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Interview with the Vampire Blu-ray Review

Today, Interview With The Vampire would cost far too much to reasonably give it the green light. After all, it stars Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas and Kirsten Dunst, all of whom command huge sums, and the film’s premise is arguably fringe. Although novel at the time, the premise of vampires being protagonists rather than anonymous villains is now old hat, although the style of the story is more than capable. The “interview” is told by Louis (Brad Pitt), who retells his process of becoming an immortal vampire in the 1700s at the hands of Lestat (Tom Cruise). Lestat is charismatic, capricious, manipulative and often cruel, a juxtaposition to Louis, who is thoughtful, contemplative and brooding — which are rate traits among vampires. These characters play off one another to accentuate the evil nature of the undead, with Louis having issues taking human life as Lestat revels in the game of feeding on his victims.

Adding to Louis’ conflicts about his immortal nature, we are given Claudia (Kirsten Dunst in her first major role), a six-year-old girl turned into a vampire by Lestat as a companion/daughter for Louis. She matures intellectually and emotionally into a woman while retaining the body of an adolescent. While she easily takes to being a predator of humans, the opposition between her intellectual and corporal selves (she is too physically immature to even create another vampire) helps balance the romanticizing of the vampires with showing how “unnatural” they are.

Growing tired of Lestat’s obsessive control (this takes over 60 years in the novel but is an indeterminate time in the movie), Claudia and Louis strike out for Europe in the hopes of finding other of their kind. In Paris they encounter a group of Vampires led by Armand (Antonio Banderas). Armand, like Louis, seems to be an exception in that he seeks a deeper meaning from his existence while the rest of the Parisian vampires are hedonistic and maniacal. A conflict between the newcomers and the old world vampires builds to the climax of the movie.

What’s missing from the film is the intimate flavor of the novel, and it is not just trying to encapsulate the transpiring of centuries into a few hours (this is not handled well) but the deeper feel of how the passage of time takes its toll upon the characters. While an effort is given to explicate Louis’ mindset, you do not really get the profound sense of existential angst and boredom that accompany centuries of existence, which the novel portrays so well. This adaptation is not a failure, and taken outside the context of the novel, works fairly well. While I have slight issue with Cruise’s take on Lestat, I still appreciate his turn as the iconic vampire. Pitt, Dunst and Banderas give solid performances, and the film does a capable job at presenting the 18th and 19th centuries from the perspective of the undead (the Theater of the Vampires scene is very effective) with a good amount of violence, sexual overtones and tongue-in-cheek humor.

Warner Bros. brings Interview with The Vampire to Blu-ray with a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer framed at its theatrically exhibited ratio of 1.85:1. In its favor, the print source is clean and lacking any obvious damage, but my gut response on first viewing is that the film looks flat and unexciting. The visual feel obviously tends toward being dark due to taking place at night, and the palette of the film works to accentuate this. Colors are based in brown, yellow and gray with deep blacks rarely utilized. While intentional, this choice does not make the movie something that shines in HD and rather produces a slightly washed-out image.

Going hand-in-hand with the image’s flatness is a general softness. This appears to be due to the filming style and lighting choices rather than any digital post-processing, as natural grain is abundant. Unfortunately, grain sometimes becomes problematic with certain darker moments where it runs rampant. In these scenes, the noise on screen is so obnoxious that I thought there was some form of distortion before I was able to isolate the issue as grain. Thankfully these moments are exceptions. Considering how unimpressed I was with my initial response to the Blu-ray image, I pulled out the DVD for evaluation. When compared to its standard-definition predecessor, the HD transfer shows improvement. Though the picture never tends toward the deepest of blacks, contrast is definitely improved. Contrast is really never an issue with the transfer, but any benefit is lost under the subdued colors and filming style. Detail also shows improvement over the DVD, but due to the visual approach, it’s not something that you immediately find notable.

