Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Review
A TALE OF TWO NARRATIVES
Back in 1813, English novelist Jane Austen published her newest book Pride and Prejudice, following the narrative of character Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with society issues of manners, mortality, upbringing, and marriage in 19th Century England, while also courting her relationship with the prideful gentlemen Mr. Darcy. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice went on to become a literary classic, selling over 20 million copies, adapted on several mediums throughout its lifespan, and still retain its fascination with modern readers. In 2009, Seth Grahame-Smith’s published Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an alternative take on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with modern-day fixation of zombies thrown into the mix. Interestingly, the book was a success as Seth Grahame-Smith followed up his literary work with the 2012 book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Now, several years later, Lionsgate and director Burr Steers, brings to life Grahame-Smith’s twisted Jane Austen novel to life with the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Does this movie marriage the two concepts cohesively or is it a failed cinematic mashup?
Set in 19th Century England, a zombie plague has broken out across the country due to nation’s trade efforts that reached too far into parts unknown. Raising his daughters, including Elizabeth (Lily James) and Jane (Bella Heathcoate), to be zombie-killing warriors with Chinese martial arts training, Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) also secures the martial prospects with intense vigor, with Jane falling for Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth). As Jane and Bingley begin their courtship, Elizabeth is caught off-guard by Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), a general officer committed to hunting zombies whose arrogant pride often blocks matters of the hear. As a zombie apocalypse spreads across London, threatening civility with horde of the undead, Elizabeth is placed in a difficult position, with an interest from Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston), a noble soldier who forces the young lady to choose between duty and her ambiguous love with Darcy, while her combat skills are needed to battlefield as whispers are spreading that the end of days approaches.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Working at a bookstore, I known all of Jane Austen’s written work and yet, beyond reading Pride Prejudice, I haven’t read them. I know…where “literary dunce” hat for saying that. Being a movie buff. I’ve seeing a lot of the film adaption of Austen’s stories, including the two recent Pride and Prejudice movies (the 1995 version and the 2003 version). I remember when Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out and everyone was talking about and how the two concepts collided in a unique storytelling way. I was intrigued, but never picked up the book. Spending a lot of time at the movie theaters, I kept on seeing the trailer for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and (I have to admit) was sort intrigue by to eventually buy a ticket to see. After seeing it, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, while entertaining with its premise, doesn’t really reinvent itself in the categories of romance, drama, action, or zombie fascination, besides the obvious of blend them all together.
Director Burr Steers, who previously directed Charlie St. Cloud and 17 Again, takes up the mantle of bringing Seth Grahame-Smith’s book to life on the big screen. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is definitely an interesting concept and Steers is up for the task, bringing a bizarre effectiveness to English romance that juxtaposes zombie-horror aspect. Steers seems to keep up appearances, creating the film’s backdrop setting of 19th Century that’s reminiscent to everyone’s imaging (wardrobe costumes, set pieces, locales, etc.), while adding some new ideas into its alternative time period. It’s also interesting to see the “marriage” of the two ideals play out in the movie, with the courtship of love and fighting zombies thrown together with stylized playful charm.
The main problem, especially with page to screen adaptations, is how much written context can be saved as feature films have a “time constraint” on what can be said and shown in its undertaking. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies feels like its burden of carrying two stories in one (the original Jane Austen story and Seth Grahame-Smith’s reimaging of it). As I said above, it very interesting concept and does have moments where the two narrative hits its intended strides, but the movie, beyond its surface context, does little to enrich the two ideas. Steers tries to cram a lot of iconic scenes from Pride and Prejudice, only to have them watered down and / or rushed into the frenzy of zombie attacks. Even the film’s third act, which almost completely deviates from Austen’s work, is haphazard, feeling more chaotic than a the “climatic” resolution battle of a commonplace narrative.
As for the zombies themselves, it’s a little “too little, too late” to fully capitalize on its premise. Due to its popularity in pop culture reference, the uprising of the zombocalypse has been countless explored in other properties and across the many media facets (books, TV, films, video games etc.). Thus, this means that Steers needed to “refresh” the whole concept of these undead beings to standout in the crowd of mainstream zombie clutter. Unfortunately, beyond its inclusion to Austen’s literary work, Steers does not accomplish this task as the zombies themselves are, more or less, the weakest element in this new retelling. Sure, they make-up usage for the zombies is pretty good (and little bit gruesome), but they ultimately pale in comparison to others zombies (i.e. The Walking Dead, World War Z, and Games of Thrones).
The movie’s cast is jam-packed with familiar faces, portraying all the beloved characters from Pride and Prejudice, with some playing the original personas, while others are more slightly modified to fit this retelling. Downton Abbey alum Lily James does well as Elizabeth Bennet, proving to handle all the grace of a 18th Century lady as well as handling Austen’s dialogue lines. Coinciding with that, Sam Riley plays Mr. Darcy, who (like James) is giving enough screen time to make a lasting impression. Riley has the overall “stuffiness” persona of Darcy as well as the mischievous tone that Grahame-Smith did to rework the character, but, like the zombies, pale in comparison to other who played the part before (i.e. Colin Firth or even Matthew Macfadyen). In turn, both are good, but fall short due to the script’s story being too convoluted of balancing the romance saga of Elizabeth and Darcy, while thrilling their new personas of zombie-killers.
Of the supporting cast, the best is former Doctor Who Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Bennet’s irritant cousin Collins (if you know the P and P story, then you know the character). Smith’s rendition of Collin’s is a welcomed one, a really delight in the feature even though he’s more in the background. Boardwalk Empire alum Jack Huston certainly looks the part of George Wickham as his character as little bit more to do than Austen’s original story, but again falters underneath a weak execution and clunky script. In truth, the same can be said for the rest of the cast, including Douglas Booth as Mr. Bingley and Game of Thrones stars Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet and Lena Headey as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, which are a little bit more “theatrically bolder” in this version of Austen’s tale, but merely in the background, acting as story devices caricatures.
It’s a tale of two narratives in the literary Austen / zombie mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Burr Steers’s theatrical adaptation of this peculiar reimaging of the classic Jane Austen story has its merits, including a recognizable cast and is well-presented with enough 19th Century charm and nuances as well as its outlandish zombie premise. However, the balancing of Austen’s original tale and of Seth Grahame-Smith’s work is a little bit at odds with another, with iconic P and P scenes watered-down, a haphazard third act and yes…more uninspired zombie implementations. To me, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an iffy choice, proving an interesting piece of work, but nothing grand beyond its colliding narrative premise. Some viewers, most notably those well-versed with the Austen’s original text, might wholeheartedly buy into (and love) the contrast of romance and zombies, while others (causal moviegoers) might steer clear of seeing this strange mashup of turning Jane Austen’s characters into zombie-killing warriors.
3.2 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Reviewed on February 9th, 2016
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is rated PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material