The trick to creating a successful adaptation is not so much in being a stickler about the plot, but in recreating the verve behind the words. It goes beyond simple interest in the characters. Adaptation is just like translation -- translated word for word, it will seem flat and lack the life it does in its original setting. The translator must understand the context of the words within the language, and then find the best fit to recreate that same sentiment. Yet it must also stay true to the original words. If it diverges too much, the life will be lost, even if the meaning is the same. The right adaptation will flow so well that it will not only feed a fan's penchant for details, but also recreate the element of surprise within them.
It, of course, helps when the original screenwriter is the woman who wrote the novel -- Anne Rice. But even director Neil Jordan's inclusions, which took some liberties, Interview with the Vampire maintained most of the spice that made it a book worthy of a cinematic adaptation. He brought the world to the screen, impressing audiences as well as Rice herself -- who was, at first, quite vocal in her distaste over casting. But even she was stunned with what Jordan and his cast accomplished, and ultimately gave the film much praise.
Interview with the Vampire gets right to the heart of the matter -- an interviewer named Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) is in a plain, barren room with a man, preparing to record his life on tape. He is startled, however, to learn that this man isn't some ordinary interviewee, but rather, a vampire. Louis de Point du Lac (Brad Pitt) is over 200 years old, and he is ready to share his long, tumultuous life with this human stranger. Slowly, he takes Daniel through his experiences. As a man, he was forlorn, alone, and waiting for death. This attracted the vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) to him, who gave him the choice of death, or eternal life.
When faced with the end, Louis backed out of his death wish and gave into the vampire's dark gift. However, while Lestat thought he found the perfect companion to spend his vampiric life with, Louis was disappointed. Lestat would not answer the questions he had, and had neither the interest nor patience to be what Louis really needed -- a pensive and calculated confidant who would make him understand and revel in his new life. Instead, Louis remained inextricably linked to humanity, to the disgust of Lestat. Yet the sire continued to try and make Louis happy, turning a young girl of 12 into a blood-thirsty vampire named Claudia, as if he could make a vampiric family. Of course, a young girl who can never age is not the answer to Louis and Lestat's problems, which leads to their inevitable split. Life beyond Lestat, however, isn't any easier because the problem remains -- she's too young and weak to be on her own, and she can't give Louis what he thrives for. Yet they both yearn for answers and travel to Europe and a Paris theater of vampires to find them.
One of the film's biggest strengths is just how much of the true Lestat bleeds through Louis' vision of him. Louis sees his sire as a blood-hungry fool of a vampire -- someone he cares for, but also pities -- thinking him to be a crass, blood-driven vampire with no sense of humanity, rather than a figure full of depth and his own struggles for understanding. But we still get a chance to understand Lestat without long bouts of exposition -- it's just that Louis doesn't really seem to notice. He sees Lestat as someone who doesn't care for humanity at all, but does not think about why he tries to only kill evildoers. When Claudia rebels against her fate, Lestat stops drinking and languishes. Yet he is seen as the evil one. These brief clues leave enough of Lestat on the screen that even without Rice's Lestat-centric novels, you can get an idea about who this vampire is.
Still, even within the bounds of solid acting, tugging music, and lush cinematography, the movie has its foibles. There's an undercurrent of misogyny that Rice herself pointed out -- one that distracts from the story and leads to assumptions of sexuality. And another piece, interestingly enough, both fails and succeeds at the same time -- Armand. As scripted and wonderfully acted by Antonio Banderas, Armand is the figure Louis thinks he's looking for, but he's many years older than Rice intended him. In the novels, Armand becomes a vampire in his teens -- he has the face of a boy/young man, and the mind and experience of someone much older. This would have provided a great contrast to Claudia, and allowed the film to delve more into why it is bad to make a vampire so young.
Nevertheless, Banderas' performance is solid, just like Cruise's, Pitt's, Dunst's, Stephen Rea's, and the rest of the cast. They bring depth to the vampires of film, and show how mirth and anguish can exist simultaneously. No matter what diversions the adaptation takes, the characters and the environment make it work -- right down to the completely-new ending. It is something that could so easily have failed, but instead, it allows Lestat to steal the show, as he loves to do, and it gives the film that last-minute sense of exhilaration that leaves you wanting more -- and that's when you play right into the vampire's hands ... or teeth.