Few upcoming feature films have as much of a question mark hovering above them as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the long-gestating adaptation of Seth Grahame Smith’s cult-hit parody novel reimagining Jane Austen’s classic tale as taking place amid the outbreak of a zombie plague. Will movie audiences embrace the unique satire of classic literature as readily as readers did? Or will the bizarre premise be met with the same decidedly mixed response that greeted Smith’s similar Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 2012?
Now, ahead of the film’s much-hyped February 5th release, two news clips have been released online, offering audiences an extended look at how classic characters like Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) are changed by living in a world where the undead are as much of an impediment to their happiness as the rigid social structures of Regency Era England.
In Smith’s reworking of Austen’s iconic tale, Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters have been trained since childhood to battle the zombie menace. But they’re still tasked with participating in the elaborate social customs of their class, including dances, social-gatherings, and the seeking of suitable husbands; a dichotomy from which the film aims to derive the bulk of its satirical humor. In the first of the two new scenes, seemingly chosen to highlight the ways in which the interactions between Austen’s famous characters are different (but also not so different) in this next context, a confrontation between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey) takes on a decidedly more violent tone than Austen fans are likely accustomed.
The second scene offers an extended look at Zombies’ version of Mr. Darcy. One of the most iconic leading men in literary history, Darcy is here presented as a ruthlessly efficient (yet still thoroughly Byronic) zombie hunter who interrupts a dinner party to show off his improvised head-chopping skills and an unorthodox (but effective) method of detecting the presence of the undead.
While the scenes are indeed amusing and show off a notable visual flair (the film is directed by Burr Steers, who previously helmed smaller independent features like Igby Goes Down and Charlie St. Cloud), it remains to be seen whether what is essentially a single-joke premise can accommodate a full 108 minute movie. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has been in production to one degree or another almost since the book was first published all the way back in 2009, and has started and stalled under multiple producers, studios, and filmmakers over those years — leading many to question whether too much time had passed for the novelty of the premise to still be of interest to audiences. At one point David O. Russell was supposed to direct with Natalie Portman as Elizabeth, and noteworthy filmmakers like Matt Reeves, Mike Newell, and Neil Marshall had all circled the project.
Literary parodies have always had a spotty track record in Hollywood, as they risk alienating both readers who don’t want to see their favorite works tarnished and mainstream audiences who may not be familiar enough with the source material to get the joke. While some may have fond memories of Sherlock Holmes spoofs like The Seven Percent Solution or George Hamilton’s gonzo turn as Johnston McCulley’s Mexican swashbuckler in Zorro: The Gay Blade, many other projects like the Harry Potter send-up Man-Witch (at one point a star vehicle for Jack Black) have died before ever going into production. It’s highly possible that Zombies’ producers will be closely watching the box-office performance of the Wayans Bros’ 50 Shades of Black, debuting the previous week on January 29th, to get a sense of whether audiences are truly hungry for the spectacle of watching their favorite books get poked and prodded — or, in this case, beheaded.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies releases Friday, February 5th 2016.