The first thing I said to a colleague of mine when we walked out of the press screening for 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' was, "That was the best bad movie I've ever seen." I'm under no delusion that a movie about our revered 16th president fighting vampires is a "good" movie in the traditional sense. What I am advocating though, is that it's pretty damn fun to watch.
There are times where film broadens our horizons and brightens our understanding about the world around us. This isn't one of those times. 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' isn't afraid to take on its outwardly corny premise with as much gusto as one can muster when we're dealing with this sort of subject. A movie like this requires that the filmmakers go over the top, and boy do director Timur Bekmambetov and writer Seth Grahame-Smith (who also penned the novel) go way over the top.
Here is a movie that rewrites history in such a way that it links Lincoln's fabled time as president directly to vampires. A movie that has no qualms with equating the origins of the Civil War and slavery directly with the myth of blood-sucking demons. It's a movie that isn't afraid to embrace the absurd and that's what makes it so amusing.
Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) was always headstrong, even as a child. In this tale Lincoln sees his young friend, who happens to be black, being whipped by an angry man. Lincoln steps in and ends up getting hurt as well. Then Lincoln's dad finally breaks up the whipping causing him to fall into disfavor with a powerful local businessman who also happens to be a vampire. Not soon after that, Lincoln witnesses a vampire steal into his mother's room and bite her. His mother dies, Lincoln seeks revenge.
During his course for revenge he runs across a man named Henry (Dominic Cooper) who knows an awful lot about vampires. Henry teaches Lincoln the art of hunting the undead in a short, hilarious montage where we witness Lincoln cut down a tree in a single blow. See, it's a completely ridiculous story and preposterous premise, but the movie doesn't care. It's fully committed to seeing it through, and it goes all out for the cause.
The key here is the movie's seriousness about the subject that Lincoln was indeed a vampire hunter. We get thoughtful commentary from Lincoln himself, through voiceovers, as he describes his time being a hunter and how it formed the man he became. Oftentimes we criticize movies for taking themselves far too seriously, however, in this case it's exactly what's called for. If these actors were playing every scene like they were about to laugh then the movie loses much of its all-in bet on a serious tone.
What caught me by surprise was how invested I became in these revisionist historical characters. Watching Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) fall in love with this lanky, awkward guy was sort of endearing in a way. Sure it was followed by Lincoln and a vampire hopping from horseback to horseback during an extended CGI action sequence where, at one point, a horse is used as a hurled projectile, but in the moment the movie does a great job at establishing their romance.
Sure Bekmambetov's slow-mo action scenes are fully of unnecessary whooshing 'Matrix' sounds as characters flip end over end, and of course the entire foundation of the film is patently absurd. Nevertheless, there's something joyful about this movie. Something that makes me smile and giggle at the way it embraces itself, warts and all. It's exciting and amusing, what else can you ask from a movie called 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' to 3D Blu-ray as a three-disc combo pack. The first two are Region Free, BD50 discs while the third is a DVD-9/Digital Copy combo. All three are housed in a standard blue keepcase with a flipper in the middle, and the package comes with a shiny slipcover. At startup, the Blu-ray goes directly to a 3D animated menu with the standard options at the bottom and one exclusive extra in the top right corner of the screen.
Sucking the life out of Blu-ray is a 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode with numerous positives often outweighed by a few negatives. The post 3D conversion comes with several scenes that feel flat and stale with very little sense of space and dimensionality. Characters appear like cardboard cutouts for a good majority of the time and rarely seem to move independently of their surroundings.
These moments are offset, however, by many others of amazing depth, where that same cardboard cutout feel suddenly has a fun pop-up book quality. The background penetrates deep into the screen to create an immersive sense of distance and a variety of scenes display excellent separation in the foreground. It's clear Timur Bekmambetov filmed with 3D in mind because the movie comes with typical gimmick effects, like shards of wood flying everywhere or a bullet shot directly at the screen. Although far and few between, they are amusing nonetheless and add to the layered fun of the actions pieces.
Unfortunately, the movie also makes its high-def debut with some distracting artifacts. Contrast levels appear to have been boosted, possibly in an effort to compensate for viewers having to wear dark glasses. But whatever the case may be, this adjustment leaves behind an annoyingly ugly ringing around objects during very bright scenes, particularly daylight exteriors. It's also possible this could've been caused by a poor 3D-conversion process, but I have my doubts since even whites and highlights seem to run pretty hot. Low-lit interiors have discernible clarity in the shadows, but blacks range from milky and average to deep and accurate, depending on the scene. Added to that, we see hints of banding in many areas and aliasing, however minor, is a prevalent issue throughout.
On a more positive note, the 2.40:1 image displays a variety of vivid, lavish colors with an overall palette that leans towards teal and steely blues. Primaries are cleanly rendered and vivid, providing the picture with a terrific pop and energy, while secondary hues and some soft sepia tones give the presentation warmth and a charming antiquated appeal. Overlooking the troubled spots, the video is quite detailed with razor-sharp definition in several areas. Close-ups reveal pores and lifelike textures; hair and threading on costumes are distinct; and small specifics in the 19th Century architecture is plainly visible. But all things considered, we've seen far better on 3D Blu-ray.
The real crowning achievement in this silly cartoonish fantasy is a magnificent DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which makes the movie all the more enjoyable. It's pretty much what you'd expect or want from a mindless production such as this one.
Filling the room with endless activity, the rears are employed for a good majority of the runtime, enveloping the listener with the rages of war, the guttural screeches of vampires or the praising cheers of the crowd. Ambient effects further enhance the soundfield while also panning from one channel to the next with flawless effort. The shards and shrapnel during battles scenes fly in all directions and create a terrifically immersive environment. However, when speakers are not in use, even for the slightest hint of ambience in moments of private conversations, their absence is very noticeable, which made it a tad distracting.
But aside from that personal gripe, the rest of the lossless mix remains fantastic with a wide and expansive soundstage that feels like just one giant wall of sound. Dynamic range is sharply defined with wonderfully distinct acoustics and flawless separation between the various high-pitched noises, which happens frequently in action sequences. The real shocker comes from a powerfully commanding and authoritative LFE that packs a wallop to every gunshot, cannon fire and explosion. There are also a few great moments of amusing ultra-low frequencies that rattle the room. Amid all the noise and chaos, vocals remain intelligible and detailed in the center of the screen, making this high-rez track a great deal of fun.
Promising nothing more than pure mindless popcorn fun, 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' delivers with an outlandishly silly and colorful bravado. Director Timur Bekmambetov not only brings the fun, humor, and excitement to an outrageous plot about our 16th President battling the undead, but he does it with wild showmanship and absurdly creative flair. The 3D Blu-ray arrives with a disappointing video presentation but the lossless audio more than make-ups for it. Supplements are not very extensive but easy to get through, making this package something only the most avid 3D fanatic will risk purchasing. We think the 2D version is the way to go.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.