Would the real Abraham Lincoln please stand up?
With all that has been written and all the photographs we have of Abraham Lincoln, moviemakers keep trying to convey their own visions of the one and true 16th U.S. president. Americans have such a revered image of Lincoln that Hollywood has rarely portrayed him. Famed director John Ford’s brother Francis played Lincoln in a 1913 production called When Lincoln Paid. In 1930 Walter Huston, father of famed director John Huston, portrayed Lincoln in D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln. But the two best-known and best-loved performances were by Henry Fonda in John Ford’s 1939 production of Young Mr. Lincoln, and Raymond Massey in 1940′s Abe Lincoln in Illinois. In 2012 we saw two major movies with Lincoln as the lead character, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln starring Oscar nominee Daniel Day-Lewis, and Benjamin Walker as a younger Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. The latter was dismissed by critics as fluff for the most part, instead heaping praise on the big Spielberg film. This is unfortunate, because in any other year Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter might have received a better reception.
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter poses the purely fantasy idea that Abe Lincoln was not only a politician and patriot but an apprentice hunter cleaning up the countryside to avoid the spread of vampires throughout the U.S. before and during the Civil War. Gettysburg wasn’t just about conquering the Southern rebellion, it was about defeating the vampire-laden confederacy.
Where Daniel Day-Lewis opted to play Lincoln as craggy and gruff, more so than Raymond Massey portrayed him in Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Benjamin Walker’s take is much closer to Henry Fonda’s pleasant and forthright everyman from Young Mr. Lincoln. Despite Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter offering up an admittedly male, historical version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, director Timur Bekmambetov went well beyond what you’d normally find in a film so blatantly tied to a gimmick, that of screenwriter/novelist Seth Grahame-Smith following up his earlier well-received mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In fact, pushing aside for a moment the vampire hunting, the film offers an admirable view of the president, and in particular his relationship with Mary Todd. And that is saying a lot for a film that is part axe-waving and vampire killing.
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This trailer seemed to come out of nowhere this week with no early hint that a new fairy tale spinoff was in the works. Although it would make a good Halloween film for next month it will not be in theaters until next January. Right on the heels of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, we have a film in a similar vein: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
From a set design standpoint the early part of the movie seems to portray the fairy tale as I’ve seen it in my own mind incredibly well. It has a great look, like Sleepy Hollow, and the action snippets seem to have a feel of the Hercules or Zena TV series, and maybe draw inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
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In the vein of the recent barrage of gimmicky novels where classics are twisted into modern horror genre works, we have a new movie coming soon to a theater near you: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Two trailers premiered for the movie this week, and I think the first one, the international trailer, is slightly better:
What I see from the novel is what is not there. That voice-over is the late Johnny Cash from an old audio recording. We don’t get a good look at young actor Benjamin Walker speaking as Lincoln and I think there is a reason–he doesn’t look or sound anything like Lincoln. Once you get past the title you realize that all this has going for it is a title. Whereas making a book like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mixes up classic characters with strange modern horror ideas, this one deals with a real human. I think that will be jarring for audiences, even though Lincoln is many generations removed from us. What we see of Lincoln is very strange, especially his movement. I think the Sacagawea ad showing her as a museum exhibit, or the robot Lincoln at Disney World, are more animated than this guy (and look better):
The strange slow motion dance moves remind me of Gary Oldman’s creepy vampire minions in Dracula mixed with The Matrix. Aren’t we all bored by that slow motion action by now?
Here is the American version of the trailer:
It doesn’t look like a Tim Burton picture, but more like he lent his name to help the film, much like all those “Steven Spielberg Executive Producer” films that never are of the calibre of true Spielberg movies. The fact that they had to use Johnny Cash’s voice makes me think the actor playing Lincoln doesn’t have the voice well enough to show us in a preview. And where are all the vampires? I see guys in 1800s suits swinging stuff around but no clear vampires.
What’s with the image of modern day Washington, DC?
Wouldn’t it be cooler to show DC in a preview as it looked in 1861-1865?
The only thing I see going for this one is Rufus Sewell, our past best candidate for the next James Bond after Daniel Craig leaves the role behind. He doesn’t get high billing or featured in the trailer, either. Just too many oddities lend some real doubt to this movie going anywhere beyond its catchy title.