Book to Movie Review: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Spencer Cole is one of our favorite guest reviewers that loves to focus on book to film adaptations.  Today he's here to talk about an adaptation of an adaptation.

A movie adaptation of a book adaptation of a classic novel - it sounds a little bit like a game of telephone, but actually works surprisingly well in the case of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In a year with a huge number of worthy films, this quirky action movie is nevertheless carving out its own niche. The book itself was a fun and lighthearted read when it came out in 2009, taking a very prim and proper storyline and turning it on its head. It also took advantage of a longstanding interest in the fantasy genre and zombie phenomenon, while adding a nice helping of girl-power on top of it. The film both succeeds and fails for many of the same reasons - it is a familiar story but with a whole new twist.

The core plot is essentially unchanged. Elizabeth Bennet, played by Lily James, still takes an almost instant dislike to the haughty Darcy, who still advises his much more mellow friend against marrying Elizabeth's sister. Unlike the original plot, all the Bennet girls are also talented warriors who like to blow off stress by killing zombies. Also unlike the original book, Elizabeth decides that the best response to Darcy's slight of her family is to kill him too. He eventually is able to make amends and the couple works together to not only help their friends and family find similar happiness, but to also fight back the zombie hordes.

The movie is fairly true to the modern book adaptation however, there are a few changes. It goes even further in its depictions of battle, choreographing fast-paced fight sequences alongside the more sedate ballroom scenes. The ending also embraces the warrior concept even more deeply than the book, letting the women take the lead in battle and even having the more traditional Jane, played by Bella Heathcote, save her beloved Bingley. Though Darcy, played by Sam Riley, proves himself to be a very capable fighter, there is no implication that Elizabeth is any less handy. This ramping up of the violence from the book works well, since movies are by their nature more visual and less cerebral, and it keeps the plot moving quickly.

The movie, despite working hard to stay true to both the original novel and its adaptation, doesn't always connect. There are a few reasons for this. True Austen fans may be offended at the implication that Pride and Prejudice needed spicing up to begin with. There was also the fact that some plot points were breezed past fairly quickly in order to make time for the battle scenes. Similarly, zombie fans may not appreciate that the film is more of a parody than a real horror staple. It is noticeably more fun than frightening.

The timing also worked against it to a degree. There has been an influx of thoughtfully done zombie movies in recent years, including the romantic Warm Bodies and the zany Fido, both of which can still be seen on cable TV. This has both raised the bar for the genre and taken away the novelty factor that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would have otherwise benefited from. It may simply be that the film needed to commit to one direction or another. It needed to be more frightening or more funny, rather than trying to walk the line in between.

Regardless of its flaws, this adaptation directed by Burr Steers will likely do better on the small screen than it has on the big screen. It is certainly a fun enough film to enjoy with a group of friends and popcorn, if you don’t compare it to the original or other parodies. While the quirkiness may not have quite been enough to carry it to box office success, it seems like there will be a certain niche of fans who will continue to appreciate it as a stand-alone film.

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