Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Tim wrote up their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
I love vampire flicks, going all the way to the silent “Nosferatu” through Lugosi and Lee to “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “The Lost Boys.” But the first time I watched “Interview With the Vampire” I found it tedious, despite my high regard for its look, feel, costumes, sets, and atmosphere. This second time out on Blu-ray I decided to try a different approach. Instead of viewing it as another vampire flick filled with the despair and loneliness of these societal outcasts, I viewed it as a black comedy. The film worked a little better for me that way and provided a few macabre smiles. Still, I can’t say I’d want to watch it again any time soon.
Adapting the screenplay from one of her best-selling novels, writer Anne Rice, along with director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game,” “Michael Collins,” “Mona Lisa”) concoct a kind of vampire soap opera, filled with enough high-powered stars–Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea, Kirsten Dunst–to ensure a degree of success. A two-hundred-year-old vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Pitt), tells the story in flashback as he recounts his life history to a journalist, Daniel Malloy (Slater), in a seedy San Francisco apartment.
The first forty minutes or so are given over to Louis’s seduction into the allures of vampirism by Lestat de Lioncourt (Cruise), an older and remarkably persuasive vampire. In 1791 Louis was a rich, young plantation owner in the Deep South before succumbing to the Dark Side. Once a vampire, he had to learn certain vampiric necessities, like killing human victims and drinking their blood, which he steadfastly refused to do, preferring rats instead. When he finally came to accept who and what he was, however, he went about his business with relish.
Louis’s first human victim is a little girl named Claudia (Dunsten), whom Lestat subsequently turns into a vampire. (It seems a vampire can turn anyone else into a creature of the night by first sucking the person’s blood and then combining it with his or her own.) Lestat, you see, is lonely and in order to make Louis stay with him, he gives him Claudia. She becomes the two male vampires’ adopted “daughter” and, by implication, Louis’s lover. (Like most vampire movies, this one doesn’t openly explore the sex lives of the creatures, but it’s clear that sucking blood is exhilarating in more ways than one). Later in the movie we see another vampire, Armand (Banderas), with a young boy vampire in tow, so I guess these creatures are not so different from humans in the diversity of their preferences.
Anyway, because vampires never age, they see the world growing old around them, and before more than a few decades have come and gone the happy little family members of Louis, Lestat, and Claudia are at each other’s throats, literally. Claudia gets ticked off not being able to grow up and become a real woman, blames Lestat for her condition, and winds up slitting his jugular. Not to worry; vampires are resilient; you can’t keep them down. Temporarily left to themselves, Louis and Claudia seek their roots in the Old World, going to Paris and joining up with a whole tribe of blood suckers led by Armand, supposedly the oldest living vampire on Earth. The group earns its keep by performing in a theater, pretending to be humans playing at being vampires. That’s a cute twist. All of this goes on without end until we reach the present, where the journalist gets more than he bargained for.
The filmmakers try their best to make us take things seriously, but the movie comes off as part pretentious, pseudo, pop psychology and part parody. Yes, parody, or at least the black comedy to which I referred earlier. I mean, how else can you interpret bits such as the little girl being told not to play with her food (humans), or the girl’s demand that she be given her own little coffin in sleep in, or the trio devouring whole families of humans at a single meal? Is that Mel Brooks I spy smiling in the wings? As far as concerns the psychology of the story, do we really need a two-hour treatise on the ethos and animus of vampirism? It rather takes the fun out of the proceedings, you know? I found it more enjoyable to view the film as an sardonic discourse on family values. An unusual family, to be sure, but values nonetheless.
Ultimately, I thought the movie failed to achieve what it strove so hard for–to make us feel any sympathy whatsoever for Louis. We may pity him, yes, but we cannot sympathize. Then there’s the matter of everyone speaking in an exaggerated, overly precise, stylized, and hugely melodramatic manner that makes them all sound too unreal to worry about. Worse, the filmmakers give us absolutely no one else in the film to care about. The vampires are the only characters in the plot, the humans mere fodder, and these vampire beasts are cold-blooded murderers who have no concept of right or wrong. How can we feel for them? Unlike conventional vampire movies where there’s a hero and a heroine to root for, this film gives us nothing but empty-headed monsters who care not a whit for their prey and even less for one another.
