I’m not familiar with the book, at least not Grahame-Smith's zombified version of it, I am however intimately familiar with Austen, and would consider myself an Janeite. Pride and Prejudice is one of my beloved books, and furthermore the 2005 adaptation of the book, starring Keira Knightley is among one of my all time favorite films.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies opening is full of set up expository that brings to question the intended target audience, typical readers of Austen, are capable of extrapolation, it becomes apparent rather quickly that the film adapters believe their audience to be inept at basic ability to follow a story, I must assume that the intended audience is not Janeites but rather those unfamiliar with her classic works.
Expository is continuous for the first 15 minutes of the film, there's even a popup style animation “An Illustrated History of England” that breaks down how the zombie pre-apocalypse came to pass. Further efforts are made to drive home extremely basic tenets of story, including animated maps intercut with horse and rider speeding through the countryside. Unfortunately for all it’s belabored explanation, the primary points are driven home no quicker, and I found myself confused about what various locations in the film were supposed to be safe or infested, while I probably wouldn’t have even questioned the physical location of the plot if it had not been shoved down my throat so overtly.
I also found myself feeling really bad for the population of zombies. Unlike in most films, the hordes, had the ability to reason, rationalize and to some extent even abstain from feasting on humans. Given this fact, the amount of violence perpetrated upon them by characters one is supposed to become endeared unto, makes it quite difficult to feel empathy and attachment to the protagonists. In fact, there were numerous times I found myself rooting for the “bad guys”.
I was extremely pleased with the acting, Matt Smith shone, as always, in a completely new character type than any I’ve seen him portray before, his performance was the most notable. Lena Headey's appearances were short but quite fun, and Lily James made a much better Lizzy than a Cinderella. Though the film is produced by Natalie Portmen, she was purported to have been originally cast for the role of Elizabeth Bennet, a role I would have loved to have seen her in. The action choreography did leave much to be desired, but it was well edited and I don’t think the wider audience will miss what it could have been.
The shock scenes are played very nicely, and zombie snot bubbles are really quite a lovely thing to behold. Horror is definitely not overplayed in this film, I believe the film to be suitable for a somewhat, younger audience. Intentional humor plays very strongly into over the top zombie action, as such, the film does funny well, It was interesting to see where Austen fans laughed compared the those who were not familiar with her works.
Typically, Janeites laughed when plot points were belabored and elevated into zombie lore, as in conflicts between the stories two main characters which, while verbal in the original book, turns quite physical in the film. Non-Janeites were shocked at certain proposals, and thus laughed, while Janeites were not shocked at said proposal but brought to laughter by what followed moments later.
Justice is done to Jane Austen's original story, and I couldn’t help but feel that it might be a film that brings a young audience to read her original works, Never once did the film feel like a parody of the themes in the original book, indeed, the primary themes of the original work are very strongly present.
When I took the time to reflect on the film, I felt as if the zombie lore was mere set dressing to a very relevant and tested tale. The world in which the characters live is different than Austen's original setting… but not that different. There is virtually no change to the original plot, save one minor twist involving one of the sisters, and even that is barely a stretch.
I’m actually really happy that the film was made, and while the filmmakers could have trusted the audience a little more, I do hope that it brings new life to classic literature, and brings, Austen’s ideas to a new generation. I do recommend you go see the film when it comes out in February of 2016, especially if you love Jane Austen, and bring a friend who is unfamiliar with her works. I promise you will have fun.