Saturday, August 4, 2012

Books on Film: Interview with the Vampire

When Interview with the Vampire was penned, everyone was still wearing polyester. The book wouldn't become a film for nearly 20 years. When the film was released, vampires weren't even cool. But if you were around back then, you know that Interview was the Twilight of its day...minus the werewolves.

The Book

Interview with the Vampire was the first book Anne Rice wrote. It began as a short story around 1969, but soon blossomed into a multi-book series. The first book in The Vampire Chronicles, Interview, was published in 1976. 

The story opens with Louis, a vampire who's 200 years old. He's telling his incredible life story to a reporter, referred to as "the boy." Louis lived in New Orleans in 1791 when he met the vampire Lestat, who turned Louis. The two became companions of a sort on the plantation. Louis hates himself. He cannot stand his own nature, so he feeds only from animals (remind you of anyone?), while Lestat gives in wholeheartedly to his bloodlust. In fact, Lestat finds Louis's kind-hearted nature and apparent regard for human life to be a huge flaw.

He is fighting the bloodlust, and failing. One late night in a poor section of New Orleans, Louis finds a weeping 6-year-old child next to the dead body of her mother. Louis feeds on her, against his own will. Lestat discovers him, and he turns the girl into a vampire. Her name is now Claudia.

Louis hates what Lestat has done, but he loves Claudia. She is an able killer of humans right from the start, and for many years the three live in a happy, lavish lifestyle in New Orleans. But time passes, and passes, and passes...and little Claudia does not grow. She does mature, and soon begins to understand her own nature and the fact that she will be trapped in a child's body for all eternity. She blames Lestat for her condition and develops an intense hatred. Claudia turns Louis's own wishy-washy feelings against him and hones his ambivalence into searing hatred.

Together, they kill Lestat by poisoning him, slitting his throat and dumping his body into the swamp. The matter thus settled, Louis and Claudia leave New Orleans to go to France together. They are in search of other vampires, believing themselves to be the only undead in America now that Lestat is gone. Or is he? While the pair departs via ship France, Lestat begins to recover. He attempts to stop a fleeing Louis and Claudia, who set fire to their home, and Lestat is left to burn. 

Louis and Claudia finally do find vampires in Paris in the form of the Theatre des Vampires. They specifically encounter Armand, who is 400. The group stages plays to find their human victims. Claudia dislikes them at once, but Louis is strangely compelled to Armand. Santiago, another of the group, is suspicious of the two newcomers. He believes they are guilty of the worst of all vampire crimes: killing their maker, Lestat.

Claudia, jealous of Louis's growing friendship with the others, demands her own companion. She chooses Madeline, a dollmaker, and the three set up house together. It doesn't last long. They are taken in the night by the theater group based on the word of Lestat, who is not dead but immortal and well in Paris.

Louis is locked in a coffin so he may slowly starve to death. Claudia and Madeline are locked within an open courtyard with no roof to await the appearance of the sun. Armand arrives in time to release Louis, but not in time to free the other two. Claudia and Madeline are both burned to ash by the sun. Louis retaliates by killing all the vampires and fleeing with Armand.

The relationship doesn't last. Louis is heartbroken, and he splits from Armand to return to New Orleans in the 20th century. Here, he feeds off humans as needed but avoids contact otherwise.

Louis is a brooding, reluctant vampire. The purpose of his tale is that being alive for ever is weary, lonely, fraught with suffering. The interviewer sees none of this. He begs to become a vampire as well, but Louis does not fulfill the request. Louis leaves, and the interviewer sets off to find Lestat.

The Film

Paramount Pictures purchased the rights to Interview even before the book was published. Nothing happened for 10 years, and Paramount's rights expired. Rice sold the rights to Lorimar Productions, which was bought out by Warner Bros. shortly thereafter.
In the early 90s, they decided to make the film. Rice co-wrote the script with veteran screenwriter Neil Jordan, and the cast was picked. Rice didn't agree with the choices. She disliked the idea of seeing Tom Cruise as Lestat, and made it public knowledge that she was unhappy. Studio executives wouldn't be deterred, however.

When the film premiered in 1994 and became a gigantic success, Rice recanted her statements and loudly cheered Cruise's performance.  Brad Pitt starred as Louis, Antonio Banderas as Armand and Kirsten Dunst as Claudia. Christian Slater ended up playing the interviewer (the boy) when River Phoenix tragically died before he could perform the role.

The movie was such a big success, it brought Interview back to the bestseller lists and sparked a huge vampire craze in bookstores and film. It is faithful enough to the book, though the ending was changed somewhat. In the film, the interviewer ends up being approached by Lestat after Louis has left the interview room. Lestat drinks from him and they drive off together -- in San Francisco, not New Orleans.

What Got Adapted?

Of course, it wouldn't be a book on film if a bunch of little changes that don't seem to make a lot of sense weren't added or omitted. Lestat never appears in Paris in the film, and Louis is given a wife and child in the opening scenes. Claudia's poison cocktail for Lestat was also changed on film, and many of her travels with Louis are omitted. The two journeyed many places in search of vampires, and found only a race of mindless drinkers in Transylvania before locating the Parisian group.

And then there's the casting, which many fans (and Rice herself) found fault with. Kirsten Dunst, while adorable, was 12 years old when she played Claudia -- twice the age of the character. Considering the subject matter and the demands of the role, however, I think this is a fair change. The other changes are iffier. Banderas doesn't look like Armand, Cruise doesn't look like Lestat and I thought Brad Pitt was frankly horrible as Louis (he just didn't know how to play it).

Some other bits of story were cut, like Lestat's relationship with his father, but all in all Interview is a very good film adaptation that accurately captures the original book. The end scenes were shoved into a more modern period (you won't see any disco balls) and the star-studded cast is more about box office figures than actually fitting into the roles, but it's a decent little flick if you like vampire movies. Anne Rice deeply studied vampire lore while writing her tale, and I always appreciate good research. If you're a Twilight fan, and even if you aren't, you should definitely read this version of a vampire book.

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