There have probably been many students that have been forced to read the great works of Jane Austen who have felt that they would benefit from the addition of something a little more exciting than her usual narratives of finding the right match between characters. Perhaps one such student was author Seth Grahame-Smith, who decided to combine what is most likely Austen’s most famous work with a zombie apocalypse in his novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Obviously these are two things that don’t seem like they’d go together at all, and yet, the novel was quite popular, so a movie seemed like the next logical step, but would the world Grahame-Smith apparently created so well on the page translate smoothly enough for a cinematic adaptation?
As the film opens, we are introduced to zombie hunter Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley), who vanquishes the undead for a living using his expert military skills and tactics. Meanwhile, we also meet the Bennet family, consisting of Mr. Bennet, (Charles Dance), Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips), Elizabeth (Lily James), and her four sisters. They have all been trained to fight zombies as well, but finding husbands is a completely different matter, one that causes their mother to take them to a ball in an attempt to put them on display. It is here where the girls meet Mr. Darcy, and where he has his first encounter with Elizabeth. Almost immediately Elizabeth finds herself repulsed by him, but as events unfold, they keep finding themselves in each other’s company. However, even as their relationship develops, there remains the ever-present zombie threat, which soon escalates into one that puts London in great danger.
Admittedly, I’ve never read Grahame-Smith’s novel, so I can’t say one way or the other whether this idea worked well on the page. It certainly seems like a fascinating concept, to combine the witty and delightful writing of one of Jane Austen’s most celebrated works with something that couldn’t be more of a polar opposite. Zombie films may not be held in the highest regard, but that hasn’t stopped such directors as George A. Romero from creating at least a pair of masterpieces (“Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead”) from the concept. In a sense, this mash-up is something of an upper class meets lower class, or to be more appropriate, an “Upstairs, Downstairs” of cinema.
It is jarring, to say the least, to see these two things brought together, and while it does seem like an intriguing idea, what we have with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” are two stories that are distinctly at odds with each other. It wants to be witty and clever like Austen’s writing, while trying to deliver a story that’s rather similar, but at the same time, it doesn’t want you to forget that there are also zombies all about. To put it simply, we have two stories that keep stepping on each other’s toes. Every time it tries to delve deeper into the characters and who’s going to end up with whom, another zombie attack is thrown in, while every time it tries to develop the zombie plot further, it suddenly jumps back to the love interests. In short, it becomes like oil and water, where the two narratives just can’t mix together.
It’s understandable that they would want to try and have the best of both worlds, but when the narratives only continue to get in each other’s way, you end up losing both. As a result, the film is a bit of a dreadful mess, dragging for much of its runtime as it hops back and forth, throwing in several pointless action scenes along the way. Even if you’re a fan of Austen’s novels and zombie films, this is a tough one to sit through, mainly because Burr Steers’ screenplay doesn’t give either element a chance to breathe. However, what’s rather interesting to note is that the film has had one hell of a time getting made, having gone through a multitude of directors and writers before finally falling into Steer’s hands, so maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Looking at that history, one can only imagine how different (and probably better) this would have been had five-time Academy Award nominee David O. Russell gotten to tackle it as originally planned. Steers made a decent theatrical debut back in 2002 with “Igby Goes Down,” but only managed to follow that up with the critically-maligned “17 Again” and “Charlie St. Cloud,” so he was probably not the best choice to take over the project. However, given that he was about the 8th choice, it would appear that the studio was running out of options, so at that point, they probably took what they could get.
Would it have worked better with a different director/writer? I guess we’ll never know. Perhaps these two worlds were just never meant to be combined into one. They certainly work well enough on their own, but when combined in this manner, they both lose their edge as they are slowly suffocated by each other. Because of this, it can’t help from becoming just like the lumbering undead our heroes strive to save London from.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The picture remains perfectly bright and clear throughout the film, which does a fine job of showing off the elegant production design and costumes that are the highlights of the film. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all audial elements from the dialogue to the sound effects in top-notch quality. Overall, the film has been given great treatment that warrants no complaints.
The Badass Bennet Sisters (4 Minutes): A brief exploration of the stunt work that the actresses went through.
Creating the Unmentionables (3 Minutes): A very brief look at how the zombie makeup was created.
Courtship, Class, and Carnage: Meet the Cast (7 Minutes): A featurette that explores the ensemble through interviews with the cast and crew.
From Austen to Zombies: Adapting a Classic (6 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at bringing these two very different elements together.
Mr. Collins Line-O-Rama (3 Minutes): A collection of unfunny outtakes featuring Matt Smith.
Deleted Scenes (10 Minutes): A selection of deleted scenes that were easily lost from the final cut.
Gag Reel (2 Minutes): An unfunny blooper real that isn’t worth the time to watch.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” may have seemed like an interesting idea on paper, but when trying to combine these two elements on film, it makes for a narratively-befuddled experience in which they only get in each other’s way. Whether this was a result of the film being kicked around in “development hell” for such a long time, or the simple fact that this mix was never meant to be, the result is a mostly forgettable mess.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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