ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER – Henry Jackman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the first movie based on the very popular series of “mashup” novels by Seth Grahame-Smith, in which a real, famous person or an established literary classic is re-imagined with a science fiction or horror twist. Other entries in the mini-genre include “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, “Queen Victoria: Demon Slayer” and “Unholy Night”, but Abraham Lincoln is the first to make the transition to the big screen. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the film stars as Benjamin Walker as the 16th President of the United States, recounting the story of his early life: having discovered that his beloved mother was murdered, young Lincoln vows vengeance against the man responsible, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), but is overpowered and almost killed by Barts, who is actually a vampire. Lincoln is rescued and nursed back to health by the enigmatic Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who trains Lincoln to be a vampire hunter, and promises the idealistic young man that he can exact his revenge when the time is right. The film, which also stars Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rufus Sewell, was originally going to be scored by the Oscar-winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, before the film eventually fell into the hands of one of the most talented and creative recent graduates from Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control stable, Henry Jackman.
Jackman’s recent work has included such excellent scores as Monsters vs. Aliens, Gulliver’s Travels, X-Men First Class, Winnie the Pooh, and Puss in Boots, but unfortunately Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter seems to owe a little more to Trent Reznor’s sound design mentality than to the powerful orchestral tones Jackman employed on his previous works. The score is dark, and appropriately so, but considering it’s subject matter seems unfortunately light on thematic content and the sense of fun that a film of this genre-bending and clearly ludicrous subject matter would seem to inspire. Instead, Jackman conjures up a score which employs fairly large orchestral forces, but buries them under a layer of grinding, grungy electronic sound effects and industrial pulses, giving the score a tough, modern edge, but virtually killing any gothic grandeur or emotional impact it may have once contained.
For fairly substantial periods of time, the score meanders along, presenting elongated string sustains, electronic ambiences, pulsing ostinati, and an occasional electric guitar wail, but little in the way of musical innovation or thematic content to latch onto. It’s all fine in context, and lends an appropriately oppressive aura of dread to the proceedings, but in terms of maintaining listener interest, it doesn’t live up to expectations at all. Scores of this type are becoming so commonplace in film music these days, especially in studio-financed action films, that when you hear them you are almost waiting with a checklist, anticipating the clichés, and ticking them off as they come.
Not everything is dull, though. The score opens in quiet mode with the opening cue, “Childhood Tragedy”, containing a gentle theme for piano, harp and boy soprano that romanticizes Lincoln’s idyllic early years, before they are spoiled by the onset of vampirism in his small backwoods community. The first few moments of “You Are Full of Surprises” restate the tender piano theme from the opening cue, and “Mary Todd” reworks the childhood motif as a sweet and romantic love theme for Lincoln and his wife-to-be, who meet cute in the Springfield grocery store where young Abe is a clerk. Later, “Haunted by the Past” has a string led lament with soft choral accents that manages to capture some of the tragedy and devastation in Lincoln’s tortured history, and in the process becomes one of the emotional high points of the score. Similarly, the stirring and patriotic “The Gettysburg Address” brings a sense of rousing grandeur to Lincoln’s most famous speech.
Some of the action music, notably “The Horse Stampede”, “Forging Silver” and “80 Miles”, does have some pretty intricate orchestral writing buried beneath the synthesized sludge, and when it briefly comes to the foreground, some of the brass and string rhythms Jackman employs are quite excellent. In “The Horse Stampede”, for example, Jackman introduces an especially powerful and heroic brass motif, while in “80 Miles” Jackman has his cellos churning under the action to the beat of a speeding locomotive. It’s also worth noting a recurring color motif for tubular bells which seems to herald the appearance of the vampire leader Adam, or one of his nefarious minions, that makes an appearance in several cues. The big climactic set-piece, “The Burning Bridge”, manages to up the ante with a large, throbbing homage to Holst in the brass section, and certainly attains an impressive head of steam as a mass of booming orchestral chords and percussion slams let the listener know that something enormous is happening on-screen.
At the other end of the scale, however, cues like “Henry Sturgess”, the early parts of “Inauguration”, a great deal of “All Slave To Something”, and several others, are a noisy mess, owing a lot to Hans Zimmer’s score for Broken Arrow in their guitar performances, but without the panache and technique the great Duane Eddy brought to the table – this score’s featured guitarist, Tyler Bryant, is a 21-year old prodigy often described as a “future guitar god”, but I’m not seeing it based on his work here. The iTunes-only bonus cue, “The Rampant Hunter”, is perhaps the nadir of this style, a God-awful collision of whooshing metallic sounds and industrial effects underneath a wailing electric guitar that had me grasping for the stop button.
It’s not that I was expecting Jackman to write Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or a James Bernard Hammer-style vampire score; clearly, considering the film’s target demographic and contemporary literary inspiration, this was always going to be a score aimed at the younger generation. However, considering the excellence Jackman has shown in recent years, I was certainly expecting something with a little more flair, and not a tired retread of a dozen action scores that could easily have come from the pen of someone less talented and sophisticated than him. I won’t resort to a cliché and say that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer sucks, but it certainly doesn’t have as much bite as one might have hoped.
Buy the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Childhood Tragedy (0:53)
- Vampires (3:05)
- What Do You Hate? (1:15)
- Power Comes From Truth (2:28)
- You Are Full of Surprises (1:15)
- Mary Todd (1:55)
- The Horse Stampede (3:14)
- Henry Sturgess (0:54)
- Adam (1:27)
- Rescue Mission (1:14)
- Inauguration (1:52)
- All Slave To Something (2:48)
- Emancipation (0:44)
- Haunted By the Past (2:59)
- Battle at Gettysburg (0:49)
- Forging Silver (1:39)
- 80 Miles (1:51)
- The Burning Bridge (3:40)
- Not the Only Railroad (1:37)
- The Gettysburg Address (2:21)
- Late to the Theater (1:59)
- The Rampant Hunter [BONUS] (5:30)
Running Time: 45 minutes 48 seconds
Sony Masterworks 197833 (2012)
Music composed by Henry Jackman. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Orchestrated by Stephen Coleman. Additional music by Dominic Lewis and Matthew Margeson. Featured musical soloists Tyler Bryant and Alex Belcher. Special vocal performances by Elyse Marchant. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by Jack Dolman and Jeanette Surga. Album produced by Henry Jackman and Jack Dolman.