After the recent Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ball at Arisia (my favorite local SF/F convention), a hellish couple of weeks, and the upcoming Regency ball this evening, a friend and I took a break last night to go see the new Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was disappointed to see it mostly getting panned in reviews...so I'm offering my alternative (spoiler-free!) opinion on the topic.
If you're unfamiliar with the movie, I recommend this first trailer to get a feel for the tone:
To use a favorite word: it's wackadoodle. And that was utterly perfect. (I should also perhaps offer the disclaimer that I greatly enjoyed Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and my favorite book is Pride and Prejudice, so I am the exact target audience for this.)
|the Bennett sisters in a promotional image for EW|
The movie opens with a prologue scene explaining Netherfield's lack of tenant (until Bingley lets it) and introducing the zombie problem currently facing the British countryside, and offers a brief history of the current zombie apocalypse told through paper scenes reminiscent of 19th century toy paper theaters. It was these nods to the real Regency period that made me feel like the film team "got it," enabling the departures from period accuracy (such as the use of leather on a few zombie-fighting ensembles) to become deliberate bits of world-building and silliness.
|a toy theater from the Bruce Museum|
And there was quite a bit of silliness! I have to admit I haven't read Grahame-Smith's mashup novel the film was adapted from, so I can't speak to its faithfulness, but I felt the script did a solid job turning several iconic scenes from Austen's original work on their head without losing the heart of it. For example, Jane's illness at Netherfield is doubly tense because the flu is still potentially deadly (the technology of PPZ's Regency era is not upgraded from the real world--except perhaps in weaponry, but I can't speak to that), but also there's a chance it's not the flu, and Jane will emerge undead. PPZ's Elizabeth Bennet is still sharp-witted and exasperated by her family, but also much more physical, as she is a trained zombie warrior. Thus, several of Lizzy's most famous verbal battles (such as Darcy's first proposal and Lady Catherine's visit) are zombified by keeping the dialogue quite faithful but including physical sparring as well. As an Austen aficionado (to steal a phrase from Austenland) and an action comedy fan, I very much enjoyed this combination.
|Lizzy tending to a weapon in her bedchamber, via Screenrelish|
I was also pleasantly surprised by the costumes. With the glaring exception of Lizzy's first ballgown, which looked like a rather tacky prom dress (and I'm convinced was only included so that they could use that scene for promotional stills and posters), the overall look was pretty good, with lovely printed cottons, fluffy chemisettes, bonnets and spencers or pelisses worn outdoors, and gloves at the ball. A particularly notable part was that all of the women were clearly wearing stays (in addition to several getting dressed scenes, where they were visible) as their silhouettes and the fit of their dresses looked believably Regency. Also, the girls fought dressed like that! There were several flashes that revealed the dresses were slit partially up a leg for easy access to thigh-holstered weapons and movement for kicking, but I liked that as a modification of their clothes to accommodate a zombified world without suddenly putting everyone in pants. I dance, climb fences, and run amok in Regency dresses frequently. It can be done! So that really pleased me. I'm assuming the designers also chose to replace the girls' petticoats with weird ruffled hotpants in the dressing scenes (you get some petticoat flashes during the fights) for the same thread--so the audience could see their fabulous thigh holsters--but they were my one really jarring complaint on the costume front. Because the underpinnings and cut of the clothes were so acceptable, it made the little zombified details (Darcy's long leather coat, Lizzy's leather-collared, paneled pelisse, some of the chemically-bright colors) feel like fun touches on a historical palette, rather than cringe-inducing weirdness. It helped that the designers also made sure such zombiefied touches appeared in scenes with actual zombie fighting, while more Austen-esque scenes, like balls, were more traditional.
|Stays! (and weird hotpants, but oh well.)|
|Jane taking on a zombie in full Regency dress (via EW)|
|Lydia's pink pelisse is utterly cute, and the detail on Lizzy's sleeve (which is hard to see in this EW image) was really lovely|
The plot also moved along at a quick pace, which served well to mask some of the really big plot issues, but resulted in the loss of some content from the original Austen (although in a 2-ish hour movie that's to be expected). Overall, I appreciated that the writers tried to have some sort of zombie-related plot (rather than just having there be zombies), but that plot was a little weak in the being well-plotted department. This didn't really bother me, as the film spent most of its time doing better, more Austen-y things, and the zombie plot bits were so short I didn't have time to care. The one other weak point was that some of the not-Austen language was jarringly modern. I can't even fault the screenwriters for this, as there's no reason to assume phrases like "zombie apocalypse" wouldn't have existed in an alternate zombie-infested Regency England, but for some reason hearing that sort of thing pop up stuck out to me. Is that reasonable for a movie that is literally setting Pride and Prejudice during the zombie apocalypse? Probably not.
|zombies! (via Collider)|
PPZ was silly fun, while managing to put together some truly awesome scenes that had me applauding and laughing along with the rest of the theater. It was really fun to see scenes I've read so many times given new "stage directions," so to speak, and I appreciated how much the film felt like it was made with genuine affection for the inspiration material--both the nods to the Regency period, and the nods to action movie tropes (slow motion fighting!). I will definitely be adding this to the list of movies I watch while I sew...it might even inspire me to finish that bonnet I started two years ago.