*. This is cynical, trash filmmaking, but you can’t blame it for being that.
*. Seth Grahame-Smith may have been as surprised as anyone at the success of his mash-up novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was immediately turned into a movie with the same viral title. The next step must have seemed obvious: do the exact same thing again. So he duly took the formula of historical drama-meets-comic book monster movie and just changed the names.
*. Actually, as Grahame-Smith tells the story on the DVD commentary, he was going to bookstores in 2009, the bicentenary of Lincoln’s birth, and noticing piles of books on Lincoln beside piles of Twilight novels. He drew the conclusion that “the two hottest things in literature in 2009 were Lincoln and vampires.” He might have added superheroes, and since he saw in Lincoln a real-life superhero the fit was perfect. Again, the next step was obvious.
*. Why do I call it cynical? Not just because it’s a cash grab, but because I don’t get the sense these books (and movies) come out of any investment in the genres being mined. I didn’t think Grahame-Smith cared about zombies much at all in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and he seems, what I wouldn’t have thought possible, to have even less interest in vampires here.
*. In fact, it’s kind of hard to even think of them as vampires. They don’t sleep in coffins. Garlic, crosses, and wooden stakes are never used against them. Instead their only weakness is for silver, which I thought only applied to werewolves. Apparently some good nineteenth-century sun cream and stylish sunglasses take care of the daylight thing. Otherwise they’re just basically zombies with fangs.
*. Even the plot is a rehash of the previous book/film, with the nation at war against an army of the undead. Which works for zombies, who don’t know better, but doesn’t make any sense at all for vampires.
*. In short, there are no surprises. But I don’t think the audience for such a film would be expecting any. They would be looking for a lot of CGI, a bit of splatter, some comic book action, and a bit of period romance thrown in for good measure. All of which the film delivers. But it only just clears this low bar.
*. Despite its “ridiculous conceit” (Grahame-Smith) it’s also totally devoid of humour. I found this odd, but apparently it was always intentional. Producer Tim Burton wanted to play it absolutely straight, and felt this should be “the guiding principle throughout everything.” Grahame-Smith agreed, saying “the only way to do this [was] to do it earnestly, [and] fight back against the craziness of the title.”
*. Why? Roger Ebert concurred, praising the film’s “admirable seriousness,” and saying that this may have been the only way it could have possibly worked. Apparently the calculation was that the funny title and absurd premise was all the comedy the film needed, and seriousness would give it balance. I don’t understand this. If the movie is too stupid to be taken seriously, why take it seriously? Why not have some jokes, or a bit of fun? It’s not like realism could have ever been a goal, what with all the digital effects and things like the stampede fight.
*. I was surprised to learn from the commentary that the book had no main villain (the Adam character in the movie) and no fiery climax. Which may explain why they feel like such formulaic elements. The rest of the characters are uninteresting and ahistorical, inhabiting not a recognizable past but an alternate, digitized universe. Even the makeup to age the face of Mary Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was digital. I guess it’s all slick enough technically but I didn’t find any of it interesting or new. It sure didn’t take long, but after only a couple of flicks the mash-up genre was already feeling played out.