The movie generated no tension for me, no suspense, no fright, and no thrills. OK, I found a few laughs in it. Not exactly what Anne Rice probably intended. And not even the presence of Tom Cruise could save the day for me since he goes missing for half the film! Is it any wonder some of us wind up not caring about the story or any of its participants? The whole thing is overly long, overly dreary, extraordinarily redundant, and, except for the occasional bits of caustic humor and the extraordinary set design, often dull.
John film rating: 5/10
The Film According to Tim:
You really cannot watch any vampire film these days without comparing it to just about every other vampire movie ever made. I can only imagine that movie creators realize that anytime they are about to embark on a vampire project, they are basically reinventing the wheel. The trick is to make a better wheel every time, so not all vampire films ever hit the mark. In fact, there are many that are a complete waste of time, and probably space, too. However, in the case of “Interview With the Vampire,” there are few gems like this one that have graced the genre. And it is a genre that has been adored by millions over many decades. For me, “Interview With the Vampire” is the gravy train on biscuit wheels of vampire movies. I adore this film so much that I find it a public embarrassment to see it in the Wal-Mart five-dollar DVD bin. Well, meaning, I feel it’s a movie worth more than five dollars and is one of the few films I’d pay full price for on Blu-ray.
In a nutshell, the film is based on one of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicle” novels, “Interview With the Vampire.” Rice also contributed the screenplay for the movie, and if memory serves, she was not too keen at first on hearing about Tom Cruise playing one of her favorite creations, Lestat de Lioncourt. However, director Neil Jordan proved Cruise was perfect for the part. Nevertheless, all works out, as we are told the story of Louis de Pointe (Brad Pitt), and his tale is revealed in his perspective while being interviewed by a curious, ambitious young writer named Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater).
Louis tells a story that spans over 200-years, and from his perspective, the entire journey was a living hell. An already depressive character due to the loss of his wife and child, Louis was turned vampire by a ruthless, yet worldly cultured vampire named Lastat. The more Lestat tried to get Louis to embrace his new, dark gift, the more Louis wanted to cling to the life he had. It would seem Louie still had a lingering respect for life, where Lastat had no feeling for who got killed or enslaved under his power. In fact, Lastat is crazy enough to turn a nine-year old girl, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), into a vampire as a companion for him and Louis. In my opinion, and considering she was merely a child, this one performance from Kirsten Dunst was probably the best work the actress has ever done.
So what did it for me? The movie was dark and creepy and had outstanding attention to detail in setting a mood through solid performances and near-perfect movie sets. Seriously, the sets in this film are so meticulous to “vampire” detail that they have to be some of the best ever presented in the genre. Not to mention, much of the mood and many of the sets seem to pay homage to an older, classical style of telling a horror story. I remember after seeing this film for my first time many years ago, the next day I felt a sense of darkness and something that might be akin to dread. It didn’t scare me, but it was effective in making me feel creepy. Of course, I’ve had a few girls in my life call me creepy, but this has nothing to do with character or appearance. No, this was just a dark feeling that stayed with me for a few days. Not too many films in this genre are successful in doing that to me, so I do have a fond sense of attachment to “Interview With the Vampire.”
The film is also not without its controversial undertones. It was a bit deranged to create a little child into a vicious killer of the night, and with a thirst for blood like no other vampire. I mean, it is a bit ironic to watch a film you would normally send your young children to bed for, but one of the main characters is this adorable, ruthless killer of a little girl. Then there’s Lestat and Louie, and the constant question I would hear in circles about the movie was, Were they gay? I really don’t know, nor do I care. You never see them kiss or fondle each other, but they do live together, yet sleep in separate coffins. So, I have always found that piece of the film a bit unclear, but it in no way tarnishes the general story line. For me, I found the crossover of time and emotional journey so fascinating that I could care less what sexual preferences were exposed. Besides, a vampire’s true lust and purpose is for human blood. The bottom line here is that Cruise and Pitt do deliver outstanding performances, and they made their parts interesting and believable. However, there are times they are completely upstaged by a little girl, Kirsten Dunst. One of the most entertaining parts of the film is watching the actors play off one another, and it really is the spice of the movie.
