Darren Shan is a boy who is obsessed with spiders (he tells us) and his best friend, Steve, is obsessed with vampires (he tells us). Together, they get into scrapes, skip school and end up at Cirque Du Freak, where they meet some lack lustre special effects enhanced misfits.
Steve’s knowledge of vampires reveals that the Cirque is actually run by a vampire called Larten Crepsley (played with hammy relish by John C Reilly), assisted by Gavner Purl (an equally hammy, underused Willem Dafoe looking like John Waters.)
Escaping from the Cirque, Steve is disappointed he won’t be a vampire and Darren is in possession of a spider called Madame Octa, which bites Steve, leaving Darren with no choice but to become a half-vampire in order to save his life, ready to assist in the fight between Crepsley and the evil Vampeneze (I kid you not!).
As his vampireyness (if they can make up silly words, so can I) takes over, Darren is left with little choice but to leave his family and friends and embrace his new life as a half-vampire, half-human personal assistant to the Cirque.
Once he’s in the Cirque, he makes friends with Evra Von (Patrick Fugit), falls for Rebecca (Jessica Carlson) despite her monkey tail, causes Madame Truska (Salma Hayek) to predict death, despair and other words beginning with ‘D’ and gets up to more scrapes around the Cirque. He attracts the attention of Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris), who wants Darren all for himself as Darren has potentially tons of power (though lacks the power to call forth a charismatic performance).
Whilst Darren is having all the fun of an unpaid worker and super-half-vampire in training, Steve allies himself with Mr Tiny and Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson), becoming one of the evil, nasty Vampaneze, and allowing him to live out all of the fantasies of a depressed, angry and unloved teenager.
With Steve and Darren on two different sides of the battle, we’re all set for the final showdown. A showdown where loyalties are tested and violence ensues, all in a whirl of really bad special effects and over the top dialogue.
The film is, even by adaptations-of-books-aimed-at-young-adults standards, ridiculous! It’s let down by shoddy special effects, a plodding script and some dire acting. It’s tame, lightweight and mostly inoffensive, the reason for which is explained in one of the featurettes (and later in this review).
There are interesting and funny moments, but they are few and far between and when they arrive they are often excruciatingly painful to watch, sinking into the cesspit of appalling dialogue. As a film obviously aimed at a younger audience, it lacks the fantastic sense of awe of Harry Potter. As a vampire film, it lacks the sense of teenage faux maturity of Twilight. It suffers from an almost Disney-esque impression of teenagers, weirdness and horror.
If there’s one good thing about the movie, it’s the picture quality. It’s often over 32Mbps and looks generally clean and vividly colourful. The DTS 5.1 audio is equally impressive, with action sequences utilising the full surround sound.
If you liked the early Harry Potter films, you’ll probably find this passes a couple of hours. If you watch this expecting a Twilight-like experience, you’ll be disappointed. Younger children might like it, older teenagers will probably find it too sugary sweet.
It’s coming to something where the extras actually made better viewing than the film itself. Cirque Du Freak, however, manages it!
There are 27 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes, including a far better alternate voiceover for the opening sequence. There’s more background for Steven and Evra gets more opportunities for sarcasm. They’re presented in standard definition.
‘Guide to Becoming a Vampire’ is a 20 minute ‘making of’ in three parts and presented in high definition. It covers the original book series, explaining that the original draft was darker until Paul Weitz came on board and decided to “make it more comedic and kid friendly.” Also covered are the filming and location work and the casting and makeup/prosthetic process. Considering the audience for this film, it’s actually quite an interesting, in-depth featurette.
‘Tour Du Freak’ is 18 minutes of the quite impressive, colourful sets and the inhabitants of the Cirque, featuring interviews with cast and crew. It’s quite fun and interesting and, very much like the’ making of’, doesn’t seem to have been aimed at the potential audience for this film.
‘U-Control’ offers picture-in-picture commentary from cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage. As with all the other extras, it’s worth watching, offering lots of detail. The cast and crew are candid, though err on the side of explaining how fantastic all aspects of the film are. Particularly worth watching is the footage of the spider chase.
If you’ve got a BD-Live capable player, ‘What’s New’ will take you to the Universal site to let you watch upcoming trailers and features.
There’s also a feature called ‘Ticker’, which causes a news ticker to appear on screen. Oddly, the ticker told me that I wasn’t connected to the Internet and couldn’t, therefore, watch upcoming trailers and enjoy community features… despite having just done so through the What’s New feature.
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.