If 20th Century Fox was looking to do something uniquely interesting in an effort to rev up their ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER promo campaign, they nailed with this past weekend's event in Springfield, Ill. Yes, the hometown of our 16th President was where the film's first footage was unveiled to a few chosen websites – inside the Lincoln Museum, to be precise. What more perfect way to help familiarize us with the President's incredible legacy? He wasn't a vampire hunter in real life, he was still, as author-screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith noted, “the first and only true American superhero.”
The main objects of the trip? To see the teaser trailer, watch four quick scenes, and witness a Q+A with the key members of the creative team.
After a trip to Lincoln's Tomb in Oak Ridge cemetery - where the remains of Lincoln, his wife, and his three boys Eddie, Willie and Tad – rest, the press was brought to the amazing Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, where a stunning array of the President's actual possessions are kept. Immediately it was clear how on board the institution was with Fox's stunt, as the interior of the building was bathed in an eerie red light, and the exhibits were “enhanced” with axes and stakes. (More on their thorough commitment to the whole Lincoln-as-vampire-hunter- shtick later.)
I kinda doubt the axe is always by Abe's side...
...and I'm really confidant he's not normally brandishing a stake
We were quickly brought into the Union Theater for the presentation. A clearly excited Grahame-Smith, author of the AL:VH book and script, made gave a brief introduction (informing us that he had only just witnessed what we were about to see earlier that day) and then we were shown the trailer – which you've most likely seen by now, but if not, check it out HERE. After that, some footage - with intros by director Timur Bekmambetov and producer Jim Lemley - which I'll briefly describe:
Inside the Union Theater
- First clip: Lincoln training in the woods with his vampire mentor Henry, played by Dominic Cooper. Henry, who resembles a hipster with his puffed-up hair and tinted glasses, wants Lincoln to chop down a tree with one big swing. Obviously, Abe thinks this is impossible, but begins to hack away all the same. Henry goads him on, telling him it's not good enough; Lincoln goes at the tree harder and harder. Henry provokes him further, even alleging that Abraham let his own mother die (she was killed by a vampire), and at this, Abraham smashes the tree to bits. This image can be seen at the end of the teaser trailer. A satisfied Henry says to Abe, “Real power comes not from hate, but from truth.”
Second clip: Abraham Lincoln walks into a pharmacy, on a mission to kill his first vampire. At this point, he's young and still nervous, but determined. He walks to the back to the store, where a timid-looking “man” crushes some pills into powder. Lincoln is about to grab his stake when the man's suddenly hisses and his fangs swiftly come out. He blows the powder into Lincoln's face, disorienting him. Before Lincoln can go on the offensive, the vampire pulls a lever and a secret door opens underneath Lincoln's feet. He falls into the cellar, but is stopped before he hits the ground by a noose, which has tightened around him, leaving him hanging upside down, helplessly... As the camera pulls back, it's revealed he is not alone in the cellar; several corpses hang in similar positions. Cut to black.
Third clip: Abe and Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) sit together on a lawn, enjoying lunch. Mary openly wonders what it is Abe does every night when he disappears for long stretches of time. Abe meekly admits that he kills vampires. Mary laughs and goes along with it, asking how many vampires he's killed. Abe says 6 and smiles proudly. Mary is amused by the seemingly well-humored young man. It's a cute little scene.
Fourth and final clip: Gettysburg. The North and South are at war; we see a platoon of Union soldiers awaiting an onslaught of Confederates. The raise their rifles and fire upon the rushing troops. Some drop, but others keep coming. Obviously, these are vampires, who growl and scream as they continue their fast approach. The sergeant of the Union army braces himself, but in a split second it seems as though the vampires disappear right before his eyes. He turns to the man next to him, who stands frozen, stunned. A moment later, he's spitting blood and the camera reveals that he has a hole in his chest that can be seen right through. The sergeant looks behind him and the vampire soldiers are slaughtering his men, a disturbing sight. A lonely photograph of the soldier's wife blows in the wind.
My thoughts on the footage? The flick looks genuinely entertaining, which I would venture to guess is the word the studio and filmmakers would most want associated with it. Its biggest strength will most likely end up being Benjamin Walker, who appears to be an engaging screen presence. In fact, he reminds me of a young Liam Neeson – ironic since Neeson was of course once in line to play Honest Abe for Steven Spielberg. There's no doubt that the movie takes itself seriously, while embracing the “out there” concept. It also seems apparent to me that the movie has amped up the book's action; the book has its share of set-pieces, yes, but in more of the "gothic horror" tradition, while Bekmambetov's film appears to be... well, in the Bekmambetov tradition (WANTED, NIGHT WATCH).
After the footage was screened, Bekmambetov, Grahame-Smith, Lemley and Walker sat on stage for a Q+A; if you watch the video below (or check it out HERE), you'll be lucky to be in attendance for it (in a way).
After the Q+A, in a tremendous display of showmanship by Fox and the museum, the writers were separated into small groups and brought downstairs into the Lincoln Vault, a truly secret place that not many have access to. In fact, we wern't even allowed to look directly at the door's lock as the combination was punched in. We had to take off our coats and leave our bags outside - the works.
Inside, remarkable possessions that once belonged to the man are kept in surprisingly well-preserved condition: one of the gloves he was wearing the night he died for example (you can see faint traces of blood on the fabric):
Or one of his signature stovepipe hats:
Even one of the last known copies of a photograph showing Lincoln in his casket as his body was being displayed in New York City's City Hall is kept there. I was not allowed to take a picture of this, but I must admit it's a chilling sight.
Finally, our informative tour guide showed us an interesting little item: what looked for all the world to be a stake, although naturally the guide convincingly claimed ignorance on the subject of the object's origins or purpose. (I told you they were committed to the ruse.) Similarly, an axe the leaned up against the wall was revealed to double as a rifle; all one had to do was unhook a latch and the handle of the axe slid out and the gun barrel was exposed. I'm angry that I didn't snap a pic of this, but safe to say that we might see something just like it when the film is ultimately released.
Oh, and I shouldn't forget these curious files that were hiding among other similar files on a shelf:
Lincoln was just full of surprises. As you can see, so was this enjoyable, interactive event. Now we wait and see if the movie is as clever and entertaining.: It will be released on JUNE 22nd.
Ben Walker and a waxy Abe Lincoln