Good old Honest Abe Lincoln. After seeing a film about Lincoln today, it seems that we owe Abe a bit more than having his likeness on our least valuable coin of the realm – the penny. This coin is likely to be found on more lake bottoms stateside than in people’s pockets. But you’re right, we did build the Lincoln Memorial in his honor; and yes, Abraham Lincoln is on our $5 bill.
Opening today was a new take on Abraham Lincoln, here played by Benjamin Walker. The film is called Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. The film was written by Seth Grahame-Smith and is an adoption from his novel of the same name. In case you haven’t noticed, this is a new trend in both literature as well as films. Next year we shall have another from this writer and that title is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What’s next – King Kong and The Hunger Games? Or maybe Henry Kissinger in Japan: The Real Last Samurai.
Okay, just kidding – there’s nothing wrong with the melding of history, literature and film even if it has been pushed so far out of the envelope that you can no longer even see the envelope. It could prove to be the next BIG THING. Or not. This film was directed by Timur Bekmambetov. I guess he’s telling us that even in Kazakhstan, they’re familiar with vampires.
The film opens with Lincoln reading from his diary, or maybe he was writing in his diary. Never mind – either way works. Washington DC is nothing like what we know today. It is 1865 and the Washington Monument is still under construction. The White House is up and running but there’s no sign of Pennsylvania Avenue. Lincoln had some time on his hands before heading out with the Mrs. to take in a show.
Soon we flash back to when Abraham Lincoln was still a boy. His mother dies, and we come to learn that she was done in by a vampire. Abe cames from a poor family, and they were in debt to one Jack Barts, who not only is a vampire, but he also was the one who killed Abe’s Mother. Young Abe, seeking to avenge his mother, finds Barts alone in his warehouse, and fires a steel bullet directly into Bart’s face. Little did Abe know, that a vampire cannot be killed by a steel bullet, knife, or sword.
In a blink of an eye, young Abe is now Abe in his early 20’s. He arrives in downtown Springfield looking for a place to stay. He chats with a shopkeeper Joshua Speed played by Jimmi Simpson. This Speed offers him a place to stay upstairs above the general store in exchange for Abe working in the store as a stock boy and clerk. Along the way, he also meets one Henry Sturgess played by Dominic Cooper. Cooper surmises that Abe Lincoln is in need of a drink for one of two reasons – either a broken heart or he’s about to kill some one.
Sturgess lets Abe in on a secret – he knows how to kill vampires. It is a lonely occupation, Sturgess tells him. You’ll have to forego friends and family, and one more thing – your work will never end. It seems that by this time in the history of mankind, vampires are to be found almost all over the country. They’ve adapted to the country and it’s conditions. They’ve even learned how to cope with sunlight.
Wow – I didn’t know that.
And that dear readers is as far as I’ll go with my set up. Of course you know most of what happened to Lincoln after his arrival in Springfield as a shop clerk. Stephen Douglas was in town at the time, so we saw the Debates. There were also slaves, and we met one former slave, now freed, played by Anthony Mackie who was Abe’s best friend when they were kids, and would be Lincoln’s new best friend once more. We also met a young Harriet Breecher Stowe who would later be connected with the Underground Railroad. This picture touches on a main topic of that time, slavery – but it is not the central topic of the film. The film is chiefly concerned with Abe’s night job – that being vampire hunter as the film’s title implies, suggests, or better yet – outright tells us.
Okay, the film’s CGI effects were marvelous. This isn’t a film for the squeamish, or for those that don’t like on-screen violence. Heads will roll in the film, literally. Abraham Lincoln more often than not comes home from his labors in blood soaked clothes. The film is done in standard 2D as well as 3D. I saw the 2D version but even if you do, you will be able to tell or even imagine what the 3D would be like what with bullets, spears, axes, and knives flying right at you. But most of the 3D is probably best described as having a number of hideous, fanged tooth, and/or decaying vampire faces pop up suddenly inches from your face.
As marvelous as this is visually, even in 2D, there is a cost – and that is suspense. While most of the film is a visual treat for those who would like to see Abraham Lincoln in action, the lopping off arms, legs, and heads of the vampires – can tend to get somewhat wearisome after a while. Imagine swinging that ax endlessly each night.
But as you know, during Lincoln’s Presidency, the US Civil War was waged. Over 600,000 real Americans lost their lives in this conflict. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that the vampires were fighting alongside the Confederate troops. Bet you also didn’t know that the Battle at Gettysburg was such a disaster in the early going, that Lincoln was ready to surrender and bring the war to end. Bet you also didn’t know that the vampires were fighting for their own Nation as well.
The history books tells us that the war didn’t end at Gettysburg. The Union troops later prevailed. You’ll have a much better idea as to why they prevailed, and why the film played out the way it did, after seeing the film. Meaning everything isn’t in the history books.
Just a few more notes. There’s nothing campy or funny about this film. There’s no one like Johnny Depp’s Barnabas in this film. They play it out with a dead seriousness – no pun intended. I can’t think of a single funny moment in the film. Of course that is the whole point. Despite it being a film that plays out with all the gravitas that slavery, war, and death intend. The joke is on us as none of it should be taken seriously. The film doesn’t say that to you in words – it’s all in the subtext. I guess. Or I think that’s what I’m supposed to think.
If you’ve seen and liked Zack Snyder‘s 2007 film 300, or seen and liked Takeshi Kitano‘s 2003 film Zatoichi, then you already have an excellent idea of this film’s style.
I think that the cast does a good job, if not a memorable job. For what it is worth, having a cast that lacked big stars definitely was a plus, even added to the films credibility. Of course the film’s credibility is so low in importance, that it’s no more than an afterthought anyway. And that Director from Kazakhstan does a fine job of keeping the action coming with each set piece both more incredible than the last, as well as less believable. However I think the film needs much more than an Silver Ax as the weapon of choice to tie it all together. Three point two five is the rating, and I will recommend it if you can handle all the bloody violence along with the unintended hokiness of the entire project.
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