Novelists, screenwriters, and directors have reinvented, reinterpreted, and reimagined the vampire more than any other cinematic beastie to date. Even today, the trend continues as writers and filmmakers find new and interesting ways to retread increasingly familiar ground. Television shows like ‘True Blood’ have transformed the creatures into social metaphors, novels like “Twilight” have romanticized their existence to lofty heights, and films like ‘I Am Legend’ have envisioned their curse as the inadvertent byproduct of human arrogance. However, very few recent genre successes have been as influential on the mythos as a whole as director Neil Jordan’s 1994 ‘Crying Game’ follow-up, ‘Interview with the Vampire.’
Based on the acclaimed 1976 Anne Rice novel of the same name, ‘Interview with the Vampire’ introduces an 18th century vampire named Louis (Brad Pitt) who decides to share his life story with a modern day reporter (Christian Slater). He recounts his complex relationship with a cold-hearted vampire named Lestat (Tom Cruise), his initial struggles with bloodlust, an ill-advised adoption of a young vampiritic companion (Kirsten Dunst), a desperate search for others of his kind, and his eventual discovery of a den of fiendish blood-suckers led by an ancient vampire named Armand (Antonio Banderas). All the while, he describes the passing centuries, his journeys between New Orleans and Paris, unpleasant encounters with Lestat over the years, and the many sorrows and tragedies that have befallen his unending life.
I’m always surprised by the chilly reception ‘Interview with the Vampire’ earns from naysayers. While I’ll be the first to admit that it does have some slight pacing issues and a particularly angst-fueled protagonist, it investigates the blessings and curses of vampirism to a degree that’s simply unmatched in other genre entries. Like the novel, the film isn’t satisfied with simply depicting Louis as a mournful hero or Lestat as a parasitic demon. It raises questions about love, identity, power, faith, and morality; digging into each of these very human fundamentals by focusing on the struggles of its very inhuman characters. It may seem like a foregone conclusion in 2008 after countless flicks have ripped off Rice and Jordan’s approach, but ‘Interview with the Vampire’ was a revolutionary genre reboot when it first debuted. In that regard, it’s arguably a horror classic.
More importantly, the film focuses on the psychology of its vampires rather than the details of their deeds. Blood and gore make appearances, sure, but the violence is always teamed with nuanced reactions and multi-layered dialogue. To that end, Cruise and Pitt do an exceptional job of imbuing their characters with genuine depth and, ironically, soul. Even the young and precocious Dunst, who’s eventually tasked with playing a mature adult in the body of a child, handles her demanding role with class and meticulous purpose. Better still, their intricate performances and thorny on-screen relationships allow Jordan to wholly establish his film’s central theme: the fear of being alone.
’Interview with the Vampire’ isn’t a perfect film, but it is a sweeping period piece that single-handedly reinvented and significantly influenced the modern vampire genre. It’s also more a character study than a traditional horror film, more a psychological thriller than a fright-fest, and more a thoughtful drama than an intense genre flick. In the end, a collection of strong performances, beautiful cinematography, and a haunting musical score make ‘Interview with the Vampire’ one of the most compelling vampire films to date.
Dark, shadowy, and largely lit by candles and moonlight, ‘Interview with the Vampire’ doesn’t offer the sort of reference quality presentation fans will be able to use to demo the wonders of high definition. However, after comparing this new Blu-ray release to its problematic standard DVD counterpart, and considering the inherent limitations of the original print, it’s clear that this 1080p/VC-1 transfer represents the best the film has looked since its theatrical debut.
While the color palette is somewhat subdued, primaries still manage to pop (look no further than Claudia’s dresses), blacks are inky, contrast is strong, and fleshtones are natural (in so much as vampire skin can appear natural). On that note, shadow delineation is less than ideal, but depth and dimensionality are quite impressive in spite of the film’s uneven lighting schemes. More importantly, the issues that haunted the standard DVD -- heavy artifacting, rampant source noise, and distracting edge enhancement -- rarely intrude. Granted, all three make brief appearances, but they never yanked me out of the experience and will probably go unnoticed by most viewers.
If I have any problem, it’s that image and texture clarity are inconsistent. Some of the film’s long shots are hazy, occasional interior scenes are slightly soft, and a few close-ups fail to exhibit the same level of fine detailing as other high-def releases on the market. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of standout moments that allow ‘Interview with the Vampire’ to leave a sizeable impression, but I couldn’t help but think a more invasive remastering could have made the film look spectacular. Ultimately, fans will be pleased with the results and more than eager to toss aside their standard DVDs, but newcomers may find the transfer a bit underwhelming.
For some strange reason, Warner limited the Blu-ray edition of ‘Interview with the Vampire’ to a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track instead of including a lossless audio option. Granted, this particular track’s inadequacies aren’t as damning as those that plagued recent BD releases like ‘Speed Racer,’ but Warner’s seeming reliance on 640kbps audio remains a big point of contention for this fan.
Basic audio aside, ‘Interview with the Vampire’ still sounds pretty good. Dialogue is clean, well prioritized, and nicely balanced across the front soundstage. Better still, smooth pans and precise directionality make general immersion a cinch. Sure, the various conversations and hushed interactions render the entire experience a tad front-heavy at times, but I was pleased to hear the rear speakers continually deliver convincing interior acoustics, ample environmental ambience, and plenty of support for the film’s involving musical score. Furthermore, low-end tones are resonant, high-end sounds like violin wheens are crisp, and the track’s overall dynamics are decent. I doubt audiophiles will be satisfied, but casual fans will most likely shrug their shoulders and enjoy everything this barebones audio track has to offer.
The Blu-ray edition of ’Interview with the Vampire’ includes all of the supplements that appear on the previously-released Special Edition DVD. Unfortunately, the package is anemic and the video content is presented in standard definition.
’Interview with the Vampire’ offers complex explorations of existence, companionship, and love that, when combined with its excellent performances and gorgeous cinematography, make the film a genre classic. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray edition isn’t everything I had hoped. While it features a relatively impressive audio and video presentation, the transfer is too soft at times, and the disc doesn’t include a lossless audio track. It doesn’t help that the supplemental package is fairly anemic and underwhelming. In the end, fans who own the standard DVD will be quite pleased with the noticeably improved high-def presentation, but newcomers will be less thrilled with the results.