Movie Review of Queen of the Damned (2002)

by JoHarrington

Loosely a dramatization of the second and third books in Anne Rice's 'The Vampire Chronicles', it is universally hated. Almost. Tear me to shreds - I loved it.

'Queen of the Damned' was steeped in controversy from the outset. There's no doubt that it was rushed into production, because otherwise the rights would have reverted to Anne Rice.

She was waiting and ready. Her own adaptation was written. She had a director on stand-by. She wanted to make the movie. With less than twelve months to go before she could, she was thwarted by 'Queen of the Damned' already being made.

The backlash was loud and vicious. Anne Rice herself led it. Fans agreed in their droves. It was never a movie which would stand and fall on its own merits, especially when it failed to faithfully follow the books upon which it was based.

Yet I still think it's a great movie.

Queen of the Damned on DVD

The Vampire Lestat Starts a World War

There is nothing like the late 20th century for openly declaring yourself to be a vampire. Most people think it's a gimmick.

After centuries in the shadows, the Vampire Lestat saw an opening to take center-stage - literally. In a world of Korn and Marilyn Manson, a rock-star who claims to be a vampire fitted in just fine. Legions of fans could flock to the show without anyone seriously believing that he was telling the truth.

But the vampires knew.  They heard and saw the gauntlet thrown at their feet, illuminated in neon lights and fireworks. 

Millenniums of secrecy and caution were exploded in the spotlight and the unflinching gaze of the media. Even the very ancient undead would stir to answer that call.  Some very ancient vampires indeed.

Most want him dead.  Some just want to watch, but they are in the minority.  His actions threaten the safety of them all.

But there is one vampire, so aged that her whole body had turned to stone in repose, who still hears that call.  Dangerous and powerful beyond the scope of any living vampire.  Ruthless and utterly without regard for the world in which they all must live.

Akasha likes what she hears. She warms to his boldness and will awake to take her rightful place at the very top of the food-chain.  She wants Lestat as her consort.  His recklessness holds the promise that she'll not be bored.

In the midst of a burgeoning vampire world war, Lestat has stirred the very Queen of the Damned.

Clip from Queen of the Damned (2002)

I usually put the trailer here, but it's too dire to countenance. Watch Marius teach Lestat about life, love, music, women and vampirism instead.

Queen of the Damned on Amazon Instant Video

Why I Love the Queen of the Damned Movie

The cinematography and the music are fabulous.  But I am drawn again and again to the storyline itself.

Queen of the Damned is all about relationships. The pseudo-sexual is there (it's a vampire movie), but that's almost incidental.  This is not a romance. The relationships are about conformity versus non-conformity; loyalty versus betrayal; want versus need. 

A loud question is asked throughout the whole movie by Lestat.  'You all abandoned me because I didn't toe the line. Who would come if I was actually in danger?'

That insecurity of the rebel theme is echoed in the sub-plot of Jesse too.  It's more subtle, but repeated again in the arrogant psychology of Akasha.

The Rebel Yell of the Vampire Lestat

Will Marius help the rebel Lestat? Will Lestat help the rebel Jesse? Will anyone help Akasha start a revolution?

Image: Marius and LestatAll vampire movies are about outcasts. In fiction, this generally takes the form of a powerful elite, represented famously by Count Dracula and here by Queen Akasha.  But in reality, the vampire sub-culture has traditionally served to bring together loners.

Those living on the margin of society are either its losers or its innovators.  No progress was ever made by trudging through the well-worn grooves left by those who went before.  But fashionistas will fall like the Bacchae upon anyone who doesn't follow the latest trends. Many a High School student has been beaten up for not wearing the correct trainers.

Queen of the Damned explores these themes.  Lestat has been told how to live. Vampires have a code of existence, which has seen them right for their entire history.  He has kicked against it since he was first transformed, but now he's smashed convention into shards.

My favorite scenes in the whole movie concern Lestat and Marius.  The latter will punish him relentlessly for his indiscretions and for stepping out of the groove.  But when the bullies cluster to destroy him, will Marius stand by and let it happen?

Rebels are not supposed to be insecure.  They're supposed to flash the birdie at all who would force them to conform, whatever the latest fad may be.  Lestat proves the lie of that.  Rebels want acceptance and approval, just like everyone else.  They just want the whole world to be different and aren't prepared to lie down waiting for that to occur naturally.

We're all waiting for Marius to offer a hand.  We're all terrified that he won't.  But the waiting to find out is what pushes Lestat into recklessness beyond even a vampire's imagining.

