Title: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
Starring: John C. Reilly, Ray Stevenson, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Written by: Paul Weitz, Brian Helgeland
Runtime: 109 Minutes
Cirque du Freak: A Vampire’s Tale is a movie based on a series of children’s books by author Darren Shan. I personally never heard of these books before hearing about the movie and have to say that after watching the film, I have no desire to see another movie based on them. In today’s plundering of the vampire genre and the mad dash by studios to secure a children’s/teen literary property for film, it is clear that Cirque du Freak was only made to try to mimic and cash in on the success of franchises such as Harry Potter and Twilight.
When Darren (Chris Massoglia) sneaks out of the house to attend a traveling freak show with his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), he steals a deadly spider from Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly); a member of the freak show that we quickly learn is a 200 year old vampire. While hiding in a closet to avoid being caught stealing the spider, Darren overhears his friend Steve trying to make a deal with Larten to turn him into a vampire however; Larten rejects Steve’s offer suggesting that he has “evil blood” to which Steve replies “I am going to kill you someday”. The next day, Steve is bitten by the spider and lies dying in the hospital, Darren makes a deal with Larten to become his half-vampire assistant and in return, Larten will give the antidote for the poison that is killing Steve. Now a half-vampire, Darren discovers that there are actually two types of the walking dead, “Vampires” who are actually good and intend no harm and “Vampireens” that are the blood sucking killers from the books, movies and comics that we all know and love. These two species of vamp are currently in a truce from a war that has been being waged between the two for hundreds of years.
At the center of it all is Mr. Tiny, a mysterious man who comes and goes throughout the movie and a person who is clearly manipulating each side in an effort to end the truce for some vested interest that is never explained. Once Steve learns that Darren has become a vampire, his anger toward him is manipulated and exploited by Mr. Tiny in order to coax Steve, who needs little convincing, to become a Vampireen and his species to an all out war with the Vampires and to ultimately claim their destiny.
If my synopsis of the film seems a bit random and all over the place, I can assure you that it is the best I could decipher after watching this movie. ‘The Vampire’s Assistant’ is probably one of the most mediocre movies I have seen since Pandorum. It had such good potential and good material to work with yet I can’t help but feel that this was an enormously missed opportunity. I just think that the filmmakers really tried to stuff too much into the 109 minute running time and would have actually benefitted from stretching things out a bit and making more of an effort flesh out the characters. Instead, we end up with a story that is semi-coherent that you just don’t care anything about because you don’t really have any empathy for the characters. There are 12 books in the series, three of which are combined to tell the story in this film however; these stories seem character driven and unfortunately that is something that the filmmakers forgot to include. The list of characters is huge and diverse including: ‘The Monkey Girl’ (Darren’s love interest), ‘Mr. Tiny’ (The man apparently at the center of the whole war), ‘Mr. Tall’ (The leader of the freak show I think), ‘Wolfman’ (a werewolf I think) and a whole array of freaks to choose from. The whole “I think” part of my descriptions is the biggest part of the problem with this movie. The viewer is not given anything to work with. I am a fairly forgiving person when it comes to plot and having to use my imagination to connect the dots but give me something to work with at least. Back stories are only given for some characters and even those are only briefly discussed or hinted at. The filmmakers don’t give you anything tangible to see or experience that would lead you to empathize with the characters much less care what happens to the lot of them.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=3578&w=o[/img]Another oddity for me is that I thought the entire cast gave good performances. I was glad to see John C. Reilly in a non-moronic role again, Ken Wantanabe was good in the role of ‘Mr. Tall’ and Ray Stevenson was initially unrecognizable as ‘Mulaugh’. Salma Hayek and Willem DeFoe have bit parts with good performances but whose presence in the film is ultimately unimportant and forgettable due to a lack of any character development. This wasn’t a boring movie, it just had no soul.
The movie is rated PG-13 and is appropriately rated for language and violence. There are some scenes with blood and the freaks could be scary for younger viewers. I do think the language in the movie was used in a failed attempt to make the movie seem more “grown up”. I would recommend sticking to the 13 or older when deciding who should watch this movie.
This one sports an AVC MPEG-4 1080p transfer with a 2.35:1 ratio. The transfer is extremely clear and detailed. The blacks are deep and distinguishable which is good because there are a lot of blacks and very dark scenes in this movie. It seemed that the Director was trying to make this movie a bit whimsical but in a dark Tim Burton way and it just doesn’t come off very well. It really only adds to the mediocrity of the movie as there is a general feeling of malaise throughout the film due in large part the endless dark and gray scenes.
The DTS HD Master-Audio 5.1 is a fairly solid track. The dialogue is clear and there is some good bass in some of the fight scenes as well as various rumbles throughout that helps add some life to the movie. I didn’t hear any noise to speak of however; I did find that the surround activity was minimal which I thought was odd for this type of movie. When you do hear something from the surrounds, it is almost a reminder that you haven’t been hearing anything coming from that direction.
Guide to Becoming a Vampire is really more about the books themselves.
Tour du Freak is a documentary featuring interviews and character backgrounds, etc.
Deleted Scenes – There are a lot of deleted scenes. Thirty five deleted scenes to be exact. The shame is that some of these scenes help to flesh out some of the side characters but really would have offered little in fleshing out the characters that needed it most.
U-Control, BD-Live, Ticker, My Scenes, D-Box, Social/Pocket Blu – Been there, done that.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is a mediocre movie at best. It wasn’t painful to watch nor was it a boring movie however; it doesn’t warrant a second viewing or a high recommendation either. The performances are good, the video is fair and the sound has some descent moments that help make this movie a little more tolerable but it is ultimately an unfulfilling experience. One thing worth mentioning is that I did watch this movie with my 15 year old and she really liked it so, the target audience may be a bit more receptive to this film.