Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter falls into the gimmick trap

To be fair, it’s kind of hard not to. I mean, the gimmick is right there, in the title.

I’m not one of those people who think that books adapted into movies have to be exactly the same thing. In most cases, movie adaptations are better when they don’t use too much of the source material. What works in a book is usually not going to work in a movie since they’re vastly different storytelling styles. But when adapting a book into a movie, I do think you need to capture the spirit of what made the book interesting in the first place. And sometimes, you read a book and know right away that it’s made for adaptation, that this book will lend itself neatly to the movie format. That was my feeling when I read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter—that it was made to be a movie. I was excited to hear that author Seth Grahame-Smith, who comes from the world of television writing, was adapting his novel for the big screen. Yay, I thought. The guy knows how to write a script already. What could go wrong?

Well, a lot.

Somehow—and I’m not sure if it’s fair to heap it all on Grahame-Smith’s shoulders, but as the solo screenwriter, he is going to share in the blame—but there were myriad problems with Abraham Lincoln. The chief problem is the gimmick issue. The story sounds gimmicky, and to an extent, it is. But what made the book work—and work well—was that it was actually a pretty good biography of Lincoln. Grahame-Smith did an incredible amount of research, and it was kind of fascinating how he folded the idea of secret vampire war into Lincoln’s real history. It was the merger of that very real historical account and the fantastical vampire plot that made the book interesting, but the movie sacrificed a lot of that. Too much of that.

It’s not like they start lying about Lincoln, because they don’t. It’s just that the movie would have been better served if the approach was more “biopic”, less “fantasy action film”. This is where I put some fault on director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted). His visual style is cool enough and well suited to bloody action flicks—I would SO much rather deal with him than Zack Snyder—but tonally, he was a mismatch for the story. He was too much into the vampires and the fighting and the blood splattering across the screen. Yes, it looked cool, but it missed the point of the story. Although I do want to give a big thumbs up to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (father of Emily and Zooey) and his photography. His lasting contribution to cinema will always and forever be The Black Stallion—one of the most gorgeously shot movies ever—but his style matched up really well with Bekmambetov. I’d be into seeing another movie made by those two, one where the flair is more appropriate. Because in this movie, I was longing for something a lot more simple and straightforward.

Here is the perfect example of what went wrong with the movie version of Abraham Lincoln: Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). In the book, Grahame-Smith covers Lincoln’s first love, Ann Rutledge, who died, probably of typhoid fever, before they became officially engaged. The book suggests—as do some biographies—that Lincoln’s true love was Rutledge, and that he basically settled for Mary Todd, due largely to her connections. The movie skips over Rutledge all together, painting Todd as the love of his life, and also, completely ignoring her history of mental illness and depression. Again, the book runs right at it, not shying away from drawing out how Lincoln and Todd’s mutual maladies brought out the worst in one another, creating a cycle of depression that got harder and harder to break, especially once their son Willie died.

In the movie, however, Mary Todd is sharp and sassy and ass-kicky, which look, I get it. A weeping willow like Mary Todd is not appetizing to modern audiences and we don’t like to think of one of our country’s most beloved figures as having a depressing, lonely married life. It’s a bummer for sure. So I get how the filmmakers arrived at the decision to recast Mary Todd as a stronger, more involved figure, who had a fulfilling life with Lincoln. But there’s plenty of recorded history to suggest the exact opposite, and the book wasn’t afraid to go there, so I don’t know why the movie backed off. It definitely took away from the story.

As for the rest of it—it’s a mostly technically proficient film. The production and costume design are good to really good, and Benjamin Walker, a veteran of Broadway, makes for a decent film lead. I wasn’t like, in love with him, but he did well enough as Lincoln, managing to convey an increasingly heavy spirit without dragging down the tempo or vibe of the film. The makeup for aging Lincoln was good, too, which makes the terrible high school theater makeup on Winstead even more baffling, and while the film looked great, the editing was choppy. Overall I’d give the technical aspects a solid B.

And now for a word on Dominic Cooper. Generally, I don’t get Dominic Cooper. I think he’s a pretty good actor—I enjoyed him in Captain America and he’s all kinds of good in The Devil’s Double—but when people rave about him, I haven’t been seeing it. Until now. He is really super fucking cool in Abraham Lincoln. And he gets to use his English accent, which is an automatic +10. I’m not sure I’m ever going to full-on crush on the guy, but I am starting to see what everyone else sees. And sometimes it’s more fun when they sneak up on you like that.