Queen of the Damned: Akasha's Dance

Aaliyah, who played Akasha, was tragically killed in a plane crash shortly after principal photography. Many of the scenes in which she would have appeared were cut.
Queen of the Damned [Blu-ray]

After years of slumber, the legendary vampire has awakened and found acceptance in a tattooed, pierced and black-clad world. He's a rock star. And his awesome goth-riffed sound ...

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Queen of the Damned (Full Screen Edition)

After years of slumber, the legendary vampire has awakened and found acceptance in a tattooed, pierced and black-clad world. He's a rock star. And his awesome punk-chic sound ha...

View on Amazon

Why is Queen of the Damned So Universally Hated?

It's fashionable to do so and woe betide anyone who goes against the tide. But there are actual concerns too.

I'm not going to go through every single criticism that I've seen and heard leveled against this movie.  Some of them are frankly ludicrous and can be dismissed as solely people jumping on the bandwagon.

For example, I've read hate piled upon the casting of Matthew Newton as Armand. He's barely in the movie. There are a couple of scenes where he's part of a crowd of ancients. He only speaks once or twice.

Yet he's reviled as being a terrible Armand, with Antonio Banderas's portrayal held up as more faithful to the books.  Have these people actually read the books?

Armand is a beardless boy of around seventeen years old.  Ukrainian with hair like 'something spun from amber', he's 'sweet, boylike and pretty as a girl' (The Vampire Armand p 16).  Elsewhere he's described as looking like a Botticelli angel or the 'vagabond angel child of Satan'.

Look at Matthew Newton.  Reddish-blond - tick.  Young - tick.  Childlike - tick.  Beardless - tick. Angelic - yes, I could buy that.  Girlish - he could pass for a female. 

Could the same be said of Antonio Banderas's aspect?  Absolutely not.  Physically, he failed on all counts, give or take the face of an angel. Yet Armand in Interview with the Vampire is acceptable, Armand in Queen of the Damned is not. 

I state this solely to illustrate the lengths of pettiness to which the backlash against the movie has reached.  Yet not all are without credence and there is a strongly political cause at the root.  Come with me into the dark and murky world of the Anne Rice fandom.

Queen of the Damned Movie Poster

Queen of the Damned

Queen of the Damned is not Faithful to the Books

Don't let my defence of Armand's casting mislead you here. If you're looking for a canon perfect adaptation, this is not the movie for you.

After the huge success of Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, everyone expected that The Vampire Lestat would be the next to hit our theater screens.  We were disappointed.

Queen of the Damned is actually the third in The Vampire Chronicles.  The second and third novels are incredibly complex story-lines, adding in a lot of background information and weaving together the lives of multiple vampires.  It's all an incredible feat of story-telling, which I would recommend unreservedly.

The Vampire Lestat (Vampire Chronicles)

Once an aristocrat in the heady days of pre-revolutionary France, now Lestat is a rockstar in the demonic, shimmering 1980s. He rushes through the centuries in search of others ...

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The Queen of the Damned (The Vampire Chronicles, No. 3)

In a feat of virtuoso storytelling, Anne Rice unleashes Akasha, the queen of the damned, who has risen from a six-thousand-year sleep to let loose the powers of the night. Akash...

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The movie Queen of the Damned strips away much of that.  It rifles through both books and picks out bits and pieces, like someone randomly nibbling through a chocolate box.

Much of the richness of the narrative is lost in the retelling.  There are just two interlinked tales - Lestat and Jesse - melded together.  Facts and situations had to be altered to make it happen.  So it wasn't just a pick and mix, but a downright rewriting in part.

In truth, as a great fan of the novels, I gave up even trying to link it back to the stories that I'd read.  Ordinarily, I'd be the first to sniff at a tale not being faithful to the canon, but this wasn't even close.

At best, we can say that Queen of the Damned is loosely based upon the second and third books. It's in no way a substitute for reading them.

I was appeased because what appeared on the silver screen was practically a different story entirely.  I enjoyed it for what it was, rather than what it purported to be.

Queen of the Damned: Slept So Long

Lestat's on stage in Death Valley, California, and the vampires have amassed to take him down. Stuart Townsend, to my mind, IS Lestat personified.

Anne Rice Hated the Movie Queen of the Damned

It stopped her making her own. The film-making didn't involve her in any way. The story-line 'mutilated' her own novels.

Image: Anne RiceAs a relatively unknown writer, Anne Rice had sold the film-making rights to her novels to a company called Lorimar Productions.  In 1988, they were bought out by Warner Bros, who acquired the rights that way.

