Q&A with Seth Grahame-Smith in Total Film Indonesia

For Total Film Indonesia issue 33 (cover: The Amazing Spider-Man) I did a feature on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I also had the opportunity to interview Benjamin Walker, the star of the Timur Bekmambetov movie, as well as the author of the ALVH book, Seth Grahame-Smith.

We talked about the differences between ALVH book and  movie, the process of writing the book and his other projects. I also asked him about the Pride And Prejudice And Zombies movie that has been on hold since FOREVER.

Read the complete Q&A with Seth Grahame-Smith here.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Film Review

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Things that go bump in Abe Lincoln’s presidency…

“I think people should know that the movie is going to be very different from the book” is what Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter scribe Seth Grahame-Smith told me during a telephone interview earlier this month in a press junket in Sydney.

Fair warning? Indeed. As it turns out, in fact, it was a very serious warning.

The title of the book – and the movie – never properly lends itself to complete credibility. Abraham Lincoln and vampires? It doesn’t even compute. Until you read the book and discover that, by closely following Abraham Lincoln’s history from his childhood until his death and inserting bloodthirsty creatures of the night at the seams, Grahame-Smith has achieved the impossible: an entertaining revisionist (and you will hear this word quite a lot if you read various reviews of the book) tale of America’s most beloved president. Straight-faced from beginning to end, Grahame-Smith painted a picture of Lincoln that suited the image of the solemn, if rather somber, of a man trying to abolish slavery and keep his nation from being torn apart by a civil war – in other words, the Lincoln we have come to know through monuments and historical records. Incredible, sensational, audacious… all of this, yes. Times ten.

But with them also comes this sense of, “Well, hell. Who’s to say that didn’t happen?” Conspiracy theories abound – one of them could be that vampires exist and they plagued Lincoln since childhood. We just didn’t know about it because Someone In The Position Of Power covered it up. Disbelief: suspended.

That is not the case, unfortunately, for the movie adaptation. There is Abraham Lincoln and there are vampires, certainly. There is an actor named Benjamin Walker who played Lincoln as an adorkable young gentleman and a serious adult and there are British actors with fangs trying to kill him. There are darkness and blood and there are small moments of levity and some romance. There are explosions and there are  ass-kicking superhero and his sidekicks.

What is NOT there, however, is the red thread that keeps it all together. That is, the history of Abraham Lincoln himself - man, husband, father, president, American icon.

Who axed the history? (Pun very much intended.) It would be hard to point fingers at the screenwriter and accuse him of ruining the book’s story – Grahame-Smith wrote the script himself. A more likely culprit is the studio. This is a summer release, after all, and ’tis never the season to carry a significant amount of weight in the story… so it would be understandable enough if they decided to erase the heavies from Lincoln’s history and substituted those with explosive set pieces that would justify the movie in 3D.

Pity, though, because for once the set pieces are not enough to work their magic on an audience that are already largely skeptical towards the movie’s premise. There’s the added worry that Lincoln, even as a famous  icon, will not even be famous enough in countries where American history is not taught in the education system for people to recognize his significance. Take that all away and what do you have? A slightly vapid tale of a man fighting vampires who is not attractive enough to give  Buffy and Angel a run for their vampire slaying money.

Thank god, then, for Benjamin Walker. A former Juilliard graduate who previously worked in Broadway (most notably playing President Andrew Jackson in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the musical), Walker’s theater chops allows him to handle his first major mainstream role rather skilfully. A deft and subtle performance, Walker’s Lincoln is a good enough first role for his mostly blank CV. If only he had a better material to sink his teeth into…

Director Timur Bekmambetov’s bombastic filmmaking style, here  strangely more reminiscent of his Russian Night Watch than the more Hollywood Wanted, feels out of place in this period piece but not so much that it wasn’t enjoyable. Forgettable once you walk out of the cinema, perhaps, but never not entertaining. For some, it would be a case of “too much, too fast”, but the relentless speed at which the film progressed would be preferable considering the alternative (hey, we could’ve been served a historical biopic that would take ages at a sedate pace to tell – much like The Conspirator starring Wanted man James McAvoy).

The scares are plenty terrifying, at least. Vampires with bad teeth that go invisible until they take a bite out of your neck? Bring them on! Vampires that invite people to banquets, only to feast on their guests later? Yes, please. In ALVH, there will be blood. Enough to make you squirm in the seats, too. With the over-romanticizing in the genre that’s been happening in  the last few years, any portrayal of vampires where they are less glittery and ‘vegetarian’, and are vile and cruel instead, would be most welcome.

For the book readers, however, there’s still one huge problem that remains. It is the lack of conviction in the storytelling that would feed the book’s detractors with further skepticism or, worse, outright vitriol. Dissent may arise, resulting in a brand new kind of civil war, albeit one that happens in the internet these days, and it will be one the film – for all its attempts at a summer box office badassery – fail to win.

THE VERDICT
An awkward execution of a very interesting premise, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will not abolish doubt from the skeptics’ head with Timur Bekmambetov’s whimsical action-overload filmmaking. But as a vampire movie, it has its moments. And score one for Team Walker.

TALKING POINT
Grahame-Smith’s third novel, Unholy Night, puts a dark twist on the Nativity story. Three wise men becomes three thieving fugitives. Go figure.

Prometheus: Film Review

Prometheus

Destination: Paradise. Arrival: Ridley Scott’s purgatory.

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WARNING: This review may contain spoilers.

