Typically, I would start my review for a film with a sentence or two about the plot. I don’t feel I need to do that this time, because the title of the movie says it all. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Instead, I will share a little anecdote that sums up a bit about the movie.
A couple weeks ago, my family gathered in a local restaurant (Bob’s 19th Hole; phenomenal pork tenderloin sandwiches. I digress). As we were waiting for our food to be delivered, my uncle suggested an article for my blog. He suggested that I do an article on whether films have been dumbed down for today’s audiences. As I considered writing that article and was getting my thoughts in order, I saw Prometheus. After watching the return to thinking man’s science fiction, I decided that that article wouldn’t really make much sense, considering Prometheus was a hit. Now that I have watched Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I am considering writing it again.
This film is ridiculous to the point of being insulting. Ok, I know that sounds harsh. And it was meant to. Let me clarify one thing before you decide this is not for you. If you have read the novel and expect an exact (or even slightly vague) translation to the screen, you may not like this. There is almost no resemblance to the novel here. (Note: I have not finished the novel. As of this writing I am 130 pages in.) If you are looking for a big, dumb, loud action/horror film you will probably like this. As I saw the film, I noticed that other than myself, none of the other audience members left the auditorium. (I had to pee.) They were enraptured by the proceedings on the screen. (Another question for the ‘dumbed down’ article: whether the movies are dumbed down for the audience or if the audience is simply stupid and refuse to go to a movie that requires thought.)
Luckily for you, dear readers, I rate my films on entertainment value. Mostly. So, I can say that for a summer film, this is entertaining. Is it a great film? Oh, hells no. Is it immensely watchable? Yes, yes it it. The film moves so fast that there is nary a moment to catch a breath. It moves from one action scene to another with a fierce aplomb that is rarely seen outside of a Michael Baymovie. It’s resemblance to a Michael Bay film is it’s downfall, though. The quick cuts during the fight scenes are truly horrible.
You can never actually see what is going on. The camera never stops. It is constantly moving and shaking and nauseating. I saw this in 2-D and can’t even imagine how I would even know what’s going on on screen in 3-D. 3-D requires a slower film making style to allow your eyes to adjust to the action onscreen. This never slows down.
The action scenes are also preposterous. In particular, there is a scene where Abe (Benjamin Walker looking startlingly like a young Liam Neeson) is chasing Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) through a stampede of horses. They are bouncing on and over and alongside the horses. At one point, Barts actually picks up a horse and throws it at Lincoln. Really. (I can’t even believe I just typed that.) I was laughing so hard I almost pulled a spit-take. In another scene, Speed (Jimmi Simpson) bursts through the wall of a plantation on a horse and carriage. Literally, the horses burst through the wall. I laughed so hard I almost cried. I had tears running down my cheeks, it was so funny.
That’s what makes this film so infuriating. It knows that the premise is completely ridiculous, which is ok. Only in America could you get a Russian director (Timur Bekmambetov) to direct a film about the 16th president of the United States being a vampire hunter. I get that. What I don’t get is why the film is so dreadfully serious. It is not a period drama or historical epic. But it wants to be. With vampires. And martial arts (must have taken a cue from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and decided that all vampires know karate when they turn). This film somewhat reminded me of Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des loups) , a French film that has a Frenchman and a Native American hunting a creature in a 17th or 18th French village. They seemed to know martial arts, too. Hmmm, maybe people outside of Asia have known how to karate kick a lot longer than we thought . . .Something to ponder . . .pondering . . .pondering . . .pondering . . .ok, I’m over it.
Ok, I know I have been pretty harsh to this film, but I have actually been trying to be funny. The film is a blast of good ol’ stupid entertainment. If you go in expecting a historical epic (with vampires) you will be sorely disappointed. If you want stupid mindless fun, this film has your number written all over it. Just don’t read the book beforehand. Seriously. It will only detract from what is on the screen.
Ok, a little more serious now. The film was directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch, Wanted) and stars Benjamin Walker as Honest Abe (there are a couple japes leveled at his honest reputation in the film). It was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of the novel. This is what is so surprising to me. The fact that there is so little in this film that bears any resemblance to the novel. While this isn’t a review of the novel (that will come once I finish it), I can’t help but wonder why there is such a big difference between the two. The novel seems to be a well researched, albeit condensed, chronicle of Abe Lincoln‘s life (with vampires), and the movie moves at the pace of a Michael Bay film. While I can’t criticize the film makers for their decision in making this a summer action film, it seems to me it would have been better off being an historical epic (with vampires). I can only hope that one day we will see the inevitable re-make with a little more care in adapting the source material.
**1/2 out of ****
*Note* Normally, I would post the trailer for the film here. Instead, I am posting an official clip that gives you a sense of the action scenes. Keep in mind, this is a very condensed, PG rated clip. It will give you an idea of the martial arts and quick cuts I discussed in the review. (I couldn’t find the scene of Barts throwing the horse . . .I looked, trust me I did. . . )