Interview with the Vampire was a box-office success, so everyone seemed keen to see filming begin on the sequel.  Everyone except, it appeared, Warner Bros themselves. Nothing much happened at all between 1994 and 1998.

By now, Anne Rice could see the deadline approaching.  At the end of 2000, all rights would revert to her.  She was enthusiastic and ready for this to happen.  She'd written the screenplay of the first book and she was willing to do the same for The Vampire Lestat.  She also spoke with a director, who was already on the Warner Bros pay-roll. They believed it would happen.

It did not.  But to stop the rights reverting back to the author, meetings began on another project.  Movie executives did not involve Anne Rice.  She wrote to fans, 'I felt snubbed and hurt and have not bothered to approach them since. The young director is supposed to be developing THE QUEEN OF THE DAMNED which I think is a bad idea, and basically a doomed project.'

The backlash pretty much began right there.  Anne didn't like it, so the fans didn't like it.  When it became clear that the studio were not only filming the books out of order, but substantially changing the storyline, then all Hell broke lose.

Later on, after filming had begun, the studio belatedly realized that Anne should be someone kept on side for this.  They dispatched Stuart Townsend, who would play Lestat, probably to head off the troubles in the first movie, when Anne had publicly turned against the casting of Tom Cruise for the same role.

She'd later relented - once she'd seen him on the screen - and apologized.  Stuart Townsend charmed her from the first, so she never spoke up against him at all.

With a veritable storm raging, Anne Rice was allowed a private viewing of the movie shortly before its general release.  She changed her tune immediately, allowing her name to be associated with it and declaring herself pleased.  But the damage was long since done.

A year later, Anne back-tracked again.  Now she tried hard to dissociate herself from the publicity, repeatedly telling fans that she hated the movie.  It had, she said, 'mutilated' her work.  There were few who'd disagree with that statement.

The Queen of the Damned Kindle Edition

The Queen of the Damned (Vampire Chronicles)

In 1976, a uniquely seductive world of vampires was unveiled in the now-classic Interview with the Vampire . . . in 1985, a wild and voluptuous voice spoke to us, telling the sto...

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What Could Have Been?

An undercurrent of antagonism to Queen of the Damned boils down to actual regret. What if Anne Rice had written the screenplay?

Image: Akasha from Queen of the DamnedI don't know any fan, now or in the late 90s, who didn't want to see another movie adaptation from The Vampire Chronicles.  The problem was that we didn't want this one.

As you may have gathered, I'm not only fine with it, but I love the movie.  Even I'd like to see it done properly though.  I'd keep the same cast, but I'd be first in the door at the theater, if Anne Rice had written the screenplay.

Much resentment has come from what might have been.  She was going to do it, but Warner Bros stopped her by making Queen of the Damned.  There should have been two movies (or a television mini-series, as Anne Rice herself thought more appropriate).  They should have followed all of the twists and turns in the original novels.  Canon details should not have been changed.

We'll never know what that unmade movie would have looked like.  But that shouldn't take away from what was made.  I, for one (and probably the only one), really love this version of Queen of the Damned.  I'm glad that it was made.

Queen of the Damned Does Pass the Bechdel Test

It does so several times, so this is an easy one to call.

Image: Maharet and JesseThe Bechdel Test asks that two (or more) named female characters have a conversation.  It can't be about a male character.

This occurs in the very opening scene, when Jesse is told that she must leave the compound. Her Aunt Maharet soothes her fears and tells her that she will always be watching over her.

There are a handful of other scenes which would equally have seen this movie make the grade.

Three questions are asked of each movie. They are so simple that it would be harder to fail than pass. They examine the role of females in that film. Nearly half fail.
It's one of the classic vampire movies of all time. The dramatization of the first in Anne Rice's 'The Vampire Chronicles' series set the standard.
Updated: 05/15/2013, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 03/23/2013

It's about time!

Kate on 03/23/2013

Yeah one passed!

JoHarrington on 03/22/2013

That reaction might be as inflammatory in some circles as my declaration of loving the movie.

The fashionable response is to hate it with all the passion in your soul. Indifference be damned. LOL

JoHarrington on 03/21/2013

Don't go in thinking that you're seeing 'The Vampire Lestat' and 'The Queen of the Damned', you'll be very disappointed. But view as a random vampire film with familiar names and it'll be fine. That's my advice!

WiseFool on 03/21/2013

I've never seen Queen of The Damned, Jo. And yours is, I think, the only positive review I've ever read. I'm tempted to give it a go...and will go in slightly less prejudiced than I would otherwise have done!

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