The UnPopular Opinion: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
When Quirk Books first published PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES as a mash-up novel back in 2009, many disregarded it as a joke. Loving zombies as much as the next person, I figured I would give it a shot. At the very least, I would chuckle at the sheer ridiculousness of the concept. To my surprise, what I found was instead Jane Austen's original text augmented by martial arts and undead gore. I realized as I compared the Seth Grahame-Smith tome next to Austen's original publication was that I was actually consuming a classic novel that I previously had zero interest in reading. I the mash-up genre that peaked with this book before fizzling out quickly proved anything it was that books that may be hard to engage high school students in appreciating could be made enjoyable by adding some anachronistic elements. Burr Steers' film version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES succeeds in that same challenge but does so in a much different way than the novel did.
I will lay a disclaimer here that I was privileged to visit the set of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES when it was in production. But, from that moment forward I was confident that I would not let this movie slide by with a good review just because I got to interview the cast and crew. As the trailers and clips poured in, I became a bit hesitant that the movie would not live up to it's potential. I even skipped it during it's theatrical run because I wasn't sure it was going to be worth the price of admission. Eventually, I checked out PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and found it to be a very unique film. While the original novel had comedic elements that survive into this movie, the cast plays the film straight. This truly is a world inhabited by the undead and all those invovled with the creation of this film has delivered what amounts to an alternate history. While it may not be everybody's cup of tea, this is a film that is a heck of a lot more fun than you would think.
Whereas traditional takes on the Austen novel have featured big stars like Keira Knightley and Colin Firth, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is populated by up and coming performers like Lily James (CINDERELLA), Sam Riley (MALEFICENT), Douglas Booth (NOAH), Bella Heathcote (DARK SHADOWS), and Jack Huston (BEN-HUR). There are, of course, recognizable actors like Lena Headey and Doctor Who's Matt Smith to give the film some credibility, but the young cast are all perfectly suited to their roles. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is, at it's core, a teen romance story. Jane Austen was a brilliant writer of stories that empowered females in a male dominated society and this film carries that torch admirably. The struggle of class is inherent in this film as is the right for a woman to her own decisions without being defined by men. But, unlike other adaptations, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES doesn't beat you over the head with it's message. Instead, writer/director Burr Steers weaves it into the society on display. By doing so, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES takes a step above being a gimmick or a one-joke idea and thrives in this world that it has created.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the PG-13 rating was not put to waste here. There was never a chance tha this film would be a grotesque gore-fest because the novel is not. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES has some nice zombie designs and the CGI is not overtly fake. The use of practical effects on this production is evident even if the blood splatter is clearly computer generated. Overall, I was anticipating some really weak effects but this film is on par with anything in the RESIDENT EVIL series. George Romero would be proud of some of the looks you see in this film. Hell, there are many zombies here on the same level as The Walking Dead. Plus, I cannot recall another true zombie film that is set in this same time period which gives PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES another advantage in that no other film has looked at this period through genre eyes.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES was a massive failure at the box office; grossing only $16 million worldwide on a $28 million budget. The film was marketed almost anachronistically with modern music and editing in the trailers but the film itself is a much more traditional film. If you were to take the zombies and fight scenes out of the film, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES would be a very capable and enjoyable period film. The entire cast are immensely talented but it is the comedic relief of Matt Smith that steals the film. As Mr. Collins, Smith shows a very different side of his acting talents than we have seen in TERMINATOR: GENISYS, Ryan Gosling's LOST RIVER, and even on Doctor Who. Jack Huston is also stellar as the villainous Mr. Wickham and proves he needs meatier leading man roles to play up his matinee idols appearance. If there is anyone that I wanted to see more of it is Sam Riley. Riley plays Mr. Darcy very differently than previous big screen incarnations of the iconic role, but he is adept as a warrior enough that I would watch a spin-off film centered on him.
If the film has any major shortcomings it is that it takes far too long for the balance of period drama, romance, and horror to mesh together. The animated sequence during the opening credits is a bit off-putting in comparison to the rest of the film and the introductions to the Bennet clan just drags the first half hour more than it needs to. While effective as an Austen adaptation, the tonal shift over the first act varies wildly from horror to Austen. Ultimately, it works, but where the film begins to stray more from the source material it begins to feel more mashed together rather than organically created. That may sound like a major detriment to the overall quality of the film, but I went back and rewatched PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES a second time and, with expectations now fully in hand, was able to better experience the film, warts and all.
What it comes down to is that PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES tries to be both a zombie movie and a Jane Austen movie. It does appeal beautifully to both fan-bases and yet leaves both a bit flat in the end. If you step away from either of those perspectives and view the movie with disregard for the source material, it works even better. Having read the book I can say the movie is both an adaptation and something totally different, just like the book was in relation to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. If you have never read or appreciated Jane Austen, you may get more out of this movie than you expected. I highly encourage genre fans to check this out as you probably never will see another movie quite like this and that is high praise. There was a challenge in trying to execute PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES as more than a throwaway gag and everyone involved her did exactly that. If the movie teaches us anything it is that classic novels can be made all the better with a little genre thrown in for good measure.
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