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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Blu-ray Review)

27 May, 2016

Street 5/31/16
Sony Pictures
Fantasy Horror Romance
Box office $10.91 million
$26.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material.
Stars Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Lena Headey, Suki Waterhouse.

Despite whatever preconceptions it may inspire, the title of this movie tells you exactly what it is. It’s Pride and Prejudice, and there are zombies around. And boy, do they commit to that concept.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is adapted from the 2009 novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who was also responsible for the novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and its underwhelming film version. The PPZ book basically took Jane Austen’s classic and mashed zombies into the narrative, and that’s pretty much what this movie does, too.

It exists in an alternate reality in which a zombie plague made its way from the New World back to Europe. The British army is constantly engaged in battle with zombie swarms, and Mr. Darcy is one of their top warriors.

The Bennet sisters, in between searching for husbands at parties, are well trained in various martial arts and are armed to the max under their fancy gowns. Indeed the film’s best scenes involve the Bennet sisters prancing around like ninjas as they slay the undead.

Alas, the best gag the film has is the concept itself, and it relies a bit too much on the juxtaposition of light romance and horror to provide most of its humor. There are numerous instances of characters engaged in fisticuffs while reciting the Austen dialogue meant to reveal their romantic intentions, and even more examples of this among the 10 minutes of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray.

That actually may be the film’s greatest charm: that this cast could easily pull off a credible version of Austen’s work.

Former “Doctor Who” star Matt Smith seems to be the only one willing to embrace the absurdity of any of it, playing Mr. Collins. What’s even more amazing is that he seems to be embracing the absurdity of the 19th century pomp depicted by Austen, rather than the zombie backdrop. That’s probably why Smith gets his own featurette on the Blu-ray, a four-minute loop of his whimsical outtakes and love of scones.

The fact that the film doesn’t want to veer too far from its Austen source and really explore this strange world is one of its biggest drawbacks. Writer-director Burr Steers is trying to have it both ways. For the most part, the film plays like a faithful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, with fights and zombie killing in the background serving as just a way of life. But there are times the film comes close to turning into a slick, gothic actioner in the vein of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

The muddled tone is perhaps a side effect of the film’s production history. When development started in 2009, David O. Russell was set to direct with Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Bennet (Portman retained a producer credit). At one point, veteran “Buffy” writer Marti Noxon was even attached to write the script.

The bonus materials on the Blu-ray are of the perfunctory sort. In addition to the deleted scenes and the “Mr. Collins Line-O-Rama,” there’s a two-minute gag reel and three short behind-the-scenes featurettes.

“The Badass Bennet Sisters” is four minutes of the five actresses playing the sisters talking about performing the action scenes. “Courtship, Class and Carnage: Meet the Cast” is self-explanatory and runs seven minutes; and “Creating the Unmentionables” is three-and-a-half minutes of detail about creating the zombie effects.

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