Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

My Edition: Standard single disc edition DVD.

History: The rights for the story based on the Anne Rice novel of the same name were optioned to Paramount back in the mid-70s before the novel was even published. Anne Rice also wrote the novel with the role of Lestat to eventually be played by Rutger Hauer. However once the film was first attempted to be produced John Travolta was approached to take the role. After multiple delays the film was eventually put into production having Tom Cruise play Lestat, something she was originally very opposed to. Once she saw his performance she was so impressed that she wrote a letter of apology for being so doubtful and to express how pleased she was with the performance. Christian Slater's role was originally for River Phoenix. In memory of him Christian Slater donated his entire pay to two of River's favorite charities. Later on Brad Pitt would come out stating how miserable he was working on the film. It was a combination of his wardrobe, the contacts he wore for the vampire eyes, and playing second fiddle to Tom Cruise on and off screen. At one point during production he tried to find a way out but was unsuccessful. The film had a budget of approx. $60 Million. It earned a total of approx. $223 Million in theatres worldwide.

Personal History: This is my first full viewing. However I do remember somehow seeing a couple different scenes when I was way too young. Those scenes include when they first turn the child into a vampire and she is feeding for the first time. The other was the scene was the one at the theatre. That sort of thing will stick with you.

Review: I realized something when I was watching this title. I've never had a particular fondness for the classic monsters. That's not to say I don't like them, I just never got into them. Never got into the mummy, wolfman, invisible man, they just never tripped my trigger. I would be interesting in checking out those now but in the end I'll just have a stronger fondness for giant monster movies (Godzilla, naturally) and serial killers both realistic (Se7en) and super natural (Friday the 13th). However of all the classic monsters I have liked both Frankenstein's monster and Dracula. More so Dracula. This gave me a good lead in to watching this title cause it was a subject matter I am already interested in. Vampires are very fascinating creatures if you ask me... in it's traditional story. Don't get me started on modern vampires and how instead of their power and sexuality being feared it's more so risen to a desirable level. But that's not what we're talking about here. Interview with the Vampire is good and dark. Just the way a vampire tale should be. Over the course of the next two hours is tons of blood, sex, and dark actions. This is gonna be sweet!

However it starts out in a way that frustrates me. It starts out in the future. I've said it before and I'll say it again. This is not good storytelling when it's a story where the stakes are this high. It kills all tension that Louis (Brad Pitt) could possibly die or even be horrifically damaged. Right from the beginning he is shown as squeaky clean and alive enough to tell a story than spans two hundred years. I just can't stand when this is done. I would rather see it in chronological order unless there's a particular reason for it. I didn't feel this one had those reasons cause there was no reason to keep secrets in the "present" time that can be revealed from old secrets. Not the most concrete example but the first thing that comes to mind is the Saw franchise. There are a lot of secrets in that story that make it more exciting to reveal at a later time because it changes everything you previously understood. However that's a slow reveal over time that is then revealed at different "present" times. This on the other hand is just Brad Pitt coming on screen and saying, "I'm a vampire. Man, I've had some crazy shit happen since then. Wanna hear about it?"

Once I got beyond that I did dive myself into an incredibly engaging vampire tale. What I did like is how it started with Louis becoming a vampire. No boring back story on who he is. Enough is said in a quick monologue to start the story. Cause I could care less who he was before. I want to know who he is as a vampire. Louis is a man who welcomed death after the tragedy of his wife and child dying. He is hunted down by Lestat (Tom Cruise) who sees into him, attacks him to the point of death, but offers to have him drink of his blood so Louis can too become a vampire. He gladly accepts while on his death bed, and that's when the real story begins. What I loved was the initial transaction Louis had from losing his former self as a mortal and becoming a vampire. He has new abilities and new hungers. I absolutely loved his sense of humanity left in him when he struggles to kill to drink. You can tell he is constantly conflicted and he finds himself drinking the blood of rats over the blood of humans in some cases. It's a beautiful example of the adjustments someone would have to go through when becoming such a creature.
This is also aided by Lestat's persuasion. He is such a suave man who seems capable of taking anything or anyone that he wants to. He's smart. He's been at this for a long time and what feels like the few times he's had downfalls was not because of his actions. Not always, that is. I would say his downfalls are those he is surrounded by. It's because of the actions of Louis that he seems to have downfalls. Otherwise it would seem like he was on easy street. It's when he wasn't able to take full control over his mentee that things got worse. Sure he could have been a little better at interpersonal communication (There's that college degree at work) but I don't really feel like his direct actions caused some of the more negative things that happened. Maybe poor judgement. He is responsible for transforming both Louis and eventually Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), a child vampire, and so his judgement on bringing them on may have been his biggest mistake. But at the same time it would be hard to predict how they would turn out. Minus turning a child. That just seems logical to predict it would be trouble.
Speaking of, I felt it was pretty ballsy to have a child turned into a vampire. These are vicious, sexualized, dangerous monsters. So having a child turn is something as horrifying as that is pretty controversial right off the bat. Also I previously mentioned how Lestat should have known that turn a child and giving them that much power would be bad. Children don't think the same and therefore will make worse decisions than a fully developed adult. Their kills may be excessive or messy. Then with their special abilities in general they could do a lot of damage not just to mortals but potentially other vampires as well. So unless a child is taught well and strictly they could be a danger to all of those around them. Well, Claudia does become something of a burden, especially when she first starts off. She is going for kill after kill constantly without really thinking about it. Also when she starts rebelling (somewhat) she goes so far as finds a way to kill Lestat in a very evil, sneaky way. Some people's children.

