Apparently, all those people who told me a B.A. in history was a waste of time were right. There are truly no jobs out there for historians — a sad reality made all the more real after seeing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a film steeped in so many historical inaccuracies, I think I believe more in vampires now than I do in the existence of the 16th president.
But before launching into a review of the Tim Burton-produced film, which opens Friday, I should be upfront about a few things.
- Full disclosure #1: I loved the original 2010 book by Seth Grahame-Smith and the way it wove this conspiratorial vampire plot through Lincoln's well-documented life, covering everything from the sudden death of Abe's first love Ann Rutledge to his complicated relationship with Mary Todd to his debilitating bouts of depression. The story is even cleverly framed around Lincoln's apparent loathing of his father.
- Full disclosure #2: I had an internship with a Lincoln scholar in college and learned very quickly just how obsessed people were about the Great Emancipator, not so much for the man's political accomplishments but for his emotional honestly and agonizing self-doubt.
Now, for reasons unknown, Grahame-Smith decided to cut about two-thirds of Lincoln's bio from his film adaptation of novel. Sure, there are obvious time constraints when squeezing a manuscript into a 90-minute movie. But where's Ann Rutledge? What happened to the melancholy and the poems Abe would publish in newspapers from time to time? Basically, where's the mysterious and tortured Lincoln we all love?
Instead, Grahame-Smith and director Timur Bekmambetov give us a circle-bearded superhero, complete with an ax that turns into a gun and martial arts skills potent enough to punch through brick walls. Honest Abe, played by Benjamin Walker, dukes it out in extended battle scenes with camera shots that follow musket balls through their victims and those inexplicably deep bass notes you hear in one of Transformers movies.
Director Timur Bekmambetov give us a ci rcle-bearded superhero, complete with an ax that turns into a gun and martial arts skills potent enough to punch through brick walls.
The main story revolves around the death of Lincoln's mother, who died in 1818 from tainted milk . . . or a vampire. After years of training under vampire and hunting mentor Henry, Abe vows to take revenge on the monsters only to discover a larger vampire conspiracy to create a system where slaves become a constant source of food. Lincoln puts away his ax for politics and pushes a staunch abolitionist platform as a lawyer, state representative and president.
But as the movie undercuts his personal struggles, Lincoln is sadly far less likeable on the screen than he is in the novel or the historical record. Same goes with the supporting characters like Henry (Dominic Cooper), who's converted from the book's father-figure role to that of a mean-spirited coach. The cinematic Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a tough-talking companion with whom Lincoln has one child, rather than the real-life four, three of who died at young ages.
Age-old friend Joshua Speed, a historically controversial figure in Lincoln's life, becomes a painfully loyal co-hunter and White House cabinet member in the film, although actor Jimmi Simpson (McPoyle Liam in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) adds a level of creepiness that makes Speed one of the more memorable characters in the production.
To give credit where credit is due, the vampires are impressively scary (especially in 3D) — aggressive Nosferatu-looking beasts rather than the classy glitter-in-the-sun vamps of recent years. Other than that, you've been warned.