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Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Book Versus The Movie: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

A few weeks ago I saw the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It was interesting and I knew the book had been somewhat popular, so I decided to read it. After finishing it yesterday, I decided to give my view on the two.

The book is told like a biography, using the author's narration, but the majority of it is told through Abe's notebooks; selected journal entries detailing his life. Along with these entries are few photographs. The fact that the book is set up like that, as a "real" account from "lost" sources is fun and seems like a good idea. But the very thing that seems to be fun is its greatest weakness.

It reads like a biography, a dry one at that, and constantly flips viewpoints, as we go from Seth Grahame-Smith's third-person narration to Abe's first-person point-of-view and back again. While the majority of the book is from Abe, the constant back and forth is distracting. It would have been better to stay with one POV. I've never been a fan of first-person and feel that if the book had been told more traditionally, in a third-person POV, it would have benefited greatly. It would have been more of a story, a narrative, than a hodgepodge of notes.

The biography approach creates a series of vignettes, since it covers Abe's life from age nine to his death. This creates a disjointed narrative, entire moths are lost between chapter breaks, characters are mentioned once or twice. It reads more like a summary of his life.

The mash up is interesting, however, and the author gets kudos for weaving fact and fiction well together. The problem with the book isn't its story but its approach...

...Which was not a problem in the movie version. Adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith from his own novel, it is interesting to see the differences between the two, even though they were written by the same person. Grahame-Smith obviously knew what would work for the screen and what wouldn't: instead of trying to cram in as much of his original novel verbatim as he could, he crafted a slightly different story and stuck with a single narrative approach.

While many of the scenes and plot points from the novel are present, many have been truncated, characters eliminated, and in the case of Rufus Sewell's character Adam, newly created for the movie. And most of this benefits the movie. The thing the book was lacking the most was a villain. While Abe was fighting vampire's, there was no one to direct his anger to, only to vampires in general. Without a villain, there was nobody for the reader to root against. Abe's struggles seemed somewhat meaningless.

The movie, while jumping through time somewhat disjointedly, benefits from a continuous narrative and a villain. Adam is a constant throughout the film and a focal point for Abe. The story, and Abe's fights, now of a focus, a goal, something the book severely lacked.

Style-wise the movie is very nice, from the Russian director of the Nightwatch series and Wanted. He knows how to stage action sequences (where else are you going to see a vampire pick up a horse during a stampede and throw it at another person?) and has visual style. All of the actors did a good job with their parts.

 This is a case where I feel the movie is better than the book. The book was unique, but dry and flat. The movie benefits from a straightforward narrative and loads of visual style.

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