Monday, August 1, 2016

Unqualified to appreciate Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I lost interest pretty quickly in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and that's probably because I had nothing to compare it to.

That's right, not only have I never read Jane Austen's seminal novel Pride and Prejudice -- a bit unusual for an English major like me, who's read any number of seminal novels from that same period -- but I haven't seen a film version of it, either.

Hence, I really have no idea what was faithful, what was unfaithful, and what was fun about the dissonance between the original novel and Seth Grahame-Smith's opportunistic co-opting of Austen's work.

Merely seeing people kill zombies was not all that fun, even if they were wearing cravats and corsets. People are killing zombies in nearly every form of entertainment we consume these days.

What surprised me most was the fealty to the novel's classic tone, especially in the (many) scenes that don't involve the undead. You'd figure that whoever they got to direct this would be stronger on the zombie stuff and only a minimal level of attention would be paid to the angst among eligible youngsters being married off to one another, but if anything, it's probably the other way around. Burr Steers is more a veteran of movies about relationships than movies about gore. (And that's clear from some of the lackluster staging of the action.)

But even as I recognized the actors' unusually formidable commitment to something that was intended as little more than a joke, I just couldn't get into it because I couldn't get past that joke -- and that joke didn't work for me because I had barely even a passing familiarity with the thing being parodied.

It didn't seem worth it to do the hard work of following every minute social permutation between the characters if those dynamics were inevitably undercut by the zombie stuff. In other words, I didn't really want this to be my first attempt to appreciate the nuances of Jane Austen's novel. So I eventually kind of just shut off my brain and appreciated it -- or more often, failed to appreciate it -- on a very superficial level.

But I am sort of the right audience for this otherwise, as a person who is interested both in classic literature and zombies. I doubt there are many of us.

Which is probably why most people are actually unqualified to appreciate Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- and why it was not a hit. The Pride and Prejudice people are not interested in zombies, the zombie people are not interested in Pride and Prejudice, and never the twain shall meet. The result is a novel that was somehow a best seller, surely only on the strength of its status as a novelty and a joke, and not because anyone consumed it with a really satisfying appreciation of the way the two texts interacted. A friend of mine who loves zombies assessed it as something like this: "Too much Pride and Prejudice and not enough zombies."

If pressed, I'd probably fall on the other side. I do like a good zombie, but more than that, I like a good costume drama -- especially if it's a text I feel guilty for not knowing better.

In fact, I probably could have determined this about myself when I made my other comically unsuccessful attempt to inteface with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Back when I was living in Los Angeles and commuting about 45 minutes a day to work, I tried to listen to it as an audio book. But something about the opening line so turned me off that I didn't listen to more than a single minute before shutting it off.

I guess how I would have done Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- that is, if I thought it was worth doing more with it than just revealing the title as a funny idea -- was to have zombies suddenly interfere with the novel. You get through 30 pages of the regular text and then suddenly one of the characters starts trying to bite one of the other characters. It would be a great surprise -- that is, if you didn't know the title of what you were reading.

Instead, P & P & Z imagines a world where zombies have been a part of reality for ages. Decades? Centuries? I can't remember. But the characters take fight training in the Far East -- debating whether China or Japan is better -- just to be able to defend themselves against these menaces. That's a lot less funny a realization of the joke, methinks.

Maybe I will go out and either read, or at the very least watch a good version of, Pride and Prejudice. It's long past time.

And then maybe -- MAYBE -- I'll watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies again.

But probably not.

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