When I saw the first trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I laughed out loud and committed then and there to see the film. The concept seemed so silly, so campy, so unflinchingly fun I just had to be there for the movie.
The movie was neither silly nor campy, and was about as much fun as you’d expect a straight-up, gory, action-thriller about 19th
century vampires to be, except with heavy-handed thematic elements crimping the mirth. In short, not all that much fun. In fact, kind of disappointing
I was expecting alternate history
, a genre in which historical events are re-interpreted in a setting that includes strong fantastic, sci-fi
, or other genre-fiction elements. Most steampunk
(the traditionally Victorian kind) is alternate history at it's heart, with Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine
(what would have happened if Babbage
had made a working computer) serving as the quintessential early example. Thus, I went in expecting a supernatural, vampire, steampunk
re-imagining of Lincoln’s life, with darkly humorous dialog and ridiculous action.
What I got was secret history
, with a supernatural re-interpretation of historical events from the youth of Abraham Lincoln right on up through the Battle of Gettysburg and the end of the Civil War. Secret history is a genre in which historical events are re-interpreted, but we’re being told that this is actually our world, the real world, and that there are things going on behind the scenes, things which historians haven’t gotten quite right. Tim Powers
is one of the undisputed masters of secret history novels.
Oh, the film has some great moments, and in theory all the pieces are there for this to be a satisfying piece of modern cinema. Benjamin Walker, in particular, deserves to play Lincoln in something genuinely historical. But that's beside the point. I simply couldn’t get past the fact that they expected me to re-interpret our forefathers struggle with the " question of slavery
" as an issue of vampires trafficking in food, rather than an issue of regular people being racist, classist
, tyrants. There was one scene where the filmmakers tried to help me along, tried to explain that vampires were just capitalizing on some especially horrible aspects of human nature, but that wasn’t enough for me to give the matter a hand-wave. Slavery was (and is) a crime perpetuated by humans against humans, and we do ourselves a disservice if we forget that.
It’s possible you’ll be able to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to clear that particular hurdle, and that you’ll subsequently have a great time at the movie. Me? I need a purgative ASAP, so I think I’m off to see Brave.
I took Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for the team. Brave, however, I’m seeing for me.