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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Blu-ray Review)

19 Oct, 2012 By: John Latchem

Street 10/23/12
Action Fantasy
Box Office $37.52 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 3D Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for violence throughout and brief sexuality.
Stars Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell.

According to author Seth Grahame-Smith, the concept for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter practically wrote itself. Touring bookstores to promote his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies pastiche, Grahame-Smith was struck by the ubiquitous displays of vampire books and celebrations of Abe Lincoln’s bicentennial.

To him, the next logical step was to bring the two together, and the idea took off. Plans for the movie version were already in the works before the book was even published.

The story chronicles the early days of Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) as an amateur vampire slayer, as he seeks revenge against the demons that killed his mother. Realizing the extent to which vampires have pervaded American society, especially in the South, where slaves are the vampires’ primary food source, Lincoln goes into politics in an attempt to weed them out on a wider scale.

The novel was structured like a secret journal, allowing for an amusing, tongue-in-cheek tweaking of history. But the movie, also written by Grahame-Smith, must by necessity be a different beast entirely. The main changes involve a central vampire leader (Rufus Sewell) and some large-scale action sequences, including a ridiculously over-the-top finale involving an escape from a train over a burning bridge as it collapses. Hanging in the balance is the Battle of Gettysburg, where vampires have bolstered the lines of the Confederate Army to further their own invasion plan.

Grahame-Smith in the behind-the-scenes featurettes notes the only way for the material to work is to play it straight, and let the inherent absurdity of the situation be what makes it fun for the audience. (Contrast this with the observations of co-star Anthony Mackie, who provides the laugh-line of the disc when he proclaims, “It’s all geared to be extremely authentic.”)

While the material is indeed played more or less straight, director Timur Bekmambetov presents it in the vein of a stylized, overly kinetic action spectacle such as 300, with an abundance of slow-motion effects and anachronistic music that detract from the period setting and make it seem too much like a fantasy to have much resonance. It might actually have been more fun to see the film presented like a traditional Civil War drama along the lines of Glory, but with vampire stuff in it.

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