We are now exactly two months away from the premiere of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (excited yet?), and I just wanted to give my thoughts on a few things below:
The Voice of Daniel Day-Lewis
If you browse the film message boards, namely IMDb’s, you will find that there are quite a lot of people disappointed at the voice/accent Day-Lewis is using to portray Abraham Lincoln, citing it as too high-pitched and not deep enough. The reason for these attacks (there seem to be quite a few people who have too much time on their hands) is because people are used to seeing our 16th president presented with a deep, raspy voice, much like what Gregory Peck did for him in The Blue and the Gray, and to a lesser extent, Lance Henriksen in The Day Lincoln was Shot, one of my favorites. However, if you do your historical research, you will learn that Lincoln’s voice was actually the opposite of how Hollywood has shown over the years. It was a “high and shrill” voice that had a kind of country-bumpkin twang to it. People in his time were originally caught off-guard by it, expecting a man of his size to sound differently, but by all reports, his voice quickly grew on the crowd, especially during speeches. I think the only actor to come close to getting it right prior to this was Sam Waterston, who starred in Gore Vidal’s 1988 made-for-TV vision of the same name as this one. It must have been very difficult for Day-Lewis to continuously use this accent, as he is a method actor who remains in character the entire time he is on set, but that is what separates him from the rest. He is one of the best actors of our time for a reason.
Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens
Even though we only have a few fleeting glimpses of him in the trailer, I was so astounded by how good Jones looked and sounded as the anti-slavery representative of Pennsylvania, Thaddeus Stevens, who was one of the leading proponents to end slavery. If you look at the picture above, you will see the startling, almost eerie similarities they share (much like Day-Lewis and Lincoln himself), and I am almost as excited to see him as I am the main character. Wanting to learn more, I researched Stevens a little bit and was very inspired by what I read. This was a man who was so dedicated to ending slavery and promoting racial equality, that he asked to be buried only in a cemetery that accepted people regardless of race, which ended up being located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania–a place I shall have to visit next time I’m up in Amish Country. The inscription on his tombstone reads as follows: “I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator.”
People have been wondering about how long Lincoln is going to be, and while we do not have that information just yet, I will try to make an educated guess and say that it will be somewhere between 130 and 160 minutes. While history buffs would not mind trudging through a three-plus hour movie, given the downward spiral of the American attention span, I cannot see Spielberg and Co. pushing it that far. Historical epics, as good as they very well may be, usually end up failing at the box office for two reasons: pacing and running time. It is hard to cram so much information into a succinct amount of time (sometimes causing people’s heads to spin when a vast amount of facts is rushed through), and when it is stretched out, it becomes too long to handle. Case in point: Gods and Generals. The history and Civil War fans would love it, but the rest of the audience, a.k.a, the vocal paying majority, would probably not. It’s a really disappointing fact, but it is reality nonetheless.
I think it is safe to say that this film will end up with a PG-13 rating. Given the battle scenes and thematic content, it probably cannot be any less than that, and if it were to receive an R-rating, it would lose out on a large part of the targeted audience. This is a film that has the potential to land in the library of every single school in the country, and will probably come up for discussions for field trips during school hours when November rolls around. That is why the rating is so important. You may not think it is that big of a deal, but as a teacher and someone who has to deal with a certain amount of red tape when trying to show a film in class, believe me when I tell you that it is very hard to get an R-rated film shown in a school, much less getting allowance for a field trip. On the flip-side, if there is no sex or drug use (which Lincoln has none of), PG-13 films are almost always accepted.
The Opening Weekend
Lastly, a large amount of people have expressed concern about the opening weekend, and that this film will be going up against the latest Twilight movie, also coming out on November 16th. Somehow, they think, it will detract from viewership. Had this been Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter we were talking about, then they might have a case, but I really do not see how a fantasy about sparkling vampires will somehow pull potential viewers of a historical drama over to their theater screen—it just does not happen that way. If this film ends up being as good as the trailer makes it look, and Day-Lewis truly is the cult icon he has become (ever since the “I drink your milkshake line!” from There Will Be Blood), then we will have nothing to worry about.