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From Book To Film - A Look At "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

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by Tambay A. Obenson
May 24, 2012 8:55 PM
9 Comments
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Its release date near, and today's earlier post with the red-band trailer featuring more of Anthony Mackie, it seemed like a good time to visit this...

It's called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but there's also a slavery subplot in this that's really not being featured much in the film's marketing materials.

I finally read the book that the film is based on (also called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) - a relatively breezy read; though I found it surprisingly absent of as much vampire action as I expected there to be, and as the film adaptation's trailer suggest.

Not that there isn't any neck-biting, blood-sucking, or stake-through-the heart, decapitating vampire slayings; there most certainly are; but the story is actually firmly centered on the real life of Lincoln. It's almost as if the vampire story was secondary to telling Lincoln's history.

We follow Abe from birth to death, highlighting all his most widely-known accomplishments, while weaving the vampire hunter story throughout, often used as an explanation for negative occurrences.

I guess I was expecting something far more basic to the vampire movie genre. What I instead got was a well-researched and mostly entertaining revisionist take on the life of our nation's 16th President, written epistolary-style, based on fictional "secret diaries" the story tells us he kept.

I couldn't help but think of Interview With The Vampire, in terms of the way the narratives are structured. Both start in the present-day, featuring a vampire from the past who's obviously still alive, transferring centuries-old unknown history of vampires amongst us, to a young curious writer.

It'll be near-impossible to tell a story about Lincoln without taking into account the spirit of the times in which he lived, and his own personal convictions and dealings - specifically with regards to slavery, his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, etc. Yes, slavery certainly does play some part in this story, but it's really more of a plot contrivance. Essentially, one of the reasons we are to hate the vampires is because they prey on slaves, although not primarily.

The first time we are "formerly" introduced to slavery in the book, a group of them are purchased at an auction, and are later unsuspectingly rounded up into in a barn by a slave owner who's in-cahoots with the vampires, slaughtered and drained of what the vampires desire most. It reads as loud and gruesome, and I wonder how this will look on screen, in 3D, given the real-life human tragedy that was the slave trade, which still haunts the country today.

But black faces actually don't feature very prominently in this; they are mostly background fodder. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to read the book was because Anthony Mackie co-stars in it as a character named Will, Lincoln's best friend whom he goes vampire hunting with.

However, unless I completely overlooked something, or I'm just blind, there is no vampire hunting black best friend named Will in the book.

Will, in the film, is based on a real-life character by the way: William H. Johnson, who was essentially Lincoln’s manservant, NOT his best friend. But this is revisionist history, right?

So anyway, no, this character isn't in the book, which obviously tells me that the film's script isn't a direct adaptation of the book, and William Johnson has been added for Anthony Mackie to play, possibly for reasons I already stated; that the filmmakers may have felt the book's narrow depiction of slaves and the slave trade needed to be addressed in the film, for fear that there might be some backlash when the film is released, if it remained true to the book. They probably thought it'd be wise to write in a black character of some substance and significance to the narrative, who actually did something other than die at the hands of vampires, or their slave owners.

Now, I haven't read the script adaptation yet; I don't have a copy of it, so I can't really say what it does and doesn't contain. But if anyone reading this does has read the screenplay, and the book, I'm most curious to know how the two compare to each other.

Ultimately, it's fantasy, or maybe I should say fantastical, especially in Hollywood's profit-hungry mitts, not so unlike Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, or the upcoming Django Unchained, another revisionist slave narrative, so I won't be going into this expecting some treatise on Lincoln and slavery. It's still called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter after all.

Let's just hope Mackie's William H. Johnson doesn't die in some act of self-sacrifice to save his best friend Abe; he might be needed for the sequel :)

Of course, if you know your history, you'll be well aware of the fact that Lincoln was assassinated, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise if that ending is somehow worked into the film. It is most certainly weaved into the book, but I won't tell you how it ends. Of course, you can always pick up a copy at your local bookstore, flip to the last few pages, and find out for yourself.

I'll just say, remember, it's a vampire story, so...

As an aside... I’d like to see some famous black literary characters given similar revisionist film narratives, or fantastical mash-ups like Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, to name one.

Maybe taking something like Roots, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and injecting a vampire/zombie/ghost/alien/whatever plot; or maybe taking a satirical hammer to D.W. Griffith's Birth Of A Nation; or turning Bigger Thomas in Native Son into a superhero during his day, with hidden supernatural powers… something like that.

I'd like to think those scripts exist, but there isn't much interest in financing them.

Tim Burton teamed with Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov to produce the movie, based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel. The film opens June 22.

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9 Comments

  • Delly | June 21, 2012 1:44 AMReply

    So I also read the book (which I loved!) but then when the trailers came out I was like, wait, who is Anthony Mackie (whom I LOVE) is going to be playing in the movie? Because I dont remember any of Abe's friends/associates being black. I googled this novel vs film question and nothing came up except for your article. Im glad Im not the only one who caught that, but to be honest I blame it on the lack of actually READING these days. How will anyone notice if they havent even read the book or have knowledge of Lincoln's past. But Hollywood will be Hollywood and I guess changes had to be made. The film better be amazing because from what Ive seen of the trailers not too much has been taken from the novel to the screen.
    Great article by the way. Keep it up!

  • Micah | May 25, 2012 1:34 AMReply

    I'm just saying, I read the book when it was first released and it was awesome. The books reflects Abe's 'evolving' view on black people. Which to awhile to evolve in real life and in the book. If you strip away the Vampires the book is kind of an educational account of his life. Seth is kind of clever that way.

  • AccidentalVisitor | May 24, 2012 11:04 PMReply

    Wow, Carl, your comebacks are so damn impressive and witty. Almost IMDB or even perhaps AICN worthy. Clearly you are squandering your talents here. The only thing you are missing is a truly fanboy-like screen name worthy of your skill; something along the lines of Thor's Jockstrap or Bobafettlives. I'm sure you're capable of coming up with something.

  • AccidentalVisitor | May 24, 2012 10:40 PMReply

    No, "Carl", I would simply not give a damn. You see considering 95% of the material coming from Hollywood I am by now very used to the complete invisibility of black faces or the limited nature of roles played by blacks in big budget films. Yet I still manage to see loads of major films, independent films, foreign movies without black characters every year because unlike some spoiled, privligeded moviegoers of a certain race I am secure enough to step outside my comfort zone to relate to other people who don't actually look like me. So go fuck yourself. Royally.

  • Carl | May 24, 2012 10:43 PM

    You gonna cry now?

  • AccidentalVisitor | May 24, 2012 10:24 PMReply

    Dude, I could have saved you the trouble by telling you Mackie's character was not in the book. Actually that news was floating around the web everywhere so I'm surprised you were unaware of it. A film that is probably going to hover around two hours worth of running time found the room to fit in a token black character in order not to be viewed as racist or racially insensitive. But an actual novel which could take the average reader anywhere from 18 to 25 hours to read couldn't find the space for such a character. Funny thing is both were written by the same guy.

  • Katie | May 29, 2012 8:54 AM

    @CARL sounds like someone touched a nerve. lol stay mad because you clearly don't have an argument.

  • Carl | May 24, 2012 10:27 PM

    And if that "token" wasn't in the movie you would bitch about that so cry us a river.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | May 24, 2012 9:20 PMReply

    I'll give anything Bekmambetov's involved with a chance -- same as Tarantino.

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