Monday, March 7, 2016

Basically Undead Downton Abbey, or Thoughts on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

 I am one of those elitist intellectual snobs who will always say the book is better than the movie, so I don’t look forward to the inevitable situation where a beloved book that I have read multiple times is adapted into a movie for a PG-13 audience who may not share the same sense and sensibilities as I have concerning Jane Austen, 19th Century England and zombies.
Along with World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide from Max Brooks (Mel’s son), Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel arguably started this whole zombie renaissance, and the movie adaptation does its best to distinguish itself from the modern zombie world.  This is a  more genteel and civilized zombie apocalypse, not as savage or lawless as The Walking Dead, with fortified country estates, courtly dances and elegant dinners.  Think zombie Downton Abbey but a couple hundred years earlier.
The film opens with the famous quote and then it goes all to hell, and not in a good way.  Lily James, who you know as Lady Rose from Downton Abbey, plays Elizabeth Bennet, a cheap Kiera Knightly knockoff (who played Elizabeth in 2005 and demonstrated far better fighting skills in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).  The Bennet sisters can fight but this is not a martial arts movie, not when it’s hamstrung by PG-13 violence levels and bloodless CGI zombie makeup.  It’s a movie where the dancing is better than the fighting, and that’s never a good thing in a zombie movie unless you’re watching the Thriller video.
The movie can’t find a balance, and the viewer is left confused; this is not scary enough to be a horror movie, not funny enough to be a comedy, not an action movie, or a historical romance.  No commitment to any genre or the source material makes for a lackluster movie and a mediocre viewing experience.
I cannot fault the gorgeous costumes, interior design, luxurious sets or the first rate cast, including Matt Smith, Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet, Jack Huston aka Richard Harrow from Boardwalk Empire and especially Lena Headey as Lady Catherine De Bourgh, the greatest zombie fighter in all of England.  The classical soundtrack is also period correct, and I was so relieved they didn’t play something contemporary over the final credits.
The most interesting aspect of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is that they can communicate in this movie.  The undead are more like a reanimated Black Plague, and closer to George A. Romero’s original vision of the living dead. There is a gloriously blasphemous zombie church of Saint Lazarus scene complete with pig blood communion that I am surprised more people are not protesting.
I really wanted to like this movie and had been looking forward to it as much as Mad Max Fury Road (2015).  But given the current state of endless remakes we’ll probably get a new effort in a decade and this movie will drive new readers to the original novel.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies also featured Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy who you may remember as Ian Curtis in Control (2007) and you know just like the living dead, love will tear us apart, again.