Tag Archives: Seth Grahame-Smith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

prideprejudicezombies

I rolled my eyes when I first heard years ago that Hollywood was adapting Seth Grahame-Smith’s zombie mash-up of Jane Austen’s classic novel. I rolled my eyes back to centre when I found out Natalie Portman was going to play the lead role, and then I completely forgot about it as the film steered off into production hell.

Then out of nowhere, the film was done. Portman is now an Oscar winner (Black Swan, 2011) and only a producer on the film, with rising star Lily James replacing her as heroine Elizabeth Bennet. I still wasn’t too interested in the film, though I was willing to give it more of a chance because I was one of the six people in the world who actually liked a similar film — at least conceptually — Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which came out in 2012). Still, I thought the book was a gimmicky idea and the film was going to be the same.

Now that I’ve watched it, I can say that my reservations about it being gimmicky were largely misplaced. Grahame-Smith’s book basically took the original Pride and Prejudice (which is no longer protected by copyright) and added his own bits and pieces (pun intended) about zombies, so the basic structure of Austen’s novel is still there. The film version, accordingly, is the same. You still have the core plot and the same characters. The main difference is that they now live in a world of zombies and the Bennet family and the lovely Mr Darcy are all kick-ass zombie killers.

It sounds stupid and it is, though credit to director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) for finding the right tone — one that doesn’t take itself very seriously but also controlled enough so that it doesn’t spiral into a complete farce. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is more or less what you’d expect — lots of crazy zombie killing action and some light horror-comedy — except it’s surprisingly well-executed enough to not overdo it, so you don’t get tired of the zombie angle quickly or get bored by the period drama romance at the heart of the story.

The film survives from a disastrous collapse because they actually cast solid dramatic actors across the board. Lily James is excellent as Elizabeth Bennet, while Sam Riley (On the Road) makes a decent Mr Darcy. Throw in the likes of Jack Huston and Lena Headey, as well as young up-and-comers like Aussie Bella Heathcote and Douglas Booth (Noah), and you have yourself a nice ensemble cast who can carry their dramatic scenes well enough when there is no carnage on screen. The standout, however, has to be Dr Who himself, Matt Smith, who plays a hilarious version of Mr Collins.

The problem with P&P&Z is that it doesn’t do any particular thing well. It’s got comedy, but it’s more likely to put a brief smile on your face than elicit genuine laughs. It’s got horror, but there’s nothing that will make your hairs stand, give you the chills or make you jump in your seat. It’s got drama and romance, but if you wanted to watch that you’d just watch any of the many other P&P adaptations out there. And it’s got action, but it’s neither very stylish and exciting  (like say Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), nor is it very witty and creative (like say Shaun of the Dead).

So what we end up with is a surprisingly acceptable movie that’s enjoyable enough for killing 108 minutes of your spare time, but with no elements you haven’t already seen — and done better — in other genre films. It’s neither the total disaster I thought it might be nor the kind of genre-bending fun thrill ride it could have been.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

I don’t care. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an awesome film. One of the best action movies of the year so far.

I was sceptical at first too. The first time I came across the title was in a Sydney bookstore, right around the time Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was taking off around the world. It wasn’t quite the same as taking an out-of-copyright masterpiece and playing around with it, but I nevertheless tossed this piece of historical fantasy fiction in the same category. After all, it’s written by the same guy (Seth Grahame-Smith).

The idea that former US president Abraham Lincoln, possibly the most beloved of them all, was secretly a vampire hunter, is so ludicrous that I was convinced it had to be a comedy. But no. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is actually dead serious.

A lot of people will probably write off the film right there. How can such a stupid idea make such a serious movie? Well, it can, and it did, proving once again that it’s all in the execution.

The story begins in Indiana, where a young Lincoln is living with his plantation worker parents. An act of kindness leads to tragedy, and Lincoln grows up plotting his revenge, only to be plunged into the world of vampire hunting instead.

I don’t know a whole lot about Lincoln’s biography, but it appears some of the characters were real people and the timeline of Lincoln’s political career and major historical events were roughly accurate – everything else was entirely fabricated (or so I believe).

The thing about this movie is that it’s super exciting. If you can look past how ludicrous the premise is, then the idea of Lincoln being an axe-wielding vampire slayer is actually a very cool one. And if you can accept the crazy idea then all the insane and utterly impossible stuff that Lincoln does in the film become pretty awesome too. It’s a gradual slope of acceptance, but if you can let go of reality and simply go for the ride, you might find it as scintillating as I did.

Russian director Timur Nurbakhitovich Bekmambetov (who directed Wanted and the Nightwatch/Daywatch films) delivers slick visuals that remind me of the best video games, with well-choreographed action sequences that are incredible to look at. Tim Burton is one of the co-producers of the film and a bit of his unique style has definitely rubbed off on the film too.

There’s plenty of violence and blood and guts, but all of it is stylized and not at all cringeworthy. There are, however, a few scares that could make you jump out of your seat. If nothing else, the film is an exciting visual treat filled with thrills, chills and epic battle scenes – and that is certainly much more than I had expected.

The big dude who plays Lincoln, Benjamin Walker, is excellent. He’s tall and imposing, looks like Liam Neeson and exudes the vulnerability of Eric Bana. And he’s pretty handy with an axe too. Once that famous beard is on his face it’s hard to envisage a more suitable actor for the role. He makes Abraham Lincoln a real person and not a caricature. I guess it also helps that Lincoln died almost 150 years ago.

If I had to complain about anything it would have to be some of the sloppier special effects scenes that make things appear a little cartoony. I also expected a little more from the final battle with the head vampire. And I suppose there could have been a joke or two to lighten the mood occasionally, but it’s pretty clear 10 minutes in that this film was taking itself seriously.

Personally, I did not have a problem with the serious tone because Bekmambetov managed to pull it off. I’m not one of those people who think an outlandish premise must inevitably result in a comedy.

Whatever. As far as crazy historical fantasy fiction re-imaginings go, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a winner.

4 stars out of 5