Much of Vampire’s Assistant is build-up. Unlike some other modern vampire franchises, this first entry of the Cirqu du Freak series concerns itself with explanation. Details, rules, and obvious potential are established. This film feels more like a piece, a small slice of what should be coming.
Fights, despite their grating editing, speed, and loopy direction, showcase how this world of vampires could present itself on screen. The final brawl, between Larten Crepsley (John C. Reily) and Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson), takes place in a theater. They battle across curtains, smash through palettes, chairs, and hang from balconies. It is fun, exciting, and full of energy.
Unfortunately, with a dim box office, Vampire’s Assistant will likely never realize its full potential. The movie’s purpose is to set up a franchise. Talk of a vampire vs. vampire war will likely never be realized, leaving the ending little more than a shell.
Taken on its own, Vampire’s Assistant is serviceable, if confused. There is an obvious attempt to tell this from a teenager’s perspective. Adults are little more than caricatures who talk down to kids. Teachers are irritating, and mothers can be alcoholics. Rebellion is a key theme as Steve (Josh Hutcherson) and Darren (Chris Massoglia) leave their families to become vampires.
That clashes with the dark imagery which is trying to keep in the tone of the book. This is a movie teetering on multiple genres without narrowing itself down. A franchise such as Harry Potter has slowly brought itself to the world of dark, foreboding stories, where as Cirque du Freak’s initial offering throws it all at the audience. The mish-mash fails.
A lot of work has went into Vampire’s Assistant, with lavish sets, a mixture of practical and computer generated effects, and make-up that sells any illusion, turning people into believable variations on the usual freaks. Evra (Patrick Fugit) sells his snake boy routine convincingly with the help of exceptional prosthetic work. As a world, Cirque du Freak offers interesting material. As a movie, the audience will never see its full potential.
Universal delivers an AVC encode that manages to maintain the darkness of the world wonderfully. Nighttime scenes, which much of the film is made up of, deliver gorgeous, deep blacks with no noticeable crush. Depth is wonderful, creating an immersive, dimensional effect while remaining consistent and stable.
Scenes in brighter environments are equally deep, delivering a bright contrast, and rich, bold colors. Primaries offer superb saturation, and while flesh tones initially carry a warm, reddish hue, they eventually take on a naturalistic shade.
A fine layer of grain is completely unobtrusive. The encode handles it flawlessly. Clothing textures are consistently evident, and facial details can be spectacular. Both John C. Reily and Michael Cerveris have clearly defined features of which this transfer presents beautifully. Every pore, facial crevice, or scar is delineated with a level of sharpness that rarely disappoints. Other actors/actresses, while not delivering in the realm of reference quality textures, do produce the same fine level of definition in close.
After an aggressive credits sequence, filled with full, rich music, surround work (and bass) as the animated objects pass by, Vampire’s Assistant settles into the front channels for action scenes that keep the fights in front of the viewer.
The hefty low end is the highlight, capturing every thud, punch, elbow, and head butt with a clean shot of bass. The cemetery fight, with headstones used as weapons and vampires hitting the ground forcefully, is fantastic. Stereo channels are frequently used to keep track of the melee, especially during the satisfying finale.
The surrounds are used for tracking motions, such as when Darren and Crepsley stand in the middle of the road with cars passing by. The front-to-back motion is clear and exceptional. Shattering debris finds a home in the rear channels as well, further letting this DTS-HD effort show off. The surround soundstage is not as aggressive as the bass, or even the stereo movement.
A massive selection of 35 deleted scenes run for 27-minutes, followed by a three-part, 20-minute making-of titled Guide to Becoming a Vampire. Tour du Freak takes viewers into the sets while detailing the various freaks. Universal’s U-Control offers picture-in-picture featurettes, with footage occasionally pulled from elsewhere on the disc. D-Box support and the usual Universal BD-Live access remain.