Last week we learned that Anne Rice’s seminal series of novels, The Vampire Chronicles, is getting the reboot treatment. The entire package of the existing twelve books, as well as all future books in the series (including this year’s upcoming Prince Lestat novel) are in the hands of Universal, who plan to reboot the series for a whole new generation of fans.
Of course, two books of the series have already been made into films, each on the opposite ends of the spectrum of success. Interview with the Vampire, the first book in the series and arguably the most well known, was made into a Warner Bros. film in 1994 and was a big hit. It made $105 million back in the day, which translates to about $209 million in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation. Not bad for an R-rated movie with fairly controversial subtext.
Then, in 2002, in an effort to keep the rights to the series before they reverted back to author Anne Rice, Warner Bros. quickly squeezed out a low budget sequel, without involvement from any party associated with the previous movie. The film combined elements of the two follow up novels The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned, although they were combined into an almost unrecognizable form. Character’s names remained the same, and some plot points remained, but ultimately, the Stuart Townsend starring movie version of The Queen of the Damned was to Lestat fans what Batman & Robin was to Batman fans: a big campy joke.
Now that Universal has the rights to The Vampire Chronicles, they are surely asking themselves how they can turn these books into the next Twilight (in terms of success, if not content) and not the next Vampire Academy. Here are five things Universal should definitely consider when bringing the Vampire Lestat and his cohorts back to un-life once again.
1. Don’t Chase The Twilight Audience
The Twilight franchise made billions for Summit Entertainment, and like it or not, it is the most successful vampire movie series of all time. Of course, Universal would love to have their own giant vampire franchise, but Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are nothing like Twilight. Where Twilight’s audience was made up of teen and tween girls and soccer moms, pretty much to the exclusion of everyone else, the audience for The Vampire Chronicles is mostly very different. It has fans of all races, ages, sexual orientations and gender. The appeal is far broader than Twilight’s, if not larger in actual numbers.
Right now, Hollywood is obsessed with what they call the “four quadrant” blockbuster: big, expensive tentpole movies you can take kids, teens, adults and seniors alike to, in order to recoup the massive amount of money spent on them. Well, the Vampire Chronicles is an adults only affair, and not something that should be de-fanged, pardon the pun, to be made into something that has to appeal to everyone. There are no PG-13 versions of these stories. They are books steeped in history and deal with very grown up themes of spirituality and the nature of good and evil, and are replete with metaphors for everything from sexual identity to addiction.
Unlike Twilight (or True Blood, or the Vampire Diaries) it’s not about a mortal girl in the middle of a love triangle of supernatural creatures. Universal needs to understand this, and not water the stories down to something they’re not. The last time that happened, it was the movie version of The Queen of the Damned, and no one wants that again. In fact, maybe in this day and age, the silver screen isn’t the place for this series at all, which brings me to suggestion #2…
2. Consider Cable Television
I’m not sure what the specifics of Anne Rice’s new deal with Universal is in regards to the Vampire Chronicles adaptation. Is it for big screen movies only? Or does it cover movies and television? If I were Universal, I’d seriously consider making The Vampire Chronicles a series for cable, either premium or basic.
It’s on television where a book series like this one can really flourish. Frankly, the more adult, sophisticated genre fare is on cable television these days, especially the properties that need a substantial amount of money to get right. Could a rebooted Vampire Chronicles work as a film? Absolutely! But it’s a tougher hill to climb than telling these stories on television, where each book could be serve as a season’s worth of episodes. If television isn’t part of the equation for whatever reason, and it does have to be a movie, then I suggest looking to what Elton John did. Yes, I said Elton John…which leads me to suggestion #3.
3. Use the Broadway Musical Structure
A lot of people might not know this, but less than a decade ago, there was a Broadway musical based on Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, simply called Lestat, from the legendary musical duo of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, no less. The reason you probably don’t know about it is because the musical was widely panned by critics and closed after just 33 previews and 39 performances. No soundtrack album was ever even recorded for it, and the show faded into obscurity, as most short-lived musicals do. In truth, the music wasn’t very memorable for Lestat, aside from one show stopping number sung by the character of child vampire Claudia titled “I Want More” (which one can luckily find on the YouTube.)
