I was so excited to finally see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Maybe too excited. I had read the book a year or so ago and found it nothing short of brilliant. The author, Seth Grahame-Smith, seamlessly blended actual history and his vampire tale simply by adding vampires. He changed very little and, from my memory, didn’t really add any details (aside from the bit about Lincoln’s father, which history has never really recorded).
While Seth Grahame-Smith, the author, was genius, Seth Grahame-Smith, the screenwriter, was not.
First, let me make it clear that anyone who reads the book or watches the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter expecting a factual history lesson should be ashamed of themselves. These are works of fiction. But what enamored me so much with the book was how the author used huge chunks of Lincoln’s actual life to spin the vampire yarn. Just by reading the book, you can get a feel for the true story of Lincoln’s life.
And yet, most of my problems with the movie were historical. Yes, I’m a little ashamed to admit that, but in my line of work (meaning a Civil War history blogger), that’s just how I approach things.
A few historical things that bugged me:
-Lincoln didn’t say to Mary, his wife, “It’s the first day of Gettysburg, Mary, and our army will soon be defeated if we don’t do something.” (I’m paraphrasing the last bit.) He didn’t have some telegraph line directly to the army at Gettysburg. He wouldn’t have known they had their asses handed to them on July 1st.
-Speaking of telegraph lines running to Gettysburg, there wasn’t a railroad line running to Gettysburg from Washington. Getting to Gettysburg by train in 1863 was a arduous task.
-DC is roughly eighty miles from Gettysburg. You cannot cart loads of things (plot points) from one place to the other over night.
-The Battle of Gettysburg didn’t end the war. The movie doesn’t specifically come out and say that, but it’s heavily implied that there was one battle and the whole thing was over. I realize in a movie you can’t always convey such things, but that’s kind of a big deal.
What makes this all the worse is the book had none of this in it (from what I can remember). For the story, it didn’t need to be there. But for some reason Seth Graham-Smith, the screenwriter, dropped a lot of acid and decided he needed it.
I completely understand that even movies that are supposed to be 100% historically accurate have to change things a bit to move the story along. I’m completely fine with it. But those changes need to be necessary. The same goes (to an obvious lesser degree) for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Some changes (aside from the Vampire bits) needed to be made. But many, like in the book, did not.
Historical things weren’t my only problems. Any vampire story will add or detract things from traditional vampire mythology. This did it in droves. And while the vampires didn’t sparkle, it wasn’t too far removed from such blasphemy.
In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, vampires:
-Don’t need permission to enter someone’s house.
-Have no problem with signlight. Sure, they have to wear shades and put on skin cream, but otherwise, no problem.
-Can vanish – not turn into mist or shape shift, but actually vanish.
-Can only be killed by decapitation (which is fine) or silver bullets (seriously). Silver freaking bullets. This led to the ridiculous silver melting scene, followed swiftly by the train scene (which was actually rather fun).
Technically, the movie was good looking. Like any modern action film, there was too much CGI and way too many slow motion scenes. Every single fight scene was slowed down. It was distracting and annoying, but is the trademark of the director Timur Bekmambetov, whose resume includes the Night Watch Vampire series, which I’ve heard is pretty amazing.
So, I’ve griped long enough. Let me tell you about a few things I liked.
Benjamin Walker plays a good (but too serious) Lincoln. Before growing the beard, he nails it. And after the beard, with a bit of aging, he nails it again. His acting is more or less good, though some clumsy dialog detracts a bit. Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is good, but rather subdued in her historical wackiness.
The use of William Johnson was interesting, though a bit forced. In real life, Johnson, a black man who took a liking to Lincoln in Springfield, followed the President to Washington and did various odd jobs (valet, messenger, etc.). He was not, as the movie portrays, his personal secretary. Still, the character was fun and almost necessary to the movie as a whole.
Alan Tudyk, who played Wash in Firefly played Stephen Douglas. The role was next to nonexistent, but it was nice to see him.
The train scene, bombastic and ridiculous as it was, seemed to my only-slightly-trained eyes, to be fairly historically accurate (as far as the train itself went – what the train was doing was, of course, silly and impossible). They used a proper engine and cars for the time period. Also, the braking was period-correct, as were the couplers. And that irked me even more. They got the couplers right, but threw away the important things.
The whole premise, of course, is great. Slave owners, as depicted in the book and movie, were vampires, literally sucking the blood out of their slaves. In real life, slave owners were no better than vampires, figuratively sucking the blood out of their slaves. It’s a very easy and accurate parallel to draw.
All in all, however, the movie was frustrating for me. If I didn’t know much about the war, I think the pacing would still have bothered me a great deal. It was just too strange, jumping ahead by years without letting the audience know how much time had elapsed or why. That led to more clunky dialog in the form of exposition.
While I plan on reading the novel again, I really don’t think I’d ever watch the movie again. Sorry, Abe.
So how does this compare to Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies? Honestly, I had a lot more fun watching Zombies, reviewed here, than Vampire Hunter. Zombies knew that it was a schlocky movie and ran with it. It didn’t take itself even a little seriously. Sure, there were some huge and glaring unnecessary historical inaccuracies, but it was all in good fun, like fan fiction needs to be.
Vampire Hunter seemed not to understand that it was a joke, and I’m not really sure how or why it couldn’t remember that. Zombie was all the campy fun that Vampire Hunter could have been but wasn’t. I don’t think Vampire Hunter could have worked as a comedy, but it certainly didn’t work as an overly dramatic action movie.
And that’s it, really. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter didn’t work. It could have, but simply refused to. Sure, go see it, but read the book too (or instead).