Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Blu-ray Review
Written by James Ferguson
Blu-ray released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith
2012, Region A, 105 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on October 23rd, 2012
Benjamin Walker as Abraham Lincoln
Dominic Cooper as Henry Sturges
Anthony Mackie as Will Johnson
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln
Rufus Sewell as Adam
Jimmi Simpson as Joshua Speed
Everyone knows the basics behind the story of Abraham Lincoln. He was the 16th President of the United States. He had a beard and wore a big top hat. He freed the slaves and saw the country through the Civil War only to end up getting shot in the head at a theater. You know what would have made that little history lesson far more interesting? Vampires. Author Seth Grahame-Smith, fresh off of books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters created Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Wanted) brought to the big screen.
The film is split up into two parts. The first half deals with Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) growing up and learning of the existence of the bloodsuckers after one kills his mother. Years later, while searching for the creature responsible, he meets Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), who trains him in the art of vampire slaying. Instead of wielding guns or stakes, Lincoln uses his trusty ax with a blade that's covered in silver, the one thing that can truly kill a vampire.
The second half of the film fast forwards to Lincoln's time as President. He hung up his ax as he saw a bigger problem developing in the country, one that couldn't be solved with that particular tool. It's during the Civil War, when the vampires have joined forces with the Confederate Army, that Honest Abe realizes he needs to assume the role of Vampire Hunter once again and put a stop to this.
I wasn't a fan of Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but that was probably due to original author Jane Austen. He wrote the screenplay for the film that's based on his original novel. The story is admittedly a little light, but it's more than just the president fighting vampires. Grahame-Smith weaved the creatures into the existing history of Lincoln. He included the big points like the Civil War and his rise to the presidency, but he also explained things like the death of Lincoln's first son, linking it to the vampires and his war against them.
Naysayers will be quick to point out the inaccuracies of vampire lore throughout the film. The creatures of the night have no problem walking in the sunlight. They wear cloaks and sunglasses, but they don't burst into flame if the light touches their skin. A stake through the heart is never mentioned either. Instead, Lincoln has to use silver to cut through them. When their flesh meets the metal, it's burned away as if it was hit with acid. The changes are great and refreshing. They never hurt the story. This is just another take on the mythos.
One thing that you cannot deny about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is that it looks amazing. Bekmambetov is a very visual director. There's a lot going on in each scene and plenty to see. He slows things down at times, using cameras that capture 100 frames a second. This provides great visuals throughout the movie. The film was touched up in post to provide a very drab color palette in most scenes, especially those dealing with vampires. It's like they suck the life right out of the picture.
The fight scenes are huge and they're always unique. They are never hard to follow either. Plenty of action movies are now using these quick takes and shaky cams to film fight scenes and it's difficult to tell what's going on. That is never the case in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Bekmambetov's use of the high speed cameras allow you to see everything that's happening in each battle, down to the specific hairs on someone's head as a blade whisks right by their face. The scope of the brawls is made clear early on. There's a scene where Abe is finally confronting the man that killed his mother. The guy gets thrown into the air, colliding with the side of a building and knocking the wooden panels off the front as he goes up. You can see each of them as he makes his ascent.
Historical fiction is getting a big push lately because it's fun to imagine the stories of these boring dead people re-imagined into something exciting. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does just that. Yes, it can be as ridiculous as the title sounds, but it never stops being entertaining. This is a popcorn movie in the purest sense of the term.
Video and Audio:
The Blu-ray transfer of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter looks great. As mentioned earlier, the quality is top notch and you can see everything very clearly, presented in 1080p HD. The audio is clear and crisp with no distortion at all. It's presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1.
There's a commentary on the film with author Seth-Grahame Smith as well as a music video by Linkin Park. The big portion of the special features come in the form of over an hour's worth of featurettes and behind-the-scenes footage for the film. They go over specific elements and the disc breaks it up into each segment so it's easy to check out certain ones that you might be interested in. The pieces delve into the journey of the book to the screen, on location info, the fight choreography, makeup effects, and the style of director Timur Bekmambetov.
The makeup effects featurette explains that Benjamin Walker had to sit in the chair for six hours when they were applying the look for Old Lincoln. This was cut down a bit when it was Younger Lincoln, but it was still a good three hours. He goes through an incredible transformation that's shown in a time lapse video.
The fight choreography segment was the one that really stood out and for good reason. Each of the fight scenes were meticulously arranged by a number of parties. There's one particular battle where Lincoln is fighting several vampires at once on an old plantation. Bekmambetov called it the "Waltz of Death" as he wanted the scene to move to the beat of a waltz (ie: one-two-three, one-two-three, etc). While filming the shot, they actually played a waltz in the background to provide the timing for the actors.
Finally, there's a short "animated graphic novel" called The Great Calamity. This takes a scene that was in the book but didn't make it into the film and brings it to life in animation. I saw a bit of this during the panel at NYCC and had the opportunity to speak to director Javier Soto about it. The short centers on a secret meeting between Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe where they discuss the reason that vampires are in America. They were persecuted and hunted in Europe, so they're going to go to the Land of the Free like the Pilgrims before them. The animation was a little choppy at times and looked like a cut scene in a video game. I love the effort put into it though as there's definitely a lot of talent behind it.