Recently I had the opportunity to view advanced 3D footage of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a title which may represent the dizzying apex of Hollywood’s fixation with brand-name recognition. One of the most enduringly popular political leaders of the past few centuries verses cinema’s current hot topic, vampires. Author/screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith and Benjamin Walker, who plays the titular role, were present to introduce the footage and answer audience questions. Both were genuine and charming ambassadors, with interesting insights into the production and humorous anecdotes about the director, “Mad Russian genius” Timur Bekmambetov, whose unique approach to language presented the occasional challenge. (Among other things, his accent made ‘shoot’ sound like ‘sh*t’ – but thankfully a director doesn’t need to say ‘shoot’ very often, right?)
The audience viewed two segments, one set near the beginning showing Lincoln’s training and early forays with the children of the night, and setting up the relationship with his future wife, Mary Todd (played by the delightful Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The presence of some very handy actors, Alan Tudyk (Serenity), Rufus Sewell (Dark City) and Marton Csokas (Kingdom of God), bodes well. The other scene was a mildly spoiler-y action sequence towards the rear-end of the film, that culminates in a rather epically destructive set-piece.
Bekmambetov (Nightwatch, Daywatch, Wanted) brings his usual frenetic style, with ambitious action sequences and strenuously acrobatic fight scenes. There is a vibrant tone to scenes, inventive cinematography and wanton gore. He has made prodigious use of 3D technology in most every shot we viewed. According to Grahame-Smith the director wanted to emphasise the “proximity and threat” of the vampires, and at one point in shooting Walker was urged to swing his axe so close to the camera that he shattered an attachment. The director loved it and used the shot.
The title reads like random words drawn out of a stove pipe hat, but according to the man playing the part, Benjamin Walker, the jokes stop there. He plays Lincoln with honesty and humility, a straight man in exceptional circumstances and a likeable lead. Lean and tall, he fits the bill, and his transformation from a young, earnest and upright man in the earlier footage into the older and wearied Lincoln seen later on is quite astounding.
Both Grahame-Smith and Walker displayed an infectious enthusiasm, and were refreshingly candid about the insanity of the premise, putting the film forward as a fun, entertaining blockbuster. The footage plowed through the ludicrous concept with gusto, wilfully ambivalent to logic. It has the potential to be a wild and raucous ride. But films like Van Helsing, Jonah Hex and Wild Wild West stand as testimony to the possible prat-falls of the genre.
I’ll leave it to Seth Grahame-Smith for the final word: “Those who’ve been waiting to see the 16th President of the United States kick vampire ass, your wait is over.”