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

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act June 1, 2011 at 6:27AM

This one will be a quickie...
2

This one will be a quickie...

I finally read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter last week - a relatively breezy read, though I found it surprisingly absent of as much vampire action as I expected there to be. 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 every negative occurrence.

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 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, a group of them are purchased at an auction, and later unsuspectingly rounded up into 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.

But black faces actually don't feature very much in this. 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. If I'm wrong about that, those who've read the book can correct me.

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, 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 that 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 have a copy of the screenplay, email me. I'd like to take a look at it and see how it compares to the book.

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, so I won't be going into this expecting some treatise on Lincoln and slavery. It's still called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter :)

What I really want to know is whether the brotha dies at the end? Does he eventually get sliced up by a vampire, probably in an act of self-sacrifice to save his best friend Abe? :)

Tim Burton teamed with Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov to produce the movie, based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel that hit bookstore shelves last spring.

This article is related to: Book To Film


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