It's Tuesday, the perfect day to review Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and for you to find out whether this piece of gory chick lit is worth your time. Most importantly, with studios battling over the rights, could it produce a chick flick with braaaains as I predicted back in February?
As a book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is pretty disappointing. Seth Grahame-Smith's claims that 85% of it is Austen's original is an understatement. I would raise that estimate to 95%, and am amazed a publisher handed an author any money for so little original content. Towards the middle, I actually began skimming (hey, I nearly know the original by heart) and would slow down and read only when "zombie" or "unmentionable" appeared. Just to err on the side of caution, I kept my original P&P at my elbow and when I came across dialogue that struck me as a bit modern, I'd pick up Austen. 99% of the time, it was original, and unaltered by Grahame-Smith. But it's to his credit that when he does add dialogue, it's almost always spot on, and seamless with the original.
The real shame is that Grahame-Smith didn't create something more original. There was some real potential here if he had just broken free from the original plotline, gave us an origin story, and beefed up the Bennet sisters. There's still too much fussing about balls, Brighton, and Mr. Bingley to believe any of them, save Elizabeth, are trained warriors. I understand the joke here is to "restore" the lost zombie story, but what is "restored" felt more like he just copied and pasted "zombie," "Katana sword," and "many kills" in places where it would be the least obtrusive.
That means there's long stretches of the book that are zombie free, where you doubt that England is really battling this tide of unmentionables. Instead, you're just very conscious of the fact that you got taken in by a skimpy joke -- and as if Grahame-Smith is reading your thoughts, he'll suddenly cram a bunch of references to dripping blood and beheadings that'll make you roll your eyes.
When our author does break free of the original plot and language, the results are pretty funny and daring. There's a few off-color jokes about "balls" that are giggle worthy. There's a twist involving Charlotte and her marriage to the wretched Mr. Collins that's very well done, and a few zombie battles that are exactly what you hoped for. But they're few and far between, and sometimes very rushed. Sometimes they're rough enough to seem like a piece of fan fiction instead of someone who was able to mimic Austen's dialogue so easily on an earlier page. I'm not sure if Grahame-Smith was rushed, or if we're just seeing the limits of his creativity. (There's a plot deviation with Mr. Wickham and Lydia that is so dumb it tempts me to be cruel and insist on the latter.)
I'm happy to say that at least one of my original predictions was correct -- there's no Regency heroine more suited to zombie hunting than Elizabeth Bennet. Some of her action additions are heavy handed; for example: "I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. I knew the joy of standing over a vanquished foe; of painting my face and arms with their blood, yet warm, and screaming to the heavens -- begging, nay daring, God to send me more enemies to kill." But other times it works astonishingly well -- this is a heroine who (in the original) declares "there are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it." So it's perfectly natural for her Shaolin version to add that "every zombie confirms my belief that God has abandoned us as punishment for the evils of people such as Miss Bingley."
While I'm disappointed in the final result, I'm willing to admit that this could be a fun movie in the hands of a director like Mel Brooks or Edgar Wright, and a screenwriter who can really flesh out the "lost chapters" and give things a bit more weight. It's begging for a creative team that could find the cinematic balance between spoofing the zombie fad, Masterpiece Theater, and Kill Bill, while making a solid comedy in their own right. What reads as annoying on the page could actually be rendered pretty damn funny by the right director -- and a cast that can play it as a BBC piece, not as a self-conscious spoof.
But the odds of that happening are slim. If a studio buys this, I expect it will be snatched up, churned out with buckets of blood and stilted dialogue, and be more painful to watch than read. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might be best left as a novelty idea, and a sign that the zombie trend may have let out its last, brain-sated groan.