Let me start off by emphasizing how much I loved the book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Fun, adventurous, perfectly intertwined with historical fact. It was truly brilliant and inspired.
Now let me emphasize how much I didn’t like this movie. I almost can’t believe the script was written by my beloved SGS. I’m kind of at a loss to be perfectly honest. I saw this with someone who has not read the book. He went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised that he enjoyed it as much as he did. I went in with high expectations and was sorely disappointed.
Warning: I spoil the shit out of both the book and the movie so stop reading here if you don’t want to know what happens.
They skipped the beginning of the book. The introduction in which the transcriber (Seth Grahame-Smith uses his own name here which is awesome) of Abraham Lincoln’s journals describes how much this project has cost him but why it was all worth it. For me it’s like leaving Daniel out of Interview with the Vampire. It’s just not the same.
The entire first third of the book details Abe’s childhood. His relationship with his parents and his sisters, his unstable upbringing, his mother teaching him to read and write and nurturing his love of learning, his illiterate father keeping him on a tight leash and forcing him to work for him for years, hearing the story of how his grandfather was killed, etc etc. The movie breezed through all of that in about 5 minutes and left out at least 95% of it. His dad (Joseph Mawle aka Benjen Stark from Game of Thrones) practically came across as a great dad, which he arguably was not.
The movie had a very strange, ethereal feel to it, like it was filmed through a filter that made everything slightly fuzzy and off kilter. I would like to know if any of the sets were real or if they filmed the entire movie in front of a green screen a la 300 and Sin City. The special effects were kind of weird but kind of beautiful at the same time. I felt like I was watching a video game half the time. Especially during the horse stampede scene.
Speaking of the horse stampede scene… Up until this point Abe’s fighting skills are relatively realistic (like they are in the book) but when I watched him flip and ride a horse he’d just been pummeled with I literally laughed out loud. When he started running across the backs of running horses and then fell down a cliff and emerged unscathed I threw my hands in the air. Abe’s a tall, scrawny human, not a Goddamn mutant cyborg.
That’s not to say that every fight scene was completely ridiculous. The party fight scene was spectacularly badass. It was filmed in that same slow-fast-slow-motion you’ve seen before but this time with some epic axe swinging. The train fight falls somewhere in the middle of the unbelievability scale. It was pretty awesome and definitely demonstrated the power of teamwork.
Speaking of the train scene… I felt like I was watching The Little Engine That Could. Seeing the train climb up the burning remnants of the bridge I couldn’t help but chant “I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!” in my head over and over again. This entire sequence was obviously supposed to replace the Jefferson Davis burning house scene in the book.
The guy who plays Abe (Benjamin Walker) happens to be married to Meryl Streep’s daughter in real life. Wow. That’s got to be simultaneously awesome and hugely intimidating. No pressure on the acting front there Benji. Aside from the fact that he has ginormous earlobes (surely those weren’t prosthetics like his nose…right?) he did ok. Playing someone like Abraham Lincoln has got to be difficult. He always looked so stoic in his pictures. How do you interpret that? I can’t fault him in his attempt. He demonstrated some very impressive axe wielding skills. At 6’3” he has the height. Unfortunately, so do a lot of other men these days. Abe never looked freakishly tall next to, well, anyone.
Dominic Cooper (aka Howard Stark in Captain America) was given the role I was most interested in seeing, that of Henry Sturges. Well they certainly frakked that up. Dominic Cooper was fine, charming even, but they felt the need to change his entire history. Why?? They could easily have kept it the same and inserted the new characters created for the movie. The story of his vampiric conversion is 10 million times more interesting in the book and could have taken up the exact same amount of time onscreen. Fail. Also, doesn’t he tell Abe straight away that he’s a vampire? In the movie Abe stumbles across Henry feeding on a rapist and gets his panties all twisted in a bunch. Abe’s a smart guy but apparently he never figured out the whole sunglasses thing. Henry wins the award for the fastest vampire transformation ever. It took, what? 60 seconds?
I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out where I’d seen Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) before. Then it hit me that he is one of the creepy brothers on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia! That made me really happy. In the book Lincoln and Speed are roommates. This (literal) closeness results in a unique lifelong friendship that few, if any, other people shared with Abraham. In the movie it seemed like Speed lived somewhere else and Abe lived above the shop alone. That made me really sad. The whole thing with him betraying but not betraying and his fate on the train was so far off from the book that I have no idea what to say about it.
Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) was a character created for the movie. I wasn’t a fan of many of the new characters but I was fine with Will. It was a little cheesy how he came back as an adult and was suddenly all BFF with Abe. It’s like they split the Joshua Speed character in two and gave half the part to Will Johnson. The way better half. I’m not really sure why they felt the need to do that (Token from South Park might) but I dig Mackie and I thought he did a good job.
Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) finds out the truth? Huh? Again, not in the book. The first time Abe tells her he’s a vampire hunter is during a picnic. She laughs at him and chides him with an “I thought you were an honest man, Abe!” Hahaha, oh Mary, I see what you did there! Years later she finds his not-at-all-hidden journal and reads it. She gets really angry and screams that he lied to her when actually he did tell her the truth way back when. Ugh. Women. For some strange reason they decided Willie should be an only child despite the fact that Abe and Mary had two other sons. The whole idea of Mary taking action and leading silver-carrying freed slaves to Gettysburg was completely absurd. If you’ve ever read anything about Mary Todd (including the book on which this movie was based) you’d know that she would become completely incapacitated by her grief. She didn’t even attend funerals. Now, that being said, I liked badass Fake Movie Mary way more than Real Historical Mary. Shooting her kid’s toy sword into his killer’s forehead? Yes please! By the way, how did she even know that the toy sword was involved??
Wash! As Stephen A. Douglas! I got so excited when I saw Alan Tudyk that I actually yelped. I couldn’t wait to see more! Then they completely ignored his character. *le sigh* Don’t feel too bad Alan, they didn’t even mention Edgar Allan Poe or William Seward.
Jack Barts’ (Marton Csokas aka Celeborn in Lord of the Rings) role was seriously expanded and he was missing his missing arm. We also acquired a 5000-year-old vampire named Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his sister Vadoma (Victoria’s Secret super model Erin Wasson). If I remember the book correctly, there is never a clear vampire leader. Ugh. There were so many things that frustrated me about the vampires. Vampires disappearing? Vamps can’t kill their own kind?? Why no black eyes? Why do they have them turning into weird alien predator vampires?
They skipped the end of the book. The theatre and John Wilkes Booth and the fate of Abe and the hint of what became of another motivational leader. I know that not everyone likes the last few pages of the book but I do and I missed it. Throwing some random bloke in at end was not satisfying for me. I think you can only truly appreciate this movie for what it is if you haven’t read the book and it shouldn’t be that way. I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the last six Harry Potter films despite the fact that they made major modifications to the story. It can be done well. In this case it wasn’t.
Such a bummer.
1.5 out of 5 Sci-Fives!