Based on a wildly popular bestseller, directed by a filmmaker hot off his buzzy breakthrough, and starring a mega-wattage cast headlined by a certified superstar, the film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire was one of the splashiest movie releases at the tail end of 1994, seemingly preordained to be a monster blockbuster and the start of a major cinematic franchise. That didn’t entirely work out.
Admittedly, the movie was a pretty big hit at the time and broke into the box office Top 10 for the year, but it didn’t have much cultural staying power. Of the planned sequels, only one was actually produced, eight years later for half the budget and with none of the original cast (and it flopped badly). Only now, another two decades removed from that, is the property about to be revived for a television reboot. Looking back at the movie, I think the TV show has plenty of leeway to improve upon the material – if indeed the material is even worth the effort of trying.
|Title:||Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles|
|Year of Release:||1994|
|Also Available On:||Various streaming rental and purchase platforms|
First published in 1976, the Interview with the Vampire novel had sold millions of copies and already spawned three sequels with a fourth on the way by the time the movie was put together. Film rights had bounced around among studios for some time before music super-producer David Geffen scooped them up, eager to expand his empire into the blockbuster movie arena. To do that, he spent upwards of $70 million (a lot for the day) and put together an almost irresistible package of highly marketable components. First off, he secured Tom Cruise to lead the cast, with rising stars Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas in key roles. The screenplay penned by author Anne Rice herself would placate the concerns of book fans, while directing duties fell to Neil Jordan, fresh off his success and Oscar recognition for The Crying Game.
Following quickly after Francis Coppola’s smash hit re-imagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) made the “romantic vampire” genre fashionable again, the entire project seemed like a can’t-lose proposition for all involved. The film’s full title, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, reflected Geffen’s ambition that this be just the first in a long-running series of sequels that would continue to generate income for years.
The story opens with a framing device set in the (then) modern day, in which a handsome young man named Louis (Pitt) reveals to an initially skeptical interviewer (Christian Slater, a last-minute replacement for the late River Phoenix) that he is actually a 200-year-old vampire. He explains that, yes, vampires must drink the blood of the living and do indeed sleep in coffins – but no, they have no fear of crucifixes, nor will a stake to the heart kill one.
The bulk of the movie then flashes back to the late 18th Century as Louis narrates the tale of how he, once a despondent widower, was saved from suicide and turned immortal by a vampire named Lestat (Cruise), who groomed him to be his eternal companion. Unlike Lestat, however, Louis couldn’t stomach the need to kill humans, and survived instead on the blood of rats and chickens. After decades together, the growing strife between them drove Louis to flee to Europe, where he would search for other vampires, as well as answers to the mysteries of their existence.
A few additional plot turns notwithstanding, that’s basically all there is to the story. I haven’t read the book and can only assume it must be more complicated than that, but what the movie gives us is pretty thin. The two-hour run time moves in spurts and feels like it’s skimming through a narrative that ought to be denser. Even without knowing the book, you can tell that the faint remaining traces of homoerotic subtext in Louis and Lestat’s relationship have been significantly watered down for mainstream consumption.
Despite being top-billed, Cruise turns out to be a supporting player in the movie. Pitt’s Louis is the actual protagonist and has much more screen time. In any case, both actors are miscast, very badly so. Cruise’s trademark intensity works against the Lestat character’s alleged seductiveness. His need to make the audience see how hard he’s acting at all times is misplaced in this role. (Rice reportedly wanted Julian Sands instead.) While Pitt would mature into a fine actor, he was still in the pretty-boy stage of his career at this point, and his performance here is frankly terrible. He looks lost playing dress-up in all the period costumes. It may be for the best that neither actor attempts an accent even though their characters are supposedly a French aristocrat and a Creole plantation owner, respectively. Both also just plain look ridiculous in the silly wigs and fake fangs.
The rest of the cast hardly fares much better. Antonio Banderas has little to do as an Old World vampire except stand around and look menacing. Jordan’s frequent collaborator Stephen Rea goes uncharacteristically hammy as a henchman. An almost unrecognizably young Thandiwe Newton barely has a line of dialogue as a plantation slave girl.
The only halfway decent performance in the entire movie comes from 12-year-old Kirsten Dunst as Claudia, a naughty little vampire who grows to loathe being an eternal child. The actress was destined for stardom even at that age.
If nothing else, the movie is handsomely produced, with photography by Philippe Rousselot (Dangerous Liaisons, A River Runs Through It), ornate production design by Dante Ferretti (The Age of Innocence), costumes by Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love), and creature effects by the legendary Stan Winston. The technical aspects are all first-rate, even if the story and performances are weak and Jordan pitches the tone too far into melodrama.
Box office success notwithstanding, Interview with the Vampire was always kind of a dud. Its characters may never grow old, but the film itself hasn’t aged particularly gracefully in the years since its release.
Interview with the Vampire was first released on Blu-ray in 2008, fairly early in the format’s life. Although reasonably well reviewed at the time, that disc leaves a lot of room for improvement by current standards. Unfortunately, a 20th Anniversary Edition reissue in 2014 only made one small change to the audio but left everything else the same, and distributor Warner Bros. hasn’t done anything further with the title since. You’d think that the new TV reboot might give the studio a good excuse to remaster the original film for 4K Ultra HD, but that hasn’t been the case. The movie isn’t even available for streaming on HBO Max or any of the major subscription platforms.
The existing high-def master was transferred at a full-screen 16:9 aspect ratio, slightly opened up from the theatrical 1.85:1. While the picture is no doubt better than DVD quality, it’s quite soft for HD. Film grain is mushy and barely resolved. The contrast is adequate, but colors are drab. It looks like something you’d watch on cable broadcast and is far from the best even Blu-ray could offer, much less 4K. A remaster could no doubt do wonders for Rousselot’s photography.
The 2008 Blu-ray was further limited to only lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The 2014 reissue at least upgraded that to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio format, but I apparently never bothered to replace the older disc, so I can’t comment on that one. The DD5.1 track is set for a frustratingly low default volume. After amplification, dialogue remains soft and sometimes unclear. The music is much louder but has thin fidelity, and sound effects are frequently too bright. It sounds lousy, to be blunt.
The supplement package is also rather paltry, consisting only of an audio commentary by director Neil Jordan, a half-hour featurette in standard-def video, and a trailer. The case art mentions an “Introduction by Anne Rice, Neil Jordan and Antonio Banderas” that doesn’t seem to actually be on the disc. Like many early Warner releases, the disc auto-plays upon insertion into your Blu-ray player with no main menu screen, only a pop-up menu.