However, the basic storytelling structure of the show worked surprisingly well. Act One was based on the second novel of the series The Vampire Lestat, which is actually a prequel to the first book published in the series, Interview with the Vampire. That book’s events make up the bulk of Act Two, except its told from the POV of Lestat and not Louis. The play was able to keep the broad strokes of both books and leave very few of the more important story beats out — all in two and half hours, which in and of itself was an amazing feat.
For the first movie that rolls out, I’d say Universal should borrow heavily from this storytelling structure. It allows The Vampire Lestat (which was skipped over for movie adaptation last time) to be made into a film properly, and also allows for a “kinda/sorta” reboot of Interview with the Vampire without actually remaking it completely. It would be a smart route to take for the first movie in this new potential series.
4. Skip “Rock Star” Lestat
In the novel The Vampire Lestat, which was published in 1985, Lestat emerges after a decades long slumber into the 1980’s, and decides to “come out of the coffin” (to use a True Blood term) and reveal the secrets and history of the vampire race to the mortal world in the most ’80s way possible. By using his incalculable wealth to become a gigantic rock star, Lestat uses MTV to spread his music videos far and wide across the globe, enraging the vampire hierarchy.
This was kind of a genius move by Anne Rice: the ’80s were an era of the mega music star after all. Larger than life personas like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince sold millions of albums and had their faces and songs plastered 24/7 on MTV. You could conceivably “take over the world” back then by being a pop music idol. However, today is a different story. Heck, even by 2002, when the atrocious Queen of the Damned was made, the idea that you could use MTV, already more well known as the home of The Real World and The Osbournes than any music videos, to spread your musical gospel across the planet, was already dated notion.
Plus, of all the art forms, music is the most subjective. Readers of the novels could imagine Lestat’s music sounding like anything they wanted it to; hair metal people probably thought they sounded like Mötley Crüe, while New Wave fans might have thought Lestat sounded like Bowie. Anne Rice has said that in her mind, Lestat sounded like Jim Morrison of the Doors. (For the record, as a pseudo goth kid, in my mind Lestat sounded like Peter Murphy of Bauhaus.) I’m pretty sure no one ever wanted them to sound like Korn, but that’s what we ended up with.
If the “modern” portions of the movie take place in the ’80s, then go ahead and use the rock star angle. (I mean, who doesn’t love ’80s music?) But if the movie is set in the present, I say come up with another way of having Lestat come out and become famous. Just please, not via a Youtube channel.
5. Keep Anne Rice As Part of the Creative Process
It used to be that once a creator sold their work to Hollywood, they had to let go of all involvement with that property and just let Hollywood do their thing. However, ever since the turn of this century, studios have been wise to consult with the original creators of these properties in a big way, especially properties that have huge and very vocal fan bases. JK Rowling was heavily involved with the film versions of the Harry Potter franchise to make sure it stuck close to the novels, Marvel Studios took control of their properties for the big screen to maintain the integrity of the original comic book concepts, and yes... Twilight, love it or hate it, had the involvement of the original author to make sure the movies resembled the novels.
Fans expect a certain level of fidelity to the source material these days, and the only way to have that is to make sure that the creator of the property is, at the very least, kept on board as a creative consultant. Anne Rice wrote the script for the 1994 version of Interview with the Vampire, and although changes were made from the original novel, the book made the transition to screen in a recognizable form. Rice had nothing to do with the follow-up movie, Queen of the Damned, and the final product speaks for itself. We know that Anne’s son Christopher Rice’s script for the fourth book in the series The Tale of the Body Thief, is part of the package, so hopefully that’s a good sign of things to come.
What are your suggestions for bringing Lestat, Louis and the rest back to the screen? Let us know in the comments section below.