After Prometheus, this was my most anticipated movie of the summer. My daughter bought a copy of the original book for Christmas a couple of years ago at the U.S.C. bookstore (where she does most of her shopping), and when she got it home she noticed that they were signed editions so that was a nice extra. She also knows that Lincoln is a personal hero of mine and that I have a warped sense of what might be entertaining. It turns out she was right in making the choice, I loved the book. I found it very clever the way the that history was woven into the myth of Lincoln as a killer of vampires and I was highly entertained. When we saw that there was a film being made, we started counting down the days. Her only complaint was that Adrian Brody was not cast as the destroyer of bloodsuckers. In the long run it doesn’t matter too much that there are no big stars in the film because the concept is the star of this movie.
The author of the book also wrote the screenplay for the movie. He has made some substantial changes to the story in order to make this work as a piece of pop cinema. Gone is the framing device of an author taking Lincoln’s journals and turning them into a book. The life story of Lincoln is also highly condensed so that we get to him in an adult state very quickly. I did miss the tension and creepy factor that came with the Lincoln’s moving frequently and the drunken revelation from his father about the reality of vampires. I understood immediately the necessity of moving through this material for time purposes and to propel the story more rapidly for a visual audience. There are several additions that the script makes to the story that allow it to sustain a single focus and stay visually interesting. The biggest change is having Lincoln engage in hand to hand combat with vampires after becoming President. This is the arena most viewers will come to the story knowing about Lincoln, so it would probably seem strange (if you can use that phrase in a movie about our 16th President being a vampire hunter) to not set much of the story during the Civil War itself. I think it worked pretty well and it gives us a more iconic image of Abe with a full beard kicking ass with his axe.
I’ll mention a couple of scenes that added to the movie version of the story that did not exist in the book. Each sequence is designed to carry forward action in a visual manner that will work with a big popcorn movie. When Lincoln finally goes after the vampire responsible for his mother’s death, there is a dramatic chase sequence. The vampire leads Abe on a action packed chase through a herd of stampeding horses. The horses are used sometimes as stepping stones, sometimes as vehicles and sometimes as weapons. It was a very original way to go and showed the determination of both sides in the future war. We saw the movie in regular 2D and there may have been even greater value in this set piece if it had been viewed in 3D. Late in the film, there is another elaborate set piece that takes place on a train. The slo-mo, high energy, twisting viewpoints are typical of most contemporary action films. None of it is meant to seem realistic, it is all in aid of giving the audience an adrenaline high and it works. There are fights on top of the train, in the box cars themselves and the train is threatened by a fire burning collapsing bridge. The reason Lincoln and his friends are on the train is another element that was invented to make a movie work. The concept is a good one and I am surprised that more vampire stories don’t take advantage of silver bullets in the same way. Of course that may have to do with the confusion over the fact that you kill werewolves that way, not really vampires. On the other hand, most of these vampires seem to function in the daylight, so I guess a lot of creative license is acceptable.
It probably will sound a little silly for me to say, but the book actually had a nice philosophical take on the idea of vampires and slavery, the movie stays away from this for the most part. Screenwriting 101, keep it simple. Movies are for showing not telling, so some of the political philosophy gets shortchanged. That’s OK because the vampire killing takes it’s place and becomes the reason that this movie exists. There are many creative images of vampires being destroyed as well as a couple of gruesome visions of how the vampires use people. Another way that dramatic tension is added is by creating a conflict between Lincoln and his benefactor Henry, It worked in the movie but it was another important change from the book. One more change that I appreciated was the use of Mary Todd Lincoln in the film. She gets a very satisfying chance to make a contribution to Abe’s cause and extract a bit of revenge. It was one moment that I could actually hear the audience react to the movie they way the film makers envisioned.
If the title does nothing for you except bringing derisive snorting, then you should stay away. If you are a fan of the book, I think you will be very satisfied despite some major changes. Those of us who like the silly (as an alternative sometimes to the serious) and appreciate “Big Screen” entertainment (as counter-programming to artistic endeavors) will eat up this tale of revenge, vampires and ass kicking Presidents. To paraphrase Lincoln, “You can entertain some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can entertain all of the geek audience for 95 minutes.” It’s a blast and pretty much what it should be, enjoy my friends.