"Keep your swords as sharp as your wit, for the ultimate battle between the living and the undead is yet to be staged".
So ends an introductory monologue set to pop-up illustrations, handily doling out a wealth of expositional information beneath the opening titles. It turns out that, sometime in the 18th Century, a plague arrived in Britain - possibly from France - transforming the recently deceased into flesh-eating zombies. The people of London barricaded themselves into their city by way of a 100ft wall. However, following a battle in which hordes of zombies infiltrated said force-field, residents began leaving the city and fleeing to more rural locations, restarting their lives in empty country estates. But, with the undead being an ongoing concern, these survivors know to remain vigilant at all times - and it's even become fashionable in the meantime to learn oriental skills such as kung-fu in the name of self-defence.
All of which leads us to the Bennett family, living frugally in one such vast abode. The father (Charles Dance) and mother (Sally Phillips) have aspirations of marrying off his hot daughters - Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), Mary (Millie Brady) and Kitty (Suki Waterhouse) - into wealth.
To this end, the girls are invited to a high society ball, where eligible bachelor Bingley (Douglas Booth) is searching for a bride. While Bingley takes an instant shine to Jane, his best pal Darcy (Sam Riley) grows attracted to Elizabeth after saving her from a zombie attack. Upon watching her kick zombie arse with her sisters, he's positively smitten.
However, Elizabeth is reluctant to his charms, at first. It's only when Jane is attacked by zombies while en route to Bingley's estate, and Elizabeth rushes to be at her side while she recuperates, that she begins to warm to Darcy, who's also staying at Bingley's.
I should point out at this juncture that Darcy is a Colonel with a reputation for being a master zombie slayer. He seeks new ghouls out and puts them out of their misery ... fast. But has Jane been bitten, and therefore doomed to become the undead, or not?
Watch and find out. In the meantime, romance between Elizabeth and Darcy slowly develops down a rocky path - she wants to kill him at one point, and grows close to his rival George (Jack Huston) - while the war of the classes, and zombies, continues. Oh, and Matt Smith turns up as the bungling Mr Collins.
You know the drill.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES began life in 2009 as a parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who credited Jane Austen as co-author. The gist is that he revamped Austen's original period piece inserting his own text to incorporate plentiful zombie action into the original tale of love, class, tragedy and more.
The book captured the public's imagination and took off on a massive scale. Inevitably, the film rights were snapped in due course. Now, in 2016, here it is: the cinematic adaptation - written and directed by Burr Steers.
The film looks great. I wasn't looking out for anachronisms if I'm honest; no obvious ones presented themselves. In terms of lush photography, art decor, costume and set design, the film is quite often beautiful to behold - on occasion, it could pass as a Peter Greenaway production. Well, no, it couldn't ... but it IS very handsomely mounted for the large part.
Is the script faithful to Grahame-Smith's book? Or Austen's original? I've not idea, I've never read either and in all honesty I never will. The plot seemed rather muddy and the pace was a little erratic - did it need to be 107 minutes long?! - so if the source material is somewhat overlong and confused, then yes, maybe it is.
Performances are decent throughout. The girls get into it a little more convincingly than the chaps, I'd say, but overall I felt everyone pulled their weight and understood the blackly comedic tone that Steers was going for.
The horror and action scenes are anaemic, it has to be said. In truth, I don't really know who this is pitched at. Smith provides the biggest laughs, but he's not in the film a great deal. The central romantic arc accounts for quite a significant portion of the running time. At one point, midway through, the zombie action is seemingly forgotten about completely by the filmmakers. This is a curious, inconsistent film as a result.
Lionsgate are releasing the film onto UK DVD and blu-ray. We were sent a copy of the latter to review.
The film looks extremely good in 1080p HD. As you'd imagine for such a modern production with a generous budget (for a genre flick - reportedly $28 million), images are crisp, clean and incredibly detailed. Blacks are strong and stable; colours are vivid and true. With a keen sense of depth and healthy filmic aesthetic, there's nothing to grumble about here.
English audio gets the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio treatment, which sounds pretty incredible. There's also a 2.0 option which is good in itself.
English subtitles are provided for the Hard-of-Hearing. These are well-written and easily readable at all times. An audio descriptive track is another nice touch.
The blu-ray opens to a vibrant animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
A perusal of the disc's bonus features will account for 34 minutes of your life.
These commence with a 98-second "gag reel". This essentially amounts to a fast-moving montage of prop malfunctions and actors laughing at themselves.
Seven deleted scenes run their course over 9 minutes and can be watched either individually or as a whole by selecting the "Play All" function. They add nothing to the bigger picture, other than the relief that the film's final cut wasn't 9 minutes longer.
"The Badass Bennett Sisters" is a 4-minute featurette allowing the likes of Smith and Steers to gush over the fact that the lead actresses can - shock! - act as well as get physical. There's some decent behind-the-scenes footage which validate the claims that the girls did their own stunts. But, overall, this is fairly insubstantial stuff. Still, James comes across as a really nice girl - a bubble I did fear would burst if I ever saw her "being herself".
"Courtship, Class and Carnage: Meet the Cast". Hmm, as this cunningly titled 7-minute extra suggests, this is the bit where we get more familiar with the cast. They all seem canny enough - Dance, Smith, Lena Headey, Riley, James ... they're all here. Steers can't say enough good things about them, while it's refreshing to see the likes of Riley and James reveal their initial reservations about joining the production. Everyone clearly had fun on the shoot; I almost feel guilty for not enjoying the end results more. Almost.
Next up is "From Austen to Zombies: Adapting a Classic". Over the course of 6 minutes, the makers speak more about their affection for the source material and the challenges of finding the right tone in bringing the action to the screen. "You've got Jane Austen period drama, you've got zombies, and you have kung-fu fighting", co-producer Aleen Keshishian summarises, as if to nail the film into its high-concept coffin.
Then there's the 3-minute "Creating the Unmentionables". This investigates the look of the zombies and the make-up talent involved in creating them. Cue more interesting behind-the-scenes footage and detail.
Finally, we get just over 2-and-a-half minutes of clips highlighting Smith's funniest moments in the film.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is fun if flawed. It looks great on Lionsgate's blu-ray.
Also available on DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Lionsgate|
|see main review|