Can't anyone kill this beast?
By Deborah Yaffe, May 9 2013 01:00PM
Janeite news of the week is the apparent resurrection – cue undead jokes here – of the filmed version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the surprise bestseller from 2009, a mash-up of Jane Austen’s out-of-copyright text (85 percent) with Seth Grahame-Smith’s tale of the supernatural (15 percent).
The project is on its fourth director, and at least seven actresses have been mentioned as possible Elizabeth Bennets. Now number eight, the Anglo-American actress Lily Collins, who played Snow White in last year’s Mirror, Mirror, is “in negotiations” for the role, which apparently means it’s a done deal.
Some years ago, via sources that must remain shrouded in mystery, I obtained a copy of David O. Russell’s script for the movie, and I just can’t understand why the world is clamoring for this story to be told.
Grahame-Smith’s original book is like a Saturday Night Live skit that’s funny for five minutes but lasts for twenty; my initial giggles over the incongruous pairing dissolved into yawns long before the book limped to a close on page 317. But Russell’s script is worse: just another tired version of a horror flick we’ve all seen a hundred times, except this time with Empire waists.
P&P&Z is not that funny – for my taste, Grahame-Smith relies way too much on sophomoric puns on the word “balls.” To the extent that it’s funny at all, however, it’s funny precisely because it sticks close to the familiar story of P&P: we know what’s coming and then laugh when our expectations are simultaneously fulfilled and subverted – when Austen’s scene of psychological warfare between Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh morphs into a martial-arts swordfight, for example.
But Russell’s script largely abandons the P&P template, and with it the project’s already slender raison d’etre. Most of the familiar plot elements vanish, and we end up with a set-piece battle pitting the good guys against Wickham’s zombie army, in a reprise of the shoot-'em-up climax to every big-budget action movie ever made.
I suppose it might be catnip for teenage boys, that all-important movie audience -- but do teenage boys really want their zombie battles mashed up with costume drama? Seems unlikely, somehow. Couldn’t we just have the definitive Mansfield Park movie instead?
I remain hopeful that this ghastly idea of a P&P&Z movie will continue to languish in committee (no zombie metaphors allowed). But I second your motion for a definitive MP movie--although I'm not sure that any current actors could top Anna Massey as Mrs. Norris and Bernard Hepton as Sir Thomas in the 1983 BBC production. (RIP Anna Massey.)
Alas, the P&P&Z movie is definitely coming our way in 2015: I just blogged about it this week (January 8, 2015). I suspect it will sink quickly, though you can remind me of my poor predictive abilities if it's on the red carpet at Oscar time in 2016.
As for MP: there are many good things about that 1983 version, but for my taste it's a little slow and unadventurous, as were many of those slavishly faithful 1970s/1980s BBC adaptations. And the production values and technical problems are terrible: in some of the outdoor scenes, the feet crunching on gravel drown out the dialogue, IIRC. It reminded me of the microphone problems in "Singin' in the Rain."