I can’t judge how the blending of zombie horror with Jane Austen’s classic text worked in Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, but it was an all-around awkward cinematic endeavor in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The film adaptation by Burr Steers tries to please too many audience demographics and instead succeeds at none. Many have remarked that the most successful aspects of the film are those which remain closest to Austen’s original story, and though I would agree, these are also the parts of the film that reminded me of the far superior adaptation by Joe Wright a little over a decade ago. Like Spider-Man, apparently this is a narrative we must endure a new incarnation of for each generation.
The addition of the zombies is taken too seriously, though without any of the suspense or horror to make it successful. Apparently there was also meant to be a comedic element, though much of this is lost with a cast more accustomed to soap opera melodrama than the nuances of comic timing. And in their defense, Steers never pushes the material far enough to be as campy as the premise would have required to be truly enjoyable. In the end, it is too safe in all endeavors, leaving the audience with a tepidly dull genre film and the cliff notes version of Austen’s beloved romance, with many roles feeling stiffly miscast for a younger audience.
Along with the film being tonally bipolar, it is overcomplicated with backstory to explain the zombie existence and dynamics within Austen’s 19th century English narrative. While much of this classical reworking may have appeared clever with the freedom to breath in a novel, it all feels crammed into a 107-minute genre film. Beloved miniseries adaptations took over four hours to tell the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, and even Wright’s feature was over two hours, and that was without the addition of zombies. Somehow this version feels rushed while simultaneously unforgivably dull.
Lily James tackles the role of Elizabeth Bennett, though with nearly all of the female characters raising sword and rifle to fight zombies, she lacks the same individuality and independence of past incarnations of Austen’s beloved heroine. She’s just one amongst many strong and independent women in the film, rarely ever standing apart. Trained in martial arts and weaponry,
fights the zombie scourge with the same blasé attitude as her approach to romance. Part of the difficulty is a lack of chemistry between her and Sam Riley, who lends his signature gravelly voice to the role of Mr. Darcy, now a soldier fighting against a vague impending zombie apocalypse. I understand that Riley has a fanbase that will likely come to his defense, but I couldn’t help but feel that he was miscast in this role. I would have much preferred to see Jack Huston in this role, rather than as the villainous George Wickham. Far too many of the roles feel cast by the way the attractive young cast looks in period clothing than their ability to convincingly bring the material to life. Elizabeth
The premise is ridiculous enough that it might have worked with the campy qualities fully embraced, but instead it tries unsuccessfully to please both Austen fans and horror aficionados alike. The horror never brings any real thrills, especially in an age when zombies have become far too common for shock value, and the action is more forced than it was in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. There may be hopes of this historical horror film sub-genre taking off, but Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does little to ensure its success. As for the comedic elements of the film, many of these young soap-opera looking actors are uncomfortably bad at comedic timing. I was often uncertain which moments were attempts at humor and which were merely bad acting, which essentially means they all belong to the latter.
Though I have little praise for the film itself, the visual style lends itself perfectly to the rich presentation of the 4K Ultra HD format. From the meticulous production design to cinematography, layered with a depth of colors and low light begging for the additional contrast resolution, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies looks spectacular in this cutting-edge high(er) definition presentation. It feels like a film that was aware of the enhanced visuals, providing visual treats within every nook and cranny of the cinematography. Often this was the only pleasure in watching scenes which have been done better elsewhere.
The 4K Ultra HD combo pack also comes with a standard Blu-ray disc, as well as an HD digital copy. Apparently the extra definition of the Ultra HD is too much of a space hog, because this disc contains the film only. The extras are reserved for the Blu-ray disc, including an assortment of unnecessary additional footage and features which range from obvious to immature. It seems that the audience for the extras is as young as the new casting implies, with featurettes such as “The Badass Bennett Sisters” and one about the zombie make-up. The extra footage is no better, even including a “Line-O-Rama” to go with a gag reel and deleted scenes. In the end, the extras like the film itself feel dumbed down for a younger generation of literature illiterates.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 6/10