PS: The horse stampede scene is SO STUPID. Remove that one scene from the movie and it’s automatically 45% better.

PPS: The ending of the movie is better than the book’s. The only part of the book I eye-rolled was the ending, but the movie goes a slightly different way and is less eye-rolly. Although Cooper’s second to last line is ridiculous. Any time someone says, “Let us fight through the ages,” you’ve lost me.

9 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter falls into the gimmick trap

  1. I 100000% agree with everything you said. This, to me, was an action flick about “what would it look like if we made Abe Lincoln klck vampire ass?” They really left out any biographical aspect and so much of the book. This was a pretty poor book-to-movie interpretation. The book was SO GOOD that I am profoundly disappointed with the film. Had I not read the book, it would have been a cool film (and it’s still a cool film) but it’s nowhere near where the book takes the reader.
    Aside from the horse stampede scene, which had me putting this in the same class as a crappy TV show, I am so disappointed that they left out Henry’s quote at the beginning and end about Lincoln being much too interesting of a man to let die. That book ending was one of the coolest “what if” endings I’ve read, and they entirely scrapped it. I was so excited to see that final scene, and it never happened.
    I also didn’t feel the same connection between Lincoln and Henry that there was in the book. This film is in the “C” range for me.

    1. Oh, I updated the post to mention that I didn’t like the book’s ending–it was too cutesy–and preferred the movie’s version. It was more in keeping with Lincoln’s spiky relationship with Henry–he didn’t want to spend eternity with him.

  2. I’m glad you specifically mentioned how stupid that horse stampede scene was. It was STUPID. There were two people in the row behind me who left in the middle of it.

    I also liked that Mary Todd got to have a nice moment towards the end, taking on the requisite Hot Lady Vampire. I’m now very curious to see how she’s portrayed in the book, with the mental illness aspect in play.

    Thank you for the review. I really enjoy your writing, I just wish a bad movie would come out soon so we can hear from the Samurai Kittehs again, too!

    1. Jesus god that horse thing was DUMB.

      In the book, Mary Todd comes off like she does in most historical writing, I think. Nice, fairly spunky, eventually sapped of everything by her afflictions and the death her children and Lincoln. She was not a well woman.

      The Samurai Kittehs…man, you people love those idiotic things. The problem with them, and I love writing them, so I wish I could do it more, is that they’re really only for movies that are so bad, I don’t know what else to do. And that only happens once or twice a year, at most.

      1. I think the pictures and captions are what really make those SK reviews. And that sweet, adorable kittens have a clearer understanding of what makes a movie watchable than studiopeeple making greenlight decisions.

        I think the Kittehs could have chimed in a bit on Lockout but honestly, I enjoyed a lot of that movie. If it had starred anyone other than Guy Pearce, I think it might have been a true disaster. Like, what if… Gerard Butler? GROSS.

        In general with mental illness through history, it is FASCINATING to me how poorly such afflictions were understood and how, lacking any helpful explanation or treatment, people–especially women–were treated when they were believed to be “hysterical”. And who someone like Mary Todd Lincoln could be now if she had some competent help.

  3. anaishilator

    I am so sorry, but I have to throw the flag for one reason and one reason only….5 yard penalty for being late to the Dominic Cooper bandwagon.

    Girl, please. I could have told you DC was hot after Captain America. There was something uncannily sexy in the way he played Howard Stark. I dont know if it was the swagger, or the cocksure american accent but.,..there was just something…*present* in his role as Howard Stark that I found appealing and just sexy as all get out. I remember thinking ” I can see why he had Amanda Seyfried d-whipped..even if I cant understand why she would entice him to begin with”.

    But yes, I havent even seen the movie where he played Saddam Hussein’s brother’s double, but just from the still shots on the dvd one can tell…he is a Hot Piece (TM).

    All I can conclude is that the boy has “It”…that un nameable sex factor that just makes someone compelling onscreen. He has this..impish, devilish charm that really comes across onscreen which his swarthy somewhat good looks do well to convey.

    I cant put it into words, I cant name one single feature that makes him so desireable…allz I know is..the boy is HOT.

    1. Here are my two problems with Dominic Cooper. 1) Lindsay Lohan. 2) He’s a total womanizer and a serial cheater. I am beginning to see what everyone else does, but I don’t think I can ever full-on bandwagon the guy for those two reasons. I heard too many “This Dominic Cooper guy gets around” stories before I ever even saw him. It’s a bias, but I can’t help it.

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