Arriving just in time to miss peak steampunk by a year or two is “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” a one-joke movie that is itself based on a one-joke book, Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 mash-up of the 1813 Jane Austen novel with B-movie zombie horror.
Grahame-Smith’s book is, as one wag put it, “more a concept than an actual novel.” The entire joke is contained in its cover, which took a classical period portrait by Sir William Beechey and rendered its demure beauty as a half-rotten corpse. The 300-plus pages that follows are largely redundant. Eighty-five percent of it is about the manners and mores of courtship in 18th-century England, as in Austen’s original novel (now conveniently in the public domain), but with bits of ninja and zombie action stitched in like some snarky fanboy’s revenge on his 10th-grade English literature teacher.
Yes, we’re all so postmodern now, and enjoying both high and low culture is hardly news. I can recommend Joe Wright’s faithful “Pride and Prejudice” adaptation as readily as airhead Austen parody “Clueless” or zombie gut-muncher “Night of the Living Dead.” In a sense, I am this movie’s target audience, but I spent the entire two hours absolutely baffled as to what possible appeal this movie could hold for any viewer.
|Rating||out of 5|
Horror without any frights, romance without any chemistry, camp without any laughs, literature without any depth — that was “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. Director Burr Reese — No. 10 on the list of people once attached to this project — proves that it’s possible to do two completely separate genres at once and suck at both. (See 2011’s “Cowboys and Aliens” for another example.)
The story is the same as Austen’s: The modestly well-off Bennet family are trying to find appealing and prosperous suitors for their five educated and cultured daughters, with the most difficult match proving to be the feisty Elizabeth (played here by Lily James, Lady Rose from the ever popular “Downton Abbey”). The handsome and rich Mr. Bingsley (Douglas Booth) soon pairs up with eldest daughter Jane (Bella Heathcote) but Elizabeth has a rockier road with the prideful and curt Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley). Unlike the original novel, however, the Bennet sisters are all kick-ass warrior women trained in weapons and the martial arts, while Darcy is a leather-coated undead hunter.
The gap between Austen’s world — of balls and parlor gossip, where everyone is deeply concerned with manners, propriety and social standing — is never reconciled in any sort of plausible way with a zombie apocalypse scenario, which inevitably revolves upon the breakdown of civilization. It’s like watching episodes of “Downton Abbey” and “The Walking Dead” simultaneously. The need for the Bennets to find good husbands to provide for their daughters becomes senseless when the women are flying kung-fu amazons dressed like the denizens of a Parisian bordello.
This could have been mined for sheer absurdity, and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” immediately springs to mind as another comedy that took great liberties with a classic of English literature. While that film had wonderfully off-the-wall sketches that fans endlessly quoted word-for-word (“Answer me these questions three …”), “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” struggles to produce even a single laugh. On the flipside, its PG rating ensures the horror is pretty tame; you’ll see far gnarlier zombie action on TV in “The Walking Dead.”
The steampunk fashion by costume designer Julian Day — all gothy greatcoats, bodices, lace-up boots and strappy leather holsters — was about the only saving grace of two brainless hours. Then again, it was Austen herself who wrote, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
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