So a lot of people have harsh words for movie adaptations of books. It’s universal. I’ll bet people complained with Gone With the Wind came out saying, I don’t know, maybe they thought Rhett Butler wasn’t dashing enough. Although, it’s Clark Gable, so people probably complained he was too dashing.
I’ve been waiting for this Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter to come out so I can address this issue with a book I’ve read fairly recently. See, I’m a writer with a film studies degree. I spent four years making this stuff my bread and butter. I’ve written dozens upon dozens of papers. Some of my favorites were Akira Kurasawa’s MacBeth adaptation, Throne of Blood, my ridiculously intense analysis ofMaltese Falcon and my thesis on the films of John Frankenhimer.
I’m qualified for this. Let’s have at it now.
Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers. Oh did I mention spoilers?
Yeah, I’m not going to censor any juicy bits of the movie/book so consider yourself warned.
The short version of how I liked the movie…. I give it an A as a movie but a C- as an adaptation.
Stepping back and lookingAbe Lincoln from a fan’s point of view, it was a wild success of a movie. The pacing was steady and upbeat. The characters, particularly Lincoln himself, had solid character arcs. I loved the slightly awkward courtship between Abe and Mary. They had witty dialogue back and forth with each other the whole time. The frosting on the top of this cinematic cake are the fight scenes. The battles and fight scenes are mind blowing.
Seriously, Timur Bekmambetov could make a fight scene between a fork and a vacuum and I’d watch it. I loved his style in both Wanted and the Russian Night Watch (which was another A movie C- adaptation). The ax wielding martial arts going on in this movie is a beautiful thing. That action scene going on with the train is a wonderous bit of cinematic awesome. Over the top? Absolutely. But that’s not always a bad thing. Think of Bekmambetov’s other movies. Over the top is his staple.
So I’ll give the movie A.
But that’s watching the movie from a film guy’s point of view. As an adaptation, I was bothered by a lot.
See, some changes are inevitable. Film’s strengths lay in the visual, visceral and external. Explosions are so big you can feel them are something that only film can do. So combine that with the director’s flair for the fighting and it makes sense to play up the action parts of Abe Lincoln.
Now a book’s strengths lay in the internal and compartmentalized. The whole first act of the book is compressed into about two scenes of the movie. That’s a lot of the book to squish down but Lincoln growing up is not the meat and potatoes of the story. The important parts of his childhood are shown: being raised to find slavery appalling and his mother being taken by a vampire. Beyond that? We can do without his time as a rail splitter or the relationship with his step-mother. The core of his person is all we get because the film has a limited amount of screen time to get things done.
Even the gold standard of book to film adaptations had to skip over certain things.Lord of the Rings never showed one of my favorite parts, Tom Bombadil, on film. Even with nine hours of screen time across the whole epic, side quests had no space to develop.
So Edgar Allen Poe never gets to show his face in the film and we miss out on his childhood and that whole introduction about the modern day person finding Abe’s journals is gone. Abe’s posse of fellow vampire hunters never show up in favor of just two for the sake of centralization. Almost all of the politics are taken out of the film. I can accept these things. These omissions are literary strengths and would serve as a distraction in film.
Problem is the decisions that seriously mess with the essence of the story. These are changes that are not playing on the literary weaknesses and turning them into cinematic strengths. Here be those biggun spoilers I talked about. Abe knew about Henry being a vampire much earlier on, pretty much from the get go, in the book. It changes their relationship when he’s a vampire right away. I was glad that Henry’s reason for wanting to take out his own kind remained the same, but the mentor-student relationship is now on such different footing. It added a dramatic scene where Abe finds Henry nomming on a would-be rapist, but there is no reason to change their relationship. It has plenty of ups and downs in the book, why create more?
Mary never finds out what’s going on in the book. She doesn’t smuggle anything to Gettysberg and she certainly doesn’t shoot a lady vampire in the face with her dead son’s silver toy. Mostly she just loses her mind to grief and depression when their kid dies. She figures it out on her own in the film, she reads the secret journals that Abe writes (which we get excerpts from constantly in the book), which is keeping with her character, but it puzzled me why that would change so much. The author of the book, Seth Grahame-Smith, also wrote the screenplay so he must have felt some justification for it but I found it confusing and distracting because of its randomness.
The third seriously huge problem I have is an omission that didn’t appear in the film, but am hesitant to discuss because it’s that big of a spoiler. It’s the ultra mega spoiler of all spoilers. It’s the end of the book. See, the film ends right where Abe and Mary are about to go to Ford’s Theater. The last two pages in particular should have been in the film. They are awesome. The end of the book creates a completely different vibe and different experience than the film.
The book and the film end up being quite different from each other. Yes, I said that as an adaptation, the film gets a C-, but remember I said that by itself gets an A. The book by itself get an A as well. So if you can separate the experiences and enjoy each one for it’s own specific merits, they are both totally worthy, enjoyable and awesome thing.