Two movies I made sure to see this summer were Prometheus and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Prometheus was an easy sell. The prequel to Alien promised to deliver the origin story of the franchise’s nemesis.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter could have been a hard sell. After all, I quit reading the novel on page 15. The last vampire movie that was “must-see” for me starred Leslie Nielsen. And I’ve been self-conscious about films with splatter scenes since Watchmen (wondering, is this really my idea of entertainment?) Somehow the trailers for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter hooked me despite these objections.
Prometheus came out first. It was so beautifully made and so stupidly written. The characters behaved so cluelessly it was impossible to understand how they avoided being killed in traffic on the way to the spaceport, never mind on an alien world. Overwrought horror movie fans used to yell warnings to the people on-screen. I wanted to shout, “Yeah, smack that egg! Pound those buttons! Evolution in action, baby!” What a disappointing film.
Then I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It had its share of absurdities. A svelte Mary Todd and a handsome Abe Lincoln – clearly the originals could never get a job in Hollywood, even playing themselves. However, aided by the audience’s vague recollection of American history, and driven by characters who are consistently faithful to the tenets of this particular mythos, the movie overcomes its ridiculous premise in a very satisfying way. For two hours I was willing to believe what was on the screen.
Did I give Abraham Lincoln the benefit of a certain amount of “chronological snobbery” (as C. S. Lewis would call it)? And did Prometheus suffer in proportion? Chronological snobbery is the implicit (and erroneous) belief that people’s capabilities in earlier times were inherently inferior to ours today. If people today are wiser, as a corollary I am less likely to question bad choices made by 19th century characters – they simply couldn’t be expected to know any better.
Prometheus, on the other hand, is forced to shoulder the burdens that come with being about the future, a place created by people who have wisely used the intervening years to prepare for an alien encounter. I have the same prejudices as Bruce Willis’ character in Armageddon when he shouts in exasperation, “You’re NASA for cryin’ out loud, you put a man on the moon, you’re geniuses! You-you’re the guys that think this shit up! I’m sure you got a team of men sitting around somewhere right now just thinking shit up and somebody backing them up!”
Maybe that’s why I was far more judgmental about future space explorers rushing unzipped into situations I would know better than to touch with a 10-foot pole than I was about seeing our Civil War president chasing danger on a battlefield with a 3-foot axe.