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Revisionist history certainly has its charms. I cheered as Jewish soldiers riddled Adolf Hitler with bullets in Inglourious Basterds, and was intrigued to learn in X-Men: First Class that mutants thwarted the Cuban Missile Crisis. Hollywood's latest attempt at reworking history is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith from his own novel, which gives Honest Abe an axe to grind into the skulls of some nasty vampires. These blood-hungry bullies fight for the Confederate States Army in the American Civil War, which threatens to tip the balance of power toward a corrupted South. Director Timur Bekmambetov infuses the film with his usual visual flair, and Benjamin Walker is a sturdy, dexterous president. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter at times struggles to achieve tonal balance, but there's more than enough campy bloodletting and bastardized history here to keep your attention.
Young Abraham Lincoln watches a man infect his mother with a poison that eventually kills her. Abe waits nine years before attacking his mother's killer, a vampire named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), but quickly discovers that it is difficult to kill the damned. Abe is rescued by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who spends his days hunting vampires and offers to train Abe in his deadly art. Abe seeks to avenge his mother, but attacks only targets pre-selected by Sturgess, who exposes vampires in numerous professions and locales. Out of money and without a permanent home, Abe befriends shopkeeper Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and begins working and living in Speed's general store. There, Abe meets his future wife, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and leans that all the vampires in America report to plantation owner Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his sister, Vadoma (Erin Wasson). Adams falls in line with Confederate president Jefferson Davis (John Rothman), and offers the services of his kind on the battlefield.
Those seeking an accurate history lesson should look to anything but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, though the film does use reality as the framework for its blood and fangs fantasy. Lincoln runs for office on the platform of abolishing slavery, which threatens to bring the country's vampire problem to a head as the creatures satisfy their hunger by killing slaves. After years of lurking in the shadows, vampires prepare to establish a place in society through murder and deception. The Lincoln-kicks-vampire-ass source material is decidedly campy, and the film follows suit as it skips through the 1800s alongside Lincoln. Some reviewers criticized the film's tone, which is understandable since Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter at times plays it straighter than it probably should. Like Grahame-Smith's thematically similar "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" - also set for a film adaptation - Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter takes a fairly straightforward story and inserts fantastical elements. The players don't treat the action like it's a joke, which may be offsetting to some. I'm not sure the film ever borders on serious, but it is neither comedy nor orthodox horror.
Bekmambetov, known for Russian thriller Night Watch and American actioner Wanted, relies heavily on visual effects, some of which look better than others, to stage elaborate action sequences. A fight scene amid a pack of running horses is not particularly impressive, but Lincoln does some seriously bloody damage with his ax. Seemingly normal humans become vampires in an instant, at which time they sprout gnarly teeth and a nasty-corpse like complexion. Abe dips his ax in silver before cutting heads, while Sturgess uses silver bullets. The film's several showdowns are fun if a bit monotonous, and I found myself wishing Bekmambetov had captured more of the action in camera instead of overusing his computer. Visual effects also construct a period-appropriate Washington, D.C., complete with an unfinished Washington Monument and White House.
The film keeps the action coming and remains in perpetual forward motion. By the time Abe is elected president, Walker must sport prosthetics and the Great Emancipator's trademark beard and top hat. Using the war and balance of political power as the background for the human/vampire conflict is a neat trick, though the film's final showdown borders on anti-climatic. A bit more absurd humor might have smoothed out the wrinkles created by the abrupt mishmash of stories. The actors are certainly game, and Walker and Winstead make a lovely presidential couple. Cooper sports a seriously crazy hairdo while getting his hands dirty, and Anthony Mackie shows up as Abe's childhood friend. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is lightweight and borderline disposable, but Bekmambetov has created a visually arresting confection of altered history.
The 2.40:1/1080/AVC-encoded transfer rolls with the source material's strengths and weaknesses. Bekmambetov shot a slick, highly detailed film, and the transfer boasts miles-deep backgrounds and impressive close-ups. Every drop of blood, gleaming ax and period costume is presented with excellent clarity and texture, and the sepia-tinted color scheme is injected with crimson reds and stark blues. Black levels can be a bit murky, which is something many noticed about the film's 3D theatrical presentation (a 3D Blu-ray is also available), but I suspect this is mostly the result of Bekmambetov's lighting and effects compositing. The film at times has a soft, slightly hazy appearance likely used to mask the extensive visual effects, but contrast is usually excellent. No compression artifacts, banding or artificial sharpening pop up to spoil the party.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is explosive. Along with excellent separation and clarity, the track makes heavy use of the surround speakers and subwoofer. The swing of an ax rolls through the rear speakers, and the galloping of horses rattles the subwoofer and surrounds the viewer. Dialogue is clear and unobstructed by these action and ambient effects, and the musical score is nicely weighted. This is an aggressive mix that provides that HD surround pop that home theater owners crave. An English 5.1 Descriptive Audio track and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also included, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter receives Fox's "combo pack" treatment. The set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and a code to retrieve both an iTunes digital copy and UltraViolet streaming digital copy. The discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case, which is wrapped in a glossy slipcover. For those interested in collectible packaging, Target stores have the exclusive lenticular slipcover shown below.
The Blu-ray is moderately stacked with extras, all of which are presented in sparkling high definition:
- The Great Calamity (7:43/HD) - This animated short explores the origins of vampires in America. Abraham Lincoln listens as a friend explains that vampires traveled across miles of oceans to make their homes in the land of the free.
- The Making of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (75:21/HD) - This excellent five-part making-of documentary features plenty of behind-the-scenes footage as it dissects the film's fights and visual effects and discusses adapting the source material for the screen and the director's keen eye for visuals. The cast and crew pop up in interviews, too, and this piece told me all I needed to know about the production.
- Audio Commentary with Writer Seth Grahame-Smith - The screenwriter discusses his novel and the unique challenges of bringing the vampires-meet-politics story to the big screen. Grahame-Smith is fairly chatty, though there is occasional dead air when he runs out of things to describe about the production.
- "Powerless" Music Video by Lincoln Park (2:54/HD) - This is certainly not the worst movie tie-in rock track I've ever heard, and the video is full of clips from the film.
- Theatrical Trailer (1:15/HD) - The film's effective trailer is set to Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around."
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an entertaining slice of revisionist history camp that could have used a bit more humor. Director Timur Bekmambetov spruces up the story of vampire-hunting Abraham Lincoln with nifty visual effects, and Benjamin Walker tackles the lead role with much energy. The film at times struggles with its uneven tone, and inserts fantastical elements into history rather than completely reworking its Civil War-era framework to fit the boundaries of comedic horror. Fox's Blu-ray is technically impressive and contains some nice bonus materials. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.