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Another in our "Better than its rep" movie reviews --

Queen of the Damned -- you know, the Anne Rice/vampire flick that DOESN'T have Tom Cruise OR Brad Pitt -- surprised me. It's got a lot of flaws - but it's not at all a horrible movie. It messed with and compressed/redid the Anne Rice novels so much that few people seem to like it - but I think if you go into without expecting it to be Anne Rice's Lestat, but rather a story loosely "inspired by" her books, it's a decent little goth movie.

Particularly the fully-realized music and the accompanying music videos, seen only in flashes during the movie but included on the DVD in their entirety, all framed ala German expressionism and surreal. They're all very Nosferatu/Doctor Caligari silent movie-inspired, by guys from Korn, Static X, Oingo Boingo, and even Marilyn Manson (who has one great album, Mechanical Animals, his Ziggy Stardust glam tribute/ripoff).

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The whole vampire-goes-high-tech subtheme is intriguing, especially Lestat calling out his fellow vampires on the giant Times Square diamondvision screen ("Come out, come out, wherever you are"), and Lestat laying down inside a huge satellite dish and absorbing the entire world as it streams digitally and directly to his brain.

Some of the director's alterations from the two Rice novels the movie is based on (Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned) are actually improvements - such as keeping Lestat's debut concert to a one-time affair, thus explaining why the other vamps never went after him at other concerts (a vexing plothole in the Lestat novel).

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On the other hand, transforming female lead Jesse from a savvy vampire hunter and historical archivist with insider insight into a mere "Bite me, baby, one more time" groupie is among the filmmaker's WORST moves - eccch. Even if the actress playing Jesse is quite fetching (Marquerite Moreau, also seen in the highly underrated remake of Bedazzled).

The DVD's deleted scene showing the other Ancient Ones, as they gather to plot against the Queen SHOULD have been kept, as it provides all the motive behind the anti-Queen backlash acted out by present day-to-day vamps.

I especially loved the Ancient Ones walking freely thru a goth concert, looking around incredulously and commenting "Ancient Rome had nothing on these people!" Why - oh - why was that cut???

An improvement over the books -- having the big concert outdoors in the desert in a remote and isolated Burning Man-style gathering is FAR better than Rice's dinky little indoor concert hall melee. Visually, the ensuing onstage battles need to be matched by the epic size and scope of the event locale, so the movie version is much more dynamic, and really more correct and apropos than in the novel.

The remote concert locale also goes a long way toward explaining how vampires can suddenly "out" themselves and their powers all over the stage, without a worldwide audience immediately finding out all about the head undead (UnDeadheads?) coming out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

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Stuart Townsend as Lestat deserves at least modest praise. While no Tom Cruise, he's a lot better than you'd expect, and certainly believable as a rock star.

As surprisingly dynamic as Cruise was in Interview/Vampire, there's no WAY he could have done the rock star turn without making everyone laugh, remembering his iconic/moronic tightie whitey dance from Risky Business!

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