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Interview With the Vampire - Special Edition

Geffen Pictures/Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 118 mins . MA15+ . PAL


With an inferior sequel in Queen of the Damned recently arriving on DVD, the time undoubtedly seemed right to Warner Home Video for a re-release of Interview With the Vampire, Neil Jordan’s 1994 filming of the Anne Rice bestseller. One of Warner’s earliest DVD releases, it had previously been squeezed onto a single layered, bare-bones disc, and has long been overdue for a quality upgrade (which it received in the US two years ago).

A film version of Interview had been on the cards for many years before it finally went into production - indeed, Julia Philips (producer of Close Encounters and The Sting) details in her book You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again how she tried to get a film made back when the novel was a new sensation. The man who finally got the job done was David Geffen (now a co-founder of Dreamworks), who persuaded Irish director Neil Jordan to helm the star-laden project. Then big in Hollywood thanks to The Crying Game, Jordan had many years earlier made an astonishing visual fairy-tale called The Company of Wolves, and it would be that film’s sense of mythology and craft that would form the basis for Interview. It’s Jordan’s sumptuous sense of style as well as Philippe Rousselot’s evocative photography that makes the film such a compelling experience; what would likely have been a camp disaster in other hands takes on substantially greater weight thanks to the theatricality and filmmaking skill that’s on display throughout.

With a wordy, extravagant screenplay by Rice herself, Interview tells the story of Louis (Pitt), a 200 year-old vampire who’s being interviewed (for no defined reason) about his life. As he recounts his coming into vampirism and his dealings with Lestat (Cruise) we travel with him through the past, across continents and through cultures. We discover that Louis, who only came to be a vampire through his apathy about continuing to live at all, is consumed by guilt and retains an element of humanity; he cannot bear to kill humans to feed. But when he succumbs and nearly kills a little girl (Dunst), Lestat turns her into a (very hungry) vampire and everything changes.

The fact that the film bears the additional title “The Vampire Chronicles” is a hint at what Geffen originally had in mind here - a series of films of Rice’s never-ending series of books. Further films never happened, though, until Queen of the Damned appeared with its liberal re-writing of a pair of Rice novels; by that stage, the sub-title had been dropped.

Interview deserves to stand alone, ultimately. Removed from Rice’s ever-expanding world and taken on its own merits, it’s an immensely stylish and visually powerful piece of filmmaking that overcomes the shortcomings of the story - a story that’s basically little more than soap opera with fangs and self-important dialogue. Jordan’s vision and sense of time and place keep the movie focussed even when the conversation drifts off into never-never land, and some terrific performances - by Pitt, Dunst, Stephen Rea, Antonio Banderas and, yes, Cruise himself - maintain interest even in times of genuinely silly dialogue.

Only the short final act of the film, set in the present day, falls flat; while perhaps intended to be funny, poignant or maybe just to set things up for a sequel, it is the only part of the movie where the spell is broken. The too-obvious end-credits rock song doesn’t help, either.


Like the earlier DVD release, this is an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, opening up the matte slightly from the theatrical presentation. This writer’s only going on the vague two year-old memory of the original disc from an overnight rental, but the transfer offered here looks to be exactly the same one, something that’s as good as confirmed by its appearance. Make no mistake, this is a very nice transfer, particularly since much of the movie takes place in dimly-lit streets and buildings. But compared to the current state of the art it’s left slightly wanting in the crucial areas of fine detail and contrast; there’s also some minor film damage, most of it during the opening credit sequence. The transfer also has a decided greenish tinge to it, something that seems to have been favoured by Warner’s telecine people at the time. The night scenes are well handled, though, and loaded with all-important shadow detail, and colour saturation is good, if a little green.

The main upgrade here from the earlier release comes in the use of a dual-layered disc, with about 50% more data used for the feature and a substantially higher bitrate that approaches so-called “superbit” levels. Compression problems are, not surprisingly, non-existent.

The layer change, positioned mid-scene, is well handled. Jordan’s flowing style undoubtedly made the placement of a layer change a bit of a challenge.


Here’s the controversial bit. When this “Special Edition” disc went on sale two years ago in the US, the biggest drawcard was a freshly mastered soundtrack in both high-bitrate Dolby Digital and full-bitrate DTS. For this region 2 & 4 version, though, the DTS track has been dropped, though there’s actually ample space on the disc for it. The remaining Dolby Digital track (which sounds identical to the original release’s mix, and probably is) has been encoded at the lower Dolby Digital bitrate of 384Kbit/sec.

This is a firmly front-focussed 5.1 mix from the early Dolby Digital days, offering crisp, clear dialogue, warm fidelity across the main channels for the music and precise effects positioning, and barely a peep from the surrounds. It serves the movie well, but one does wonder whether it’s just a recycling of the original soundtrack rather than the 20-bit remix that US customers reportedly got.


Almost all the extras from the US release are here; all that’s missing is a section titled History of the Vampire, which simply offered a password to a Warner web site that’s probably long since been neglected. No loss.

Introduction: Ostensibly a “special introduction” by Jordan, Rice and Banderas, this is actually nothing of the sort. Jordan gets ten seconds into starting to introduce the film before this 60-second piece turns into an EPK promo blurb of the worst kind. Best avoided, this actually plays before the movie when you start via the main menu. Our advice: boot the disc, hit stop, then hit play, and the movie starts without delay (and feel free to turn that into poetry, by the way).

Documentary - In The Shadow of the Vampire: Put together in 2000 by DVD doco expert JM Kenny, this 30-minute retrospective is for the most part pretty terrific, though it loses the plot in the final ten minutes when it stops talking about the making of the film and starts going on about vampire culture and lore. There are plenty of interviews here, though interestingly Rice’s initial very public distaste for the casting of Cruise is not mentioned, and the long history of attempts to make the film is also left untouched aside from a brief comment by Jordan.

Audio Commentary: Neil Jordan is an affable, intelligent man who has a genuine passion for the films he makes, and he’s terrific here, enthusiastically discussing all elements of the film’s production and, yes, the Cruise controversy. Highly listenable, Jordan never patronises or pontificates, but instead comes across like he was in a pub watching the movie with you and having an informal chat about it. An excellent commentary.

Theatrical Trailer: The two and a half minute trailer, 16:9 enhanced with surround-flagged two-channel audio. Notable for a key line of dialogue that doesn’t appear in the actual movie.

Cast & Crew: Don’t waste your time.


Eight years after it was first released, Interview With the Vampire seems a much better movie than it did back in 1994. Maybe that’s because there’s less hype and less expectation now, but we suspect it’s simply one of those movies that improves with multiple viewings. Certainly its impeccable sense of style and consummate filmmaking skill manage to get right to the heart of a rambling story, and along with many stunning images there are a few moments of genuine dramatic brilliance. And seen after Queen of the Damned, it makes the newer film seem even sillier than it did when we reviewed it.

Warner’s “Special Edition” DVD provides a much-needed upgrade, though it’s unclear whether we’re seeing the full technical benefits offered to US customers - most notably, the missing DTS soundtrack. To our eyes and ears this appears to be exactly the same video and audio source material as the earlier release, which was excellent in its own right despite its vintage. Unless you’re a big fan of the movie and really want the commentary and documentary, you might want to rent this one and see whether any improvement is sufficient to make it worth buying again. For first-time customers, though, this release is just fine.

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      And I quote...
    "One of those movies that improves with multiple viewings... An impeccable sense of style and consummate filmmaking skill. "
    - Anthony Horan
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