Overall, I felt taken away in the first ten minutes, as if I lived the life with Louis. I enjoyed seeing Anne Rice’s version of a vampire tale unfold with her own take on the situation and her own set of rules. I found every part of this masterpiece compelling, fascinating, and intriguing, a hauntingly rich piece of art to look at from start to finish. This is quite easily the crème de le crème of vampire films in my book. When it comes to this piece of work such as this, surfers would say, “Dude . . . Awesome!” Rap Stars would say, “Yo, yo, it’s da’ bomb.” Sara Palin would say, “You bet, but let me get back to ya’ on that.” Well, I say it is one of the best in the sea of vampire films, and through the direction, performances, and writing, it’s nice to see someone get it right.
Tim’s film rating: 9/10
Warner Bros. engineers transferred the movie to Blu-ray using VC-1 video and a single-layer BD25 disc. The picture quality in this 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic transfer was always understandably dark (vampires only come out at night, after all), so we have to expect that the colors are not going to be brilliant or vivid. Regardless, noted effects wizard Stan Winston (“Terminator 2,” “Jurassic Park,” “Predator”) did the makeup, and the high-definition picture convincingly reproduces it. The little veins on the vampires’ faces show up surprisingly well, if that’s your idea of a good time. The filmmakers meant for most scenes to look murky and obscure, which is where high definition comes in handy because it does bring out some detail that standard-definition does not. Note, though, that the high-def also emphasizes the film’s natural print grain more than ever and at times, combined with a slightly soft image, can make for some visual roughness.
You might think that Warners would use a Dolby TrueHD audio codec to reproduce the soundtrack, but, no, they use regular Dolby Digital 5.1. Perhaps it was a matter of space limitations, what with using a BD25 and all. In any case, the sound is generally so nondescript one hardly noticing it, which is perhaps a good thing. The sonics should never call attention to themselves at the expense of the story line. Let it suffice that the audio does its job in all five channels, with the subwoofer getting its share of duties along the way. Most of the audio is front heavy, but when the occasion calls for the surrounds to come into play, they, too, do their job. The frequency response is often a bit forward and hard in the lower treble range, something TrueHD might have tempered. But we have what we have, and it’s not bad.
The Blu-ray disc comes with same bonus items found on the older standard-definition DVD. First up is an audio commentary by director Neil Jordan that sheds a little light on what he and Rice were up to. Next is documentary made in 2000 called “In the Shadow of the Vampire,” almost thirty minutes, where the cast and crew typically hype the film. Then, after that, there’s a brief, minute-and-a-half introduction to the movie by Anne Rice, Neil Jordan, and Antonio Banderas.
The extras wrap up with twenty-nine scene selections and a full-screen trailer. The back cover says there is a Japanese spoken language track and Japanese subtitles, but the disc contains only English and French spoken language choices, French and Spanish subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired.
I can see how a lot of people, like Tim, love this film. After all, it has a little something for everyone: heterosexuality, homosexuality, eroticism, murder, mayhem, pedophilia, necrophilia, nudity, torture, gore, dismemberment, and abuse, to say nothing of vampirism. Combined with its high-profile cast, excellent production values, and Blu-ray reproduction, “Interview With the Vampire” seems like a surefire proposition. But, ultimately, unlike Tim I found it an empty, lurid, anemic exercise in excess.
Louis spends two hundred years as a vampire and regrets it. I spent 246 minutes watching the film twice and probably regret it at least that much. I think I’m behind in the game. Fortunately, there are many more people like Tim who love the film, so this new Blu-ray edition should be just their cup of tea. Or blood. Or whatever.
As always, the Film Value rating listed below is a combined average of the two reviewer ratings.