Friday, July 13, 2012

He Said, I Said Review: "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

Part of my blog's new design and new domain name is also a new commitment to posting more content on a weekly, then perhaps daily, basis. To do this, I have to come up with new things to write about, and in interesting ways.

In June, I finally got to meet the Times Picayune film critic Mike Scott during the recording of the first #TeamNOLAFilm podcast. He's a real cool guy, with his own take on movies. A few weeks ago, he posted a fairly negative review of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" - a movie which I actually kinda enjoyed.

The following review will be the first in a series called 'He Said, I Said', where I take quotes from another criticism, and offer a counter (or similar) opinion. Yes, this does mean that I will be somewhat defending a story about an axe wielding, vampire killing American President. Enjoy:
This is a movie that re-imagines our 16th president as a secret, ax-wielding slayer of bloodsuckers. It isn't meant to be a documentary. It's not intended to be scholarly... Rather, it's meant to be bloody, butt-kicking fun, as the Great Emancipator becomes the Great Decapitator.
I couldn't agree more. AL:VH is supposed to be historical revisionism at its most fun. And, with a title so ridiculous, it HAS to deliver on what it advertises. Much like "Snakes on a Plane" before it, this film is, indeed, about what its title says - Abraham Lincoln killing vampires. Nuff said.
But here's the thing about movies rooted in such a fantastical premise as this one: While it's OK for a filmmaker to ask that we suspend our disbelief, that filmmaker has to help us do it. In "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," Bekmambetov doesn't come even close to keeping up his end of the bargain.
 Could you give an example?
In a later scene, a particularly nasty vampire -- being pursued by Walker's Lincoln, who has been hell-bent on ridding the world of bloodsuckers since his mother was killed by one when he was but a boy -- throws a horse at the future president. Lincoln catches it. And then rides it.
Thanks. Well, yes, that sequence was pretty hard to swallow. To be fair, the color, lighting and cg made it hard to tell what was going on in the first place... Lincoln showing agile super powers outside of swinging an axe was definitely a misstep, but not that big of one. In the grand scheme of this movie, it was more of a nitpicky oversight; like the use of parsecs in "Star Wars: A New Hope" (though, AL:VH is no SW). My disbelief - and keep in mind that I too can be easily annoyed - was suspended from the opening titles. All notions of reality were thrown out a moving car.

That said (or written), there are some problems with the film, like the pace. Abe learns to kill with an axe in ONE SCENE! He swings, hits a tree a few times, and is able to destroy it moments later. In "Kill Bill Volume 2", when The Bride is training to punch a hole through a block of wood. We see her struggling to accomplish this over an extended montage, before finally doing it in the present time. Lincoln gets maybe a minute before he heads out for the hunt. Let us see his training! Let us get to know him better! We go from angry young man to idealist to President in no time.
Another casualty, and an unforgivable one, is the central metaphor from the Seth Grahame-Smith book on which it's based, in which Lincoln's fight against the parasitism of vampires is equated with his fight against the parasitism of slavery...
...those who had read the book knew that - aside from the whole vampire-hunting thing - it was a surprisingly well-researched Lincoln biography. You could revel in the guilty-pleasure aspect of it, but you could also learn a thing or two about our 16th president. That added a satisfying weight to Grahame-Smith's yarn. For Bekmambetov -- who co-wrote the screenplay with Grahame-Smith -- all that goes out the window.
This is the second main problem. We do get historical figures in cameo wink wink appearances, and, with the revisionist tone, major events in Lincolns life are closely tied to vampires (like the death of his son). But, for me at least, a certain amount of weight was missing. For example, the civil war battles. We see Union soldiers violently stabbing Confederates and vampires (one even gets a knife crowned on the top of his head) with Lincoln giving a speech in a voice over. This made me chuckle, when it shouldn't have. The schlocky nature of the story suddenly turned against itself.
Ridiculous is OK -- but this is beyond ridiculous. Rather, it is a schlocky, poorly made, B-movie mess.
Beyond ridiculous is just as good, if not better at times. Problems acknowledged, this still works as a fun goof of a film. Just be sure you at least use wikipedia in your essay on the Civil War.

3/5 *'s

Feel free to offer suggestions and comments regarding this new series.

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