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Read It or See It? Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

In our new series, we take on the age-old debate: the book vs. the movie.

Read It or See It? <i>Pride and Prejudice and Zombies</i>

Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate

The book is always better than the movie, right? Eh, not always. Sometimes a film’s seasoned direction, esoteric soundtrack, or on-screen actor chemistry provides a third dimension to an author’s story. Take for instance, the beating pulse Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me gave to Stephen King’s classic novella The Body. Or the way Stephen Frears took Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and made it sing with indie-pop tunes that gave record-store geeks and digital underground music aficionados something to agree upon.

Sometimes the movie is better than the book. Which is why we’re introducing a new series, “Read It or See It.” This monthly post will tackle a film that’s headed to the screen by way of the book. We’ll read it, we’ll see it, then we’ll report back to you and let you know which is more worth your time. First up: Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


 

Monster lit, as it’s been coined, is having a moment. Perhaps the most popular title in the genre is Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a horror romance that takes Austen’s classic 19th century novel and complicates the heroines’ struggles with courtship by the addition of the undead. Keen on advanced weaponry and martial arts, Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters navigate the dating scene while simultaneously annihilating the undead infiltrating their idyllic village.

Go ahead—laugh. The author wants you to. By coupling two incongruous themes—zombie lore and Austen’s signature dialogue—Grahame-Smith’s parody achieves comical nirvana with aplomb. And back when it hit shelves, it had critics raving. Fans of Austen’s original text who share hunger for zombie lore with society’s current culture will devour PPZ. An immediate New York Times bestseller, the book sold more than 700,000 copies worldwide and saw film rights bought up by Hollywood.

But does it translate to the big screen? Full disclosure: When we first saw the trailer—in a packed theater no less—the title screen was met with raucous laughter. And not the good kind. Though after some digging, it seems the audience’s chuckles may have been misguided.

The project, which was originally attached to A-list writer/director David O. Russell, finally landed in the hands of Burr Steers, whose motion-picture directing resume includes ish films that frequent Zac Efron in the lead, 17 Again and Charlie St. Cloud. Though it’s fun to imagine another Russell-and-Jennifer Lawrence collaboration (J. law with zombie face? Yes, please!), Steers and leading lady, Lily James, craft a surprisingly effective comedy horror mash-up.

Steers puts a new spin on the novel’s action. His Victorian beauties dressed in empire-waist ensembles go to town on monsters with their ninja-like skills. Lizzie Bennet, of course, carries out her classic romance with Mr. Darcy, the zombie hunter, no less. Steers takes Austen’s strong female characters and puts smoking guns and sharp steel in their hands, further illustrating how ahead of their time Austen’s characters actually were.

In rare form, the film, which is hovering at 60 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, is actually receiving positive attention from film critics. That said, if pressed, we’d have to recommend you go with Grahame-Smith’s novel. Not just to avoid the aforementioned inevitable misguided laughter. Eighty percent of the book is Austen’s original text. And the joy one gets from rhythmically weaving through the pair’s seamless prose—and monstrous hordes—is splendor no action flick can match.

Verdict: Read it!

Download Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.

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