it becomes quite clear how extensively the screenplay (which was co-written by local director Michael Petroni, who previously wrote and directed Till Human Voices Wake Us) diverges from the books; time and time again, Rymer points out scenes that he’s taken enormous artistic liberties with (he also explains why). A very listenable commentary, if a bit single-minded; those who attended the filming of the concert sequence, though, will be pleased to hear Rymer pointing out that they “made the whole (scene) possible”.

Additional Scenes: A wonderfully extensive collection of deleted scenes (and a couple of extended ones) totalling just under 30 minutes of running time without the text screens that introduce and explain each scene (“it was deemed expendable,” reads one, without a hint of irony). There is some good stuff here, some of which would have greatly helped the film’s plot and character development by being left in - but that, in the end, is the balancing act commercial filmmakers have to tread. Some of the Australian performers who almost vanished from the final cut get a little bit more screen time here, including an extra couple of lines from Pia Miranda, a small speaking part from Junkatique lead singer (and former member of The Mavis’s) Becky Thomas, a lengthy out-there musical sequence from the vampire-club band and a rather amusing cameo from Melbourne’s Parliament Station, which is unconvincingly turned into London via the addition of a phone booth, a news stand and a photocopied sign. Video on all 13 scenes is 4:3 letterboxed, with the video transfer reasonably clean but not flawless, and the stereo sound (many of these cuts appear to have been made very late) sometimes subject to distortion.

Documentaries: Totalling 25 minutes, this is basically a single documentary broken up into three parts - Behind The Scenes, Aaliyah Remembered, and the generically-titled Interviews (it’s actually about the music). Better than the usual puff-pieces, these are very watchable and often fascinating, with plenty of behind the scenes footage and interviews with all the key players (including Marilyn Manson in a hilarious WW2 pilot’s hood and goggles!) Those who went along to the filming of the concert also get another chance to try and spot themselves here.

Music Videos: The three “music videos” put together for the film itself (they play in the background of scenes on “MTV”) are all included here in full, which will please those who played in the band (one of whom, Megan Dorman, will be familiar to those who watched the ABC series Head Start) and gives everyone else the chance to hear the complete songs. The clips themselves are nothing ground-breaking and often cross the dangerous boundary into cliche, but it’s great to have them here anyway. Also included is a “real” music video for a song from the movie by US band Static X, big beard and all. Audio on all is stereo, but the sound on the “fake” clips is louder and richer than that on the Static X one.

Club Reels: The other two of the five original songs written for the film can be heard at greater length here as fully-edited concert sequences, one of them offering the complete song. Needless to say there’s extra footage of both the extended Lestat band and the huge concert audience to be found here. Video is 4:3 letterboxed, with stereo audio; unfortunately, there’s some serious digital clipping throughout the second reel (Slept So Long) which results in some nasty distortion. This occasionally happens elsewhere throughout the extras as well, but it’s at its worst in this clip.

Gag Reel: We love gag reels, and they should be a compulsory inclusion on every DVD. Here you get several minutes’ worth of bloopers, pratfalls, silliness and other mistakes caught on camera during the shooting of the film, set to suitably goofy music. It’s particularly fun here as the tone is so dramatically different from the rest of the disc (and of course the movie itself). 4:3 letterboxed video.

Stills Gallery: A sequence of production stills, conceptual art and storyboards, which will play unassisted or via the use of the next-chapter button, our preferred method of presenting these things.

Theatrical Trailer: The rather silly theatrical trailer with its rather silly catch-phrase (“all she wants is hell on earth”), in its full 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 glory but only Dolby Surround (flagged) audio.

Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles: Seven pages of guff about the books. Nothing exciting, and nothing most didn’t already know.

Cast & Crew: You can tell it’s a Warner disc by the fact that this is a static text screen and nothing more.

Dolby Digital Train Trailer: Roadshow has kindly organised for Warner to plonk our favourite Dolby trailer on before the movie for the region 4 version only. Annoyingly, though, it’s not skippable - but if you hit “stop” twice and then play the disc, the movie starts unhindered.

DVD-ROM Content: The usual Interactual Player and token web links that result; this content isn’t mentioned on the cover of the Australian version, but will presumably be on retail copies (our test disc was manufactured in the US).

  Overall  
Contract

Guaranteed to annoy Anne Rice fans everywhere, this free-wheeling adaptation of two of her books as fast-paced high-camp spectacle is nevertheless not quite as bad as some critics would have had you believe - though if you’re hoping for the complexity and earnestness of Rice’s books you’d be best off avoiding this and waiting for a mini-series. The film’s undeniable technical competence greatly helps; it’s perfectly watchable fluff that’s actually fun as long as you forget where its wafer-thin story comes from and don’t mind that it all goes to hell (literally!) two thirds of the way in.

Roadshow’s offering of this Warner-produced DVD delivers a near-flawless video transfer and a superb sound mix that should be played loud for best effect. A comprehensive collection of extra material makes the disc seriously good value for those who liked the film (and, of course, the 20% of Melbourne’s population that’s in the thing who will want to snare a copy as a souvenir).


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      And I quote...
    "Guaranteed to annoy Anne Rice fans everywhere... A near-flawless video transfer and a superb sound mix; seriously good value for those who liked the film."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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