Revisionist history isn’t a genre or coined term that suits Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Beard and top hat in tow, the 16th President doesn’t directly fight for his political views so much as he does to slaughter hordes of Southern vampires. That’s where they’ve taken up their residence, and that’s why the Civil War began. Maybe “fantastical history” fits better?
Whatever name you want to slap on it, Vampire Hunter a glorious absurdest fantasy that only struggles when it wants the audience to consider showing their emotions. That’s where it will squander its potential, Timur Bekmambetov’s visual flourishes best left in the realm of chaos.
Chaos Vampire Hunter will produce, easing the audience into the lavish and destruction-fueled brawls to come. What begins as a quest of vengeance for a younger Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) turns into a full on war, one Lincoln himself takes into his own hands. This is a film that defines the concept of sending the audience home happy, a superior scaled train wreck that brings forth all of the visual effects prowess one can muster with $70 million in funding.
Even before that, Vampire Hunter is smashing and stabbing with the best of them, forever solidifying a new martial art based around an axe. This version of Lincoln could stand toe-to-toe with any slasher villain and win with hurried spins that impact with splattering results. Vampires are firm here, dealing with their punishment much to the glee of a virtually blood-soaked audience.
What Vampire Hunter does better than the expectation is tonal balance, never forcing the audience to digest the material in any direct way. Conceptually the piece is comedic fodder, in execution the world is dreary, messy, and muddy, but it’s never directly appealing the audience. The flurry of violent tendencies are enough to soften the emotional, character-driven heartache. Rolling decapitated heads don’t hurt either.
The final crucial element? Ridiculously staged fights, not even considering the train rumble. Lincoln and his nemesis meet during a horse stampede, visually striking as the animals tumble, are ridden, or are used as a weapon (!) is one of the grandest action gestures this movie will produce. Each conflict is given the same amount of thought no matter the scale, which can push the audience through some of the dry spots with anticipation.
Shot for 3D, this digital production carries the same problems on Blu-ray as it did theatrically: it’s sharpened. A lot. From the opening shot of the Washington Monument with a deep sunset to the final “Four score” speech at the end, nary a shot passes by without some type of immediately apparent halo. The effect is damaging to everything, but no more so than medium or long shots which become devastated under the weight of manipulation. Some could pass as DVD-level footage.
Not all resolution is lost. For everything that gives itself up with some distance, another shot will convince the viewer all is right with the world. Close-ups are exceptionally textured, with a consistency and depth that sells the HD side of the material. Resolution is no doubt striking to anyone looking for something to gawk at.
Black levels perform well, never fading to reveal a digital source. They hold firm no matter the circumstances and they act as something to beef up the visuals. With the color palette as it stands, mostly muted blues and oranges, there’s little to go around. A flashback takes on a bizarre pink and teal contrast, while the ending saturates itself while opening up a new visual prowess this film will enjoy for two whole minutes.
Unique lens work that adds a false anamorphic feel to many shots is readily apparent on the sides of the frame, used probably about 60% of the feature. The action is focused on the center of the frame tightly, so most won’t even notice. It’s a shame too since it gives the piece a unique style the clean (too clean) digital cameras cannot. Maybe that’s why the edge enhancement was called into service, to rough this one up a bit. Bad call regardless.
The filtered look and halos continue to run through the 3D presentation, as do some weakened black levels. It would seem there were some additional adjustments to make, flattening some of the shots so they show up better with glasses on. While Vampire Hunter is not an “always on” type of 3D, to its credit, it is always doing something. It has fun with dust particles flying through the image, always keeping a strong sense of depth. Characters stick out a bit and naturally. Faces have a sense of fullness, and long shots will keep them placed with depth. They are doing more than just existing in a 3D plane; they’re part of it.
While the immediate mindset may turn towards the horse battle for 3D excitement, that one is a little bit of a downer. The action is too fast to really appreciate the material, although it does have some fun with a cliff hanging shot and a horse running head first into the camera. The real highlight is the end action scene, wherein a train begins to traverse a falling bridge. Sparks, smoke, and flames are immense, adding some incredible dimension to the frame. This may be the best 3D smoke effect to date. Looking down on crashing boards and segments of the track is a thrill, and makes this 10-minute or so showcase a demo sequence.
It takes a half hour or so for Vampire Hunter to kick it up a notch. An early rumble on a dock lacks necessary impact to sell a vampire being slammed into a wooden structure. The magic begins during a stampede as horses run within the fight, bass amplifying their hooves hitting the ground and pans depicting their movement. It’s an ideal home theater showcase.
With the exception of that rather dull opening, this DTS-HD 7.1 mix is satisfactory. It feels lighter in scope that the rest of the summer output, but no less accurate to the visuals. Swinging axes ignite the surrounds and stereos as the wooshing effect pans. Blood splatters across the soundstage. Civil War sequences are striking with their cannon pops. It’s a winner, and the action overall has a pleasing flow that complements the active camera work.
Balance is great, managing to maintain dialogue as a bridge collapses and a train tumbles to the ground. Bass doesn’t over work to block out the highs, and still packs enough of a punch to satisfy.
Commentary leads the bonuses, this one not from a filmmaker, but book author Seth Grahame-Smith. That’s followed by a five-part hour long making of that covers cinematography, locations, effects, fights, and the book. It’s a solid piece. The Great Calamity is a Lincoln short done in animation. A music video and trailers follow.
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