Compared to the best of catalog titles on Blu-ray, I find the image to be flat and lacking dimensionality, but this is as good as the film has ever looked for home video. While definitely not a demo disc, fans of the movie already know what to expect and the upgrade to high-def will provide subtle enhancements. Those never having viewed the movie before should go in with tempered expectations.

In a departure from their recent catalog Blu-ray releases, Warner does not supply a lossless audio track. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 provided is good (though the last DVD release provided an improved DTS track) but how much better could it have been if mastered in lossless audio? Maybe because the studio only used a single layer (BD25) rather than a dual layer disc (BD50), there was not room to include lossless audio or even surround mixes for other languages. The only other audio choices are 2 channel mixes for French and Japanese and a mono mix for Spanish. Subtitles are provided in English (SDH), French, Japanese and Spanish.

To its benefit, the Dolby Digital track has good separation between channels with an equal use of directionality. Dialog is consistently clear, and Elliot Goldenthal’s score along with pieces by Handel and Hayden are decently presented. What I find lacking is the reproduction in the high and low ends and the overall fullness of the audio. This critique is in relation to what other catalog titles have been able to accomplish with a lossless audio upgrade, so without a comparable track, it is hard to say how much improvement there might have been. Since there are catalog titles of lesser stature than this being graced with lossless audio, it seems that this is a missed opportunity. What we are given is acceptable though not overly impressive.

All the extras from the previous DVD releases are ported over here. Unfortunately there is not an abundance of depth with the commentary being the main feature of interest. All video is presented encoded in VC-1 at 480p/i. The first is, logically, a short Introduction (1:04) with comments from Neil Jordan, Anne Rice and Antonio Banderas. This is basically a distraction, as no useful information is given, and half the runtime is taken up with scenes from the movie.

Next in line is In the Shadow of the Vampire (29:43), a featurette that’s closer to a promotional video than a documentary. It contains interviews with the director, author and actors but mostly skims the surface rather than delving into the depths of the production. It has a few moments of interest (FX artist Stan Winston’s being notable) but is mostly a fluff piece. Ditto with the theatrical Trailer (2:36), which is presented in standard definition video with stereo sound. At least with a trailer, you know “promotion” is what you’re getting.

The final feature, Commentary with Director Neil Jordan, is a very good commentary and the best bonus feature included on the Blu-ray Disc. Jordan navigates through the work to adapt the novel, Rice’s involvement in the script, the use of the different actors and details and issues with production. Fans of the film will find much of interest here to enhance their appreciation.

There are some moments of dropout but the commentary covers 90 percent of the film. If I had any complaint, and this is a total nitpick, it is that Jordan’s speaking style is very subdued. His even toned vocal approach can be a bit diverting and cause you to lose focus. That minor complaint aside this is a very worthwhile commentary.

It is a shame that there were never decent cinematic takes on the later entries in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but we can appreciate what we get with Jordan’s version of Interview With The Vampire. While I have my issues with this adaptation, it is still a fun movie to watch with good performances and much appropriate atmosphere throughout. Sadly, this Blu-ray from Warner does not live up to its high-def potential.

The video is hampered by its visual and filming style and does not benefit from high definition nearly as much as other catalog titles. While this is the best Interview has ever looked on home video, it will be a hard sell to convince owners of the current DVD to upgrade. Adding to this is the lack of lossless audio and the fact that the Dolby Digital track included is technically a downgrade from the DTS track on the previous DVD.

The extras are ported over from the DVD but are still underwhelming with Jordan’s commentary being the only one of note. Considering the stature of Interview With The Vampire among fans, Warner should have gone to more effort. New substantive extras in HD and lossless audio would have helped engender good faith among consumers and given a real reason to make the upgrade to Blu-ray.

Amazon has a pretty good deal going right now on Interview with the Vampire on Blu-ray.

Score: 5.9
The movie itself is capable, but the visual style isn’t HD friendly, and the lack of lossless audio and sparse number of features just — wait for it — suck.

— Robert Searle

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