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Here are a few things to do before watching Prometheus:

1. Watch Alien, Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi epic that launched his career. But just Alien.

2. Forget Alien.

3. Free your mind.

Because Scott opens his film with a scene that would give Charles Darwin, had he been able to watch, reason to have strong words with writers Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) and Damon Lindelof (Lost) for even thinking of ruining his theories. A man with chalk-white complexion – not exactly human, but entirely humanoid – took a sip of a mysterious dark liquid. Then he fell and his cells disintegrated… and most probably created life on Earth.

Then he moves his movie to 2080, where we are introduced to Elizabeth Shaw, a religious scientist that Swedish actress Noomi Rapace plays. She and her lover, Logan Marshall-Green’s Charlie Holloway, have apparently found evidence that the aforementioned being, whom these scientists then referred to as ‘the Engineers’ are none other than our makers. Shaw, Holloway and a number of crew then shipped themselves off in Weyland Corp.’s research vessel Prometheus to a distant planet in a distant solar system that cost them two years of hypersleep to reach to seek the truth of their claim. And because this is a Ridley Scott movie, what ensues is a tale straight out of a Lovecraft-induced nightmare that will shake you no matter how firmly you are holding on to the edge of your seat.

Continue reading

Prometheus: Preparations To Watch

With the release of Ridley Scott’s new science fiction epic, Prometheus, there’s one question keeps popping up from left, right, front and back. That is:

“Should I watch Alien before I watch Prometheus?”

I get asked this question a lot, a few times on Twitter, where the character limit makes me want to scream in agony whenever I try to explain things, so I’ve decided to write a lengthy, wordy answer here in my blog and link to it every time it comes up.

Now, my personal answer to the above question is:

NO.

Why?

Because I’ve been reading reviews from various sources and I came to the conclusion that the more negative reviews usually mention “it’s not what [I] expected; this is not worthy of Alien/Aliens.” I interpreted that kind of remark as “I watched Alien/Aliens, I liked them, and I wanted Prometheus to be just as good as Alien/Aliens. But as it turns not, Prometheus is nothing like Alien/Aliens, and I’m disappointed, so now I’m going to call this movie a failure.” It’s akin to saying, “I don’t like the movie because it’s not like how it goes in the book.” And this really, really, REALLY annoys me.

Basically, Prometheus is a different kind of movie from Alien/Aliens. It’s as different as it could be. The only thing that connects this to Alien is that it’s set in the same (story) universe. It’s the version of this world that has Weyland Corporations that sends mighty ships to outer space, the world where humankind on Earth is finally able to travel to distant planets and meet monstrous aliens. That’s it.

It would be awesome if one knows the universe beforehand because they watched Alien/Aliens/Alien³/Alien: Resurrection, but this knowledge is not necessary for you to be able to understand Prometheus. Screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof ensures that you can follow the events of Prometheus without knowing Alien as it stands on its own. Admittedly the creatures are similar in Alien, but not totally. Only about 55%. It’s probably best if your brain is devoid of all Alien thoughts, to enhance your capacity for accepting the events in Prometheus because it is one mind-boggling movie.

If anyone is still worried that they might not follow Prometheus because they didn’t watch the previous Alien movies, it doesn’t hurt to watch Alien. Just Alien. If you’ve watched Alien, you’ve watched them all – as in, you’ll know what’s what.

But if you don’t have a copy of the movie, well… since I’m being very nice, I will give you a cheat sheet written in a simplistic manner for the Alien universe newbies.

HIGHLIGHT TO READ (BEWARE MINOR SPOILERS):

- Movies in Alien universe:

1. Alien (1979) directed by Ridley Scott – he made Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Robin Hood (the one with Russell Crowe).

2. Aliens (1986) directed by James Cameron – he made Titanic and Avatar.

3. Alien³ (1992) directed by David Fincher – he made Se7en, The Social Network and the Hollywood version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

4. Alien: Resurrection directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet – he is French and directed Amelie. Script was written by Joss Whedon (The Avengers director).

- The leading heroine of the all Alien movies above is called Ellen Ripley. She is played Sigourney Weaver and considered to be one of the first, if not the very first, female action hero in movies. All Alien movies are centered on Ripley.

- In Alien, a spaceship named Nostromo – crew of 7, including Ripley – received a distress signal from a planet called LV-426. The Nostromo went to answer the call and found some icky alien eggs on the planet. One of the crew members got attacked by an alien that hugged his face and ‘impregnated’ him. A few hours later, this alien dropped dead on the clinic, leaving the crew member’s face intact. Then several hours later, another alien burst out of the chest of that crew member – killing him – and this alien turned out to be a very deadly one. The remaining crew members fought this alien with their lives.

- Remember these terms:

Facehugger – aliens that attach themselves to any host’s (must be a living being) face and inseminates them with its seed, to create the next one… Chestburster - basically the ‘result’ of a facehugger’s ‘mating process’ with its host, that bursts out of the chest of the host, killing the host.
Alien queen - the mother alien that lays out the eggs of facehuggers.
Xenomorphswhat aliens in this movie universe is called.

- On androids, or synthetic humans/artificial persons, in the Alien universe. They’re robots with advanced AIs made by Weyland Corporations. They’re by far the most interesting characters in each movie. The one in Alien was played Ian Holm, the one in Aliens and Alien³ by Lance Henriksen and the one in Alien: Resurrection by Winona Ryder.

That’s really all you need to know. Hope you find the notes helpful. Happy watching!