One thing I was surprised about was how little Lestat wound up being in this movie. I guess generally speaking I understood that he was the big star when in fact it was Louis. I was a little disappointed in this because I liked the first half a lot. The second half on the other hand I felt dragged on a bit and the only part I was super into was the performance in the theatre. I believe this was because of the lack of Lestat. The relationship between him, Louis, and Claudia was way more interesting and satisfying than watching them walk around looking for other vampires for the second half of the story after they (think) they killed Lestat. I find it strange that I felt this way because at first I was not into Tom Cruise's performance.
You see, Brad Pitt right off the bat seemed like such a good fit. He did such an amazing and believable job that it made you forget who was playing the character, a plague that happens in a lot of movies with big name actors. Tom Cruise on the other hand I didn't feel was as good right away. He looked great! I loved his visual presence. However his voice is so distinct that it was hard not to think it was Tom Cruise instead of a vampire. But he was an acquired taste in this one. The more the story went on the more I was into his character. Slowly I forgot Cruise and I was all in Lestat. Then Claudia goes and she (thinks she) kills him and we're down one person in attendance. A strong character in the story is killed(?) off leaving what feels like a big hole that requires big shoes to be filled.

...okay I won't tease any longer. By now you've noticed I've been vague about Lestat's death in the story. Here comes the big criticism again. So in the lore of the story (and with vampires, too? I really don't know so if you wanna nerd all over me feel free) a vampire can only drink the blood of those with a beating heartbeat. Once the heart stops so must the vampire or else it could be fatal. Why then the vampires can pour the blood of dead rats into a glass and enjoy it like a fine wine is beyond me but I guess that's for another day. So around the half way point (more or less) Claudia brings home a surprise to Lestat. It appears to be a pair of passed out drunkards for him to feed on. Well as double crosses work she actually brought him two dead bodies. After he drinks the dead blood he begins choking as if he were poisoned. This is followed up by his throat being slashed and blood abundantly is spraying everywhere. His body is then disposed of in a swamp and chomped on by an alligator. Now if this was it then I would be fine. It makes sense that he is now dead as a vampire could be because it looks like all the right tricks were done to kill an otherwise immortal. But (Spoilers obviously) he comes back not only once but TWICE throughout the story. I felt the first time he came back it was far fetched for the story that's been going on so far. But the second time and then he just felt like Jason Vorhees who wouldn't die. It was cheesy and almost laughable.
Speaking of laughable, I felt for a vampire tale that is otherwise taken quite seriously there were also many moments that were oddly comedic. And by it being oddly comedic I mean that I felt it didn't quite fit. The key moment that comes to mind is when Claudia is first getting a feel for when and how (and how often) she should feet. The way the montage is pulled together is very silly and feels more like a comedy than anything else. Like the scene when she feeds off a tailor working on her dress and Lestat comes in the room reacting like she spilled a glass of milk scolding her about the need to finish the outfit. Grated their perspective on death it very different, it's just that the tone of the montage felt much lighter than other parts of the film.
I guess that's one of the bigger issues I have with the film as a whole. For the most part it has an excellent dark tone that you'd expect from an old school style vampire story. But there are far too many times when the tone changes to way too light of a feel. I already mentioned the montage. But then there's the scene when Louis finds another vampire in an alleyway and the vampire is literally dancing around upside down on the overhang of a bridge. Then there's also a surprisingly lighter ending (well... death is involved) to an otherwise dark tale. I was really surprised by the lighter tone in some parts, as well as a bit disappointed. I was hoping for something darker throughout. And boy it does get dark, really dark in some parts. But having those surprisingly light parts was a mood killer.

In the end I did find this to be an absolutely fantastic film that got more right than wrong. Like I said before it is very dark. My favorite scene, the scene in the theatre, is probably the darkest scene in the movie. I mean, we're talking about a set of vampires putting on a play portraying vampires. So the audience thinks it's all just a story and don't realize that the feeding of the young woman right in front of them is actually real. It's really creepy and given the context of an unaware audience it makes it even better.
Another thing done really well is casting. As much as I didn't care for Tom Cruise at first I came around to him as the film went on. But the thing I liked the most is the look of everyone. Anyone who knows anything basic about vampires is that their nature is to seduce into the kill. So having a group of sexy and/or attractive people makes it work out better. Say what you will about Tom Cruise but he is a good looking guy if you ask me from a heterosexual position. Not to mention so is Brad Pitt but I didn't have to tell you that. Then Antonio Banderas shows up later as well. Then lastly there is Kirsten Dunst who I feel is a very beautiful woman and was very pretty at a younger age as well. So having a movie full of not entirely knockouts but good looking people it certainly helped with the nature of the vampires sexuality.
Lastly, of my main points, this movie looks good because of good direction, design, and visual effects. This was made back in the early 90s. A time when organic effects were put together really well and CG was either not present or barely present because it was still in a very early stage in development. So I felt most of the effects looked excellent throughout. Of course there will be a few that don't look good including the use of CG where it didn't need to be used. Overall it looks amazingly good. I have always enjoyed the look and feel of movies in the 90s. The way they look and feel are among the best.

You probably already knew this, but if you're into vampire tales I would say this is one of the best modern stories you'